Sustainability is broadly defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” as provided by the UN Council in 1987. This can seem like a steep goal, especially as a college student. Living in dorms or apartments, with meal plans that are out of your control, sometimes it just seems easier to go with the flow. This post will share easy tips for how to stay sustainable in college. Remember it’s not about being perfect; it’s about being mindful and doing as much as you can!
In Your Dorm: Use what you have. At the most basic level, this is what sustainability is about. Don’t buy bamboo utensils if you don’t have to.
Consider the underlying shipping and production costs to the environment. Many college students already have a set of metal utensils they can stick in their backpacks and clean when they get home. If you have an article of clothing you no longer wear, cut it up and make it into rags to wash surfaces. Reuse cans, containers, water bottles in upcycling projects. Pinterest is a great resource for getting upcycling ideas. This mindful use of products we already own is not only cost-effective for a university budget but environmentally friendly.
Start a garden. This is totally doable in a dorm room. All you need is a window and some seeds. Bonus points if you reuse something like an empty can as a potter. Also, this can save you money if you grow anything edible. My roommates and I have an AeroGarden where we grow basil, parsley, dill, and rosemary.
Stop wasting food. The United States is the leader in global food waste and contributes nearly 40 million tons of food to landfills each year (via rts). There are a lot of ways to combat this. If you’re eating at a dining hall, only ask for/take what you’re going to eat. If you grocery shop, meal plan so that produce doesn’t go to waste. Save veggie scraps in the freezer for vegetable stock later.
In the Community: Bring your reusable bags! Whole Foods, Giant and other grocers are allowing you to use your reusable bags again. If you forget your bags in the car, you can always refuse bags in the store, leave your groceries in the cart, and bag with your bags when you get to the car. If you don’t feel comfortable using reusable bags or forget altogether, remember many retailers like Giant, Target and Walmart recycle plastic bags that aren’t accepted in single-stream recycling programs.
Consider using a reusable mask (make sure they have 2-3 layers, inner filter pockets, and are made of a tightly woven fabric). Single-use masks are made of a plastic material known as polypropylene, which takes hundreds of years to decompose. Although the shutdown undoubtedly had positive effects on the climate, the pandemic has also created a surge in “COVID-19 waste” like gloves, masks and cleaning supply containers. At the very least, pull the ear loops off disposable masks before throwing them away to ensure wildlife don’t get tangled up in them.
Support Local. Buying local products reduces your global impact, keeps your community unique, creates jobs and investment in the area as well as so much more. There is no end to what you can buy locally whether it’s food (buy in season), clothes, beauty supplies, etc. Many community farmer’s markets are open with COVID-19 guidelines, such as the Lancaster County Farmers’ Market in Wayne. Everyone was hit hard by the shutdown so buying local will help local economies.