10 Ways to be Environmentally Conscious on Campus

It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough to help the environment. We’ve all had that “oh no” moment when you throw away something you should have recycled or realized you turned the shower on to warm up and forgot about it. Those things don’t make you a bad person, I promise. Where do you start if you want to make a difference in the environment? What does it mean to really live an eco-friendly life, and how much of a difference can you make when you have limited space on campus?

There’s always something you can do to help. Apply some of these little changes to your life and before long you won’t even think twice about them.

1. Recycle

It seems like such a simple solution, but you’d be surprised at how many people skip over the recycling bin when it’s sitting right next to the trash can. Many colleges have what’s called single-stream recycling, which means you can throw any recyclable in the bin without having to worry about whether it counts as glass or plastic or paper. If you don’t have one already, set up a second trash bin in your room specifically for your recyclables like water bottles and cardboard boxes.

2. Buy less stuff

Look, I love online shopping just as much as the next girl, but buying excessive products is really putting a strain on the world. Yarina Valverda, the editor-in-chief of Fashionhedge, an ethical fashion blog, says, “My #1 and simplest rule is simply to buy less stuff. You can get nerdy about which fabrics and suppliers to go for, but the truth is that most people do not have the time to do research on everything they buy. Everything you buy is a signal that you send out to the world about what we want more of, so limiting mindless, unnecessary purchases could slow down the excessive production of garbage.” Everyone wants to revamp their wardrobe once fall starts to roll in, but try to work with the clothes you have to create fun, trendy outfits. It’s also the perfect excuse to borrow (or steal) some clothes from your friends’ closets, which is arguably one of the best parts of living in a dorm.

Related: 7 Back to School Essentials You Can Wear Through The Seasons

3. Think about your food

Food and food scraps play a bigger part in the buildup of waste than most people realize. In general, meat leaves a bigger carbon footprint than leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach. Rebecca Beaulieu, a senior at the College of the Holy Cross and co-chair of the EcoAction Club, suggests participating in Meatless Mondays, or at least trying to limit your meat intake during the week by making sure you eat everything you take to reduce waste. You can even try to go vegan for a day. Keep an eye out for farmer’s markets or opportunities to buy local.

4. Be mindful of your energy use

Everyone has been there: you’re lying in bed charging your laptop, watching Netflix, and you get the notification that it’s fully charged so you pull the charger out and continue on with your binge-watching. Every lazy girl has done it. But one of the biggest wastes of energy is leaving things plugged in when you’re not using them. Try to unplug your chargers, lamps, and fans when you aren’t using them. Other ways to cut back are to take shorter showers and make sure to pay attention to central heat or air conditioning at your school. If the heat is turned on, make sure you close your windows so the heat energy isn’t being wasted.

5. Cut back on your waste

Pay attention to the packaging your food comes in. Most times you aren’t able to control if a grab-and-go sandwich comes in a plastic container, but be conscious of how much you pick that option over something that comes with an eco-friendlier option. Opt for a reusable coffee cup or travel mug for your morning coffee and carry around a reusable water bottle to fill up throughout the day. Some colleges even let you purchase a reusable plastic container for the dining hall, a much better option than letting countless Styrofoam containers piling up. Rebecca says, “Be mindful of buying things that will just be thrown away, and pay attention to printing on both sides of the paper instead of just one.”

6. Clean up after yourself

Walk down any college campus after a wild Saturday night and you’ll be sure to find it littered with crushed cans, plastic cups, and broken bottles. This type of waste is so harmful because plastics, metals, and glass don’t decompose. It may feel like common sense, but the next time you’re out look for designated places to throw out or recycle your trash.

7. Shop smart

When you do decide to splurge on something new, do your best to shop ecofriendly brands. Rebecca says, “Vote with your wallet. This means when you go to buy a new sweatshirt, do some research about where you want to buy the sweatshirt before buying from a company that uses unsustainable methods or works out of a sweat shop in India.” She suggests using the “Better World Shopper Guide”  to find out if the brands you’re shopping are sustainable and eco-friendly. Valverda suggests checking out the thrift-store first, and shared that some of her favorite brands to shop are Reformation, Amur, Stella McCartney, and Maiyet. You can also check resale sites like Poshmark and eBay.

8. Skip the drive

In college, there are so many other options of transportation for the times you need to get off campus. Go for a walk with friends instead of driving; it’s a great way to get to know the community surrounding your college. Take the bus or subway if that’s available. It’s cheaper than gas so it will save the environment and your wallet. If you do need to drive, carpool with friends or use ride-sharing apps.

9. Save paper

It’s so easy to cut down on your paper use, but lots of people throw away a scrap without a second thought. Always try to print on both sides of a piece of paper, even pieces of scrap paper and fliers you come across during the day. If you’re able to, take notes on a laptop or tablet during class, and if you can’t make sure to completely fill a piece of paper before starting a new one. If you have to turn in hard copies of essays or assignments, use the backs of them to take notes when you get them back.

10. Get educated and get involved

Find out about your school’s policies on sustainability. If you don’t like what you see, get involved and get your voice heard! Most schools will have some iteration of an environmental club (like Eco-Action at Holy Cross, which Rebecca co-chairs). Start going to meetings and find out what they’re doing to live a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle. Find out about local community initiatives that you can get involved with, like beach clean-ups if you live near the coast or volunteering at animal sanctuaries.

Meghan is a junior English and history major at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. She hopes to one day write a novel and is constantly on the search for her next cup of a coffee, a good book, and a dog that she can pet.

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