Given the ongoing climate crisis — which grows more alarming every day — taking care of Earth is more important than ever, and sustainability is top of mind for many. While the onus is on corporations (not consumers) to do their part in prioritizing sustainability, there are little things we can all do to help take steps in the right direction. While tackling the climate crisis can be daunting, rest assured we can collectively make a positive impact by making small, sustainable decisions in college and beyond. If you’re ready to help, here are seven easy ways to stay sustainable in college.
- keep reusable glass jars handy
According to a report from National Geographic, only 9% of plastic actually gets recycled, and according to 2017 research published in Science Advances, if the trend continues, there will supposedly be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills by 2050. Yes, you read that correctly! To help combat this, opt for a sustainable option this semester, and stash your pistachios, pretzels, and other goodies in a glass jar rather than a single-use snack bag. Replacing single-use snack bags with glass jars is an excellent way to start distancing yourself from plastic — plus, they make cute storage containers for your dorm or apartment. If you prefer something that isn’t fragile, you can also opt for a reusable snack bag like this one, and know that you’re making a difference for the planet.
- use sustainable, low-waste beauty products
There’s a lot of buzz about sustainability in fashion, but have you ever considered how much waste the beauty industry produces? Savannah Trimble, a senior at Marist College, became passionate about living a more eco-friendly lifestyle when she bought her first Lush shampoo bar. She says that this led to her thinking about other ways to reduce her waste. Savannah tells Her Campus, “I now use bar soap and shampoo bars, along with a stainless steel razor so I don’t have plastic in my shower routine. I’m quite proud of that and highly recommend [it]!”
Another way to reduce plastic in your beauty routine is by trading your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. Bamboo toothbrushes are becoming more popular and you can find them easily at retailers like Target, Marshalls, or on Amazon. You can also start using bamboo hairbrushes, which are just as functional as plastic ones, only they’re way better for the planet.
- bring a reusable tote everywhere you go
College is all about being on-the-go, and you won’t always have time to stop at your dorm between classes, meetings, or grocery runs. Time to put the dozens of canvas bags you have lurking in the back of your closet to good use! Reusable tote bags are a simple, inexpensive swap to help you reduce plastic and waste on campus — plus, they’re ideal for bringing books, your wallet, a change of clothes, and anything else you need for a busy day in the life of a college student. Brianna Coba, a senior at Marist College, says, “I always try to bring reusable bags with me and use them in place of plastic bags, since those are extremely bad for the environment.” Savannah is also a fan of bringing reusable bags when she goes thrift shopping — which is yet another fun way to stay sustainable in college.
- swap your phone case for a biodegradable one
If you’re constantly dropping your phone at tailgates or you’re simply in the market for a new phone case, consider purchasing one that’s biodegradable or made out of recycled materials. There are several companies that were founded around the concept of creating functional products that are also earth-friendly. A great example of this? The Pela Case, which sells biodegradable phone cases along with other fun accessories. A bonus: Pela even ships its phone cases plastic-free! Other companies with similar missions include Eco Fashion by Wilma and Nimble, which offers cases made out of recycled plastic bottles. Considering your phone is something you’ll use every day of college and beyond, why not swap out its case for something sustainable?
- carry a reusable cup on campus
Between meetings at Starbucks and late night study sessions at your local coffee shop, think about how many cups of coffee or tea you drink per year — then consider how much paper and plastic waste you could eliminate by simply bringing along a reusable cup! Savannah tells Her Campus, “I like to carry around a reusable straw and a reusable cup. I like to do this because I feel less wasteful knowing that every single time I get coffee (which is a lot, especially for most college students), I am cutting the many plastic/plastic-lined paper cups out of the garbage and making an impact.”
Savannah also notes that being sustainable is even better for your wallet, especially if you’re a college student trying to save. She tells Her Campus, “You also get ten cents off any beverage at Starbucks when you bring your own cup!” And while ten cents might not sound like much, those dimes add up over time!
- practice sustainability from your dorm room
Being sustainable in college might seem overwhelming, but one of the easiest ways to start is by rethinking your dorm room habits! Is there something you do every day that might have a more sustainable option?
For example, consider many cups of coffee you make in your Keurig each semester when you’re cramming for finals or trying to squeeze in a few extra hours of studying. Probably a lot, right? Luckily, reusable K-cups can help ensure that making yourself a cup of coffee doesn’t come with an environmental cost, and can help you practice sustainability in a small way, straight from your dorm room. Another way to limit your plastic consumption at your dorm or apartment is to use eco-friendly cleaning products. Over the span of a year, cleaning products can account for a lot of plastic waste, plus, many household products aren’t always the safest. Companies like Blueland and JAWS are helping change that, and are awesome to add to your college routine.
- Use eco-friendly products when traveling
Whether you’re taking a weekend trip with your BFFs or going on your annual sorority retreat, travel can be an exciting part of your college experience. And with a few product swaps, travel can become less environmentally taxing. One way to help the planet is by using an eco-friendly luggage tag, like this one from Rareform, which is made of repurposed vinyl from billboards. The company has processed 2 million pounds of vinyl that were destined for landfills, which is a lot considering that a luggage tag is so small! When traveling, you can also bring reusable utensils for meals on the go so you don’t have to deal with any single-use plastic — along with many other sustainable travel hacks.
Both Brianna and Savannah have taken steps to become more eco-friendly because they believe it to be essential for helping our planet. “Although our actions may seem small, every effort counts to protect the environment,” Brianna says. Savannah agrees. “Being sustainable, to me, is so important because every little action adds up,” she says. “We can all reduce our plastic waste, reuse, and speak up against climate change injustices. I think it’s crucial for everyone to at least try to make an impact, whether it’s skipping a straw, or taking shorter showers, or walking/biking instead of driving short distances.”
While it can be difficult (and perhaps feel a bit unrealistic) to stay sustainable in college, try starting small with simple product swaps. Remember, a little goes a long way — soon, you’ll be on the right track to living a more environmentally conscious, sustainable life in college and beyond! As Anne Marie Bonneau, owner of Zero Waste Chef, says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Anne Marie Bonneau
Brianna Coba, Marist College
Savannah Trimble, Marist College
Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science advances, 3(7), e1700782.
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