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Four Tips on How to be More Environmentally Conscious as a College Student

“Sustainability” and “environmentally friendly” are two major buzzwords we hear all the time these days in the midst of a climate crisis. But, what does it mean to actually adopt a sustainable lifestyle? As college students, many of our lifestyles simply consist of convenience and ease. Generally speaking, we tend to opt for the cheapest, fastest, and easiest options in our already chaotic lives, which typically aren’t the most environmentally friendly options out there. Sure, as the generation who has been tasked with changing our world to protect our future home, it’s safe to say a good amount of us care deeply about our Earth, but when a full load of classes, multiple jobs for many of us, and personal friendships and relationships hold such prevalence in our day to day lives, sustainability is generally pushed to the back burner; and honestly, that’s completely natural. It would be unrealistic to push a lifestyle where we try to be 100% eco-friendly 100% of the time, especially as broke and busy college students. With that in mind, however, we can easily make some significant strides in reducing our carbon footprint without sacrificing our chaotic college lifestyles by following these four tips.  

Reduce your single-use plastic consumption.

Single-use plastics are arguably one of the most common subjects we hear about when discussing the many ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprints, yet the vast majority of us still rely on single-use plastics in our everyday lives. Single-use plastics refer to any item made by fossil-fuel based chemicals that are typically designed to be disposed of after one usage, hence the term “single-use.” Some of the most prevalent single-use plastics around us include plastic bags from stores, plastic snack or sandwich bags, plastic water bottles, plastic utensils, plastic cling wrap, and any plastic packaging (which is unfortunately on a lot of things.) Depending on the materials of the single-use plastic item, it could take anywhere from 10 to 1,000 years for a single piece of plastic to decompose. This has proven to be a major issue, particularly in regards to the prosperity of marine life, considering most of these single-use plastics end up in our oceans. Thankfully, there are an abundance of wonderful alternatives to single-use plastics out there. Some of my personal favorite replacements to single-use plastics include sturdy metal (or even hard plastic) water bottles, reusable straws, reusable beeswax and fabric “cling wraps,” reusable stasher bags to replace Ziploc baggies, and, of course, reusable grocery bags (my favorites are the ones the fold into a tiny pouch to clip onto your purse or backpack so you never forget them.)

Opt for less meat in your diet.

Out of all these tips, reducing your consumption of meat (and other animal products) can have some of the most significant impacts in reducing your carbon footprint. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating that the whole world should go vegan (although if you’re interested, feel free to check out my article on why I went vegan and how you can too). I completely understand that living a plant-based lifestyle is not attainable for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine if you choose to still consume animal products. However, if you’re hoping to make a positive impact on the environment, I suggest reducing your animal product consumption wherever you see fit. Many people start with “Meatless Mondays” or trading cow’s milk for a plant-based alternative like oat, almond, cashew, or coconut milk (team oat milk for the win!). Even if those changes feel small and insignificant at first, I can assure you they add up and make a significant impact. For example, did you know that it takes nearly 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef? That’s right, eating just one pound of beef is equivalent to showering approximately 105 times in terms of water usage. Just think about what kind of an impact you could have by cutting out meat just a few times a month!

Commute via public transit, biking, or walking.
Girl On Retro Bike
Breanna Coon / Her Campus

Believe me, I love the convenience of driving in a car to destinations near me just as much as everyone else does, but if you’re looking for an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, I highly recommend opting for a more environmentally friendly alternative to driving, especially when your destination is close to you. While I concede that commuting via car is incredibly convenient, try challenging yourself to more eco-friendly alternatives like biking, walking, riding public transit, or even carpooling. As someone who doesn’t have a car, this has been something I’ve become quite accustomed to, and honestly, I’ve grown to appreciate it. In particular, biking has become my favorite mode of transportation. Not only is it incredibly eco-friendly, but you also get a nice little workout in! Walking is also a great way of commuting to places nearby while also enjoying the fresh air. However, if you live in a climate where you have some nasty weather during the fall and winter seasons, you may want to consider having public transit and/or a carpool as an option for the colder months.

Shop second-hand.

Fast fashion brands such as Forever 21, Shein, Zaful, Fashion Nova, and countless others are dominating the production world with a staggering 10% of all of humanity’s carbon emissions. While I fully understand that fast fashion brands are sometimes the only option for many people due to their affordable prices, it is incredibly important that we as consumers begin to veer away from supporting this incredibly detrimental mass production of clothing. On the other hand, though, shopping from sustainable and ethical clothing brands is often extremely expensive and is typically well beyond the budget of college students. That’s where second-hand purchases come into play! Thrift shopping is a wonderful option in terms of both its environmental impacts as well as the low and affordable prices. Plus, thrifting can also be incredibly fun! Going into a thrift shop not knowing what items you’ll come out with is almost a little thrill in itself. Bonus tip: If you’re not comfortable going into thrift shops right now because of the pandemic, check out online second-hand stores like Poshmark, ThredUp, and Depop.

As a busy college student, it may prove a bit difficult making significant decisions and alterations to your current lifestyle in order to be more environmentally conscious, however these strides towards a more sustainable lifestyle don’t need to be drastic at all! It’s all about making a few small changes to your habits in order to yield significant changes in the end.

Madeleine Abram

CU Boulder '23

Madeleine is a sophomore majoring in media production and journalism. In her free time, you can find her getting boba tea, scouting out her local coffee shops, thrifting, exploring nature, cooking delicious vegan food, or playing with her two dogs and pet guinea pig!
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