Here are 21 simple things you can do at uni to help the environment right now
You don’t have to glue yourself to a train
In light of the warning from climate scientists that we have just 12 years to save our planet from irreversible damage, social media has been flooded with outcries from the public, calling for the government to make urgent changes before it's too late.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of London as part of the Extinction Rebellion protests, and national treasure David Attenborough has even teamed up with Netflix to produce an eye-opening documentary, "Our Planet", detailing the ecological disaster the world is currently facing.
Many have taken matters into their own hands – making drastic lifestyle changes in an attempt to reverse ecological damage. Leading an eco-friendly lifestyle often comes at a price however, which most people think is unattainable on a budget. But there are still lots of ways that you can do your bit to combat climate change without joining Extinction Rebellion or abstaining from air travel. Here are the easiest:
1. Make your room Pinterest worthy with some houseplants
First off, congratulations if you've got houseplants and you've actually succeeded in keeping them alive for more than three days, you're doing considerably better than the rest of us.
Secondly, if you don't have any, why not? Houseplants are not only a great way to make your room a bit less bland, but they can also help to improve air quality and general health. Try purchasing a peace lily or a spider plant to reduce levels of carbon dioxide, pollutants, and dust. Or if the stress of that impending dissertation is getting to you, stick a lavender plant on your desk to soothe anxiety and insomnia.
Don't forget to read up on how to care for them though! And it's also important to note that watering plants in the morning or at night, whilst it's still cool, will prevent excess evaporation, conserving water. Perhaps making this part of your morning routine will remind you to water them, so they actually stand a chance at surviving.
2. Swap your lightbulbs for energy-efficient alternatives
Switching your current lightbulbs to LED or CFL replacements is one of the easiest ways to conserve the environment. They use less energy to emit the same amount of light as traditional lightbulbs, and last up to 12 times longer.
In fact, if you were to leave them on for 12 hours a day, they could last as long as 11 years. So unless you decide to do a Master's and a PhD, it's unlikely you'll have to replace them at any point during your time at uni.
3. Invest in rechargeable batteries for your fairy lights
Plastering your walls in battery-operated decor seems like a great idea until the batteries run out and you realise that nobody has any spares, because there's literally no other use for them anymore.
Purchasing rechargeable batteries doesn't just reduce waste, but will save you the expense of having to replace them, and keep your room looking Instagram-able in the mean time.
4. Buy a reusable shopping bag and actually REUSE it
You've heard the phrase "every penny counts" and most of us abide by this when it comes to carrier bags. Nobody wants to splash out a whole five pence on a plastic bag that won't even last the journey home before it breaks.
This is where reusable shopping bags come in handy; you can pick up stylish totes pretty cheap in most high street stores and loads get handed out for free at Freshers' Fair, so you can accessorise your outfit and do your bit for the planet!
Nothing comes without a carbon footprint however, so be sure to actually reuse your tote rather than just collect them. Remember, it's an environmental statement, not a fashion statement.
5. Join everyone else in the 21st century and stop printing out your notes
We've all grown up in a digital era, so when it comes to education, we're no strangers to technology – notes, lectures and even entire libraries are available online.
There's really no excuse to print your notes when you can keep them all in one place on your laptop or phone – you're less likely to lose them, they're easier to transport and most importantly, you're preventing trees from being cut down unnecessarily.
Anyone who's lived in halls will know the pain of receiving junk mail addressed to the previous occupants. If you're the culprit of this, it's not just annoying, but also wastes those precious trees when the current students inevitably throw your post in the bin. Unsubscribe from the mailing lists, and sign up for email notifications instead. You can do this for bank statements too.
6. Opt for zero-waste toiletries
Zero-waste toiletries are all the rage at the moment. Shampoo bars drastically reduce plastic waste, but also last longer and promise not to strip your hair of its natural oils like detergent based shampoos.
But if you don't fancy the switch to solid shampoo just yet, brands such as Simple have rebranded several of their products in pouches, which boast 62 per cent less packaging than the standard bottle.
Or you could try switching from disposable plastic razors to a reusable metal alternative, for a cleaner shave.
It's not just your spending habits that can help reduce plastic waste. Before you throw your make-up away, consider donating it. Charities for domestic abuse survivors will accept unwanted cosmetics, and wildlife shelters have requested old mascara wands to groom small animals.
7. Unless you've got norovirus, wash your clothes in cold water
If you do have the misfortune of contracting the dreaded winter bug and need to urgently sanitise all your tea towels, the NHS recommends washing them at 60 degrees celsius to kill off bacteria, but otherwise cold water should suffice.
In fact, most fabrics respond better to cooler water, meaning you're less likely to shrink or fade your clothes. Not only will you drastically reduce the amount of energy needed to power the washing machine, but you'll be reducing the cost of your gas and electricity bills too.
If sticking your clothes in the dryer after washing them is part of your routine, maybe consider hanging them out to dry for a change. A dryer might seem more convenient but purchasing a washing line (or an airer for the cooler months) will also conserve energy and save on your electricity bill.
8. Don't break the bank buying brand new books, borrow them instead
It's common knowledge that university reading lists come at a crippling price which maintenance loans do not account for. But it's not just your bank account that suffers when buying a brand new textbook – you're essentially funding deforestation.
Whilst this might require you to actually step foot in the library for once, borrowing a book instead of buying it outright will save you a whopping sum of money and some trees in the process. You only use some of them for a semester.
If you really feel the need to annotate your books, you can always opt for buying them second-hand, or participating in a book-swap. Websites like Amazon and AbeBooks usually offer discounted prices on used books.
9. Ditch plastic cups and start using metal straws to strawpedo VKs, you legend
Cutting down on alcohol might be out of the question, but there are ways you can adapt your drinking habits to help reduce waste.
Whether your tipple is wine or spirits, drinking from vessels made of glass rather than single use plastic is far more eco-friendly. If you can't afford to splash out on new glassware, old jam or pasta sauce jars make perfectly good alternatives.
And if you've gotta strawpedo, use a metal straw.
Another simple change you can make is to cut up the plastic rings that hold together cans of beer and cider before you throw them away, to prevent wildlife becoming trapped in them.
10. Buy a reusable coffee mug
Coffee is a staple of student life – hats off to anyone that's survived university without caffeine running through their veins. If saving the planet weren't incentive enough to invest in a reusable coffee mug, you should know most coffee shops offer a discount for anyone that brings their own cup.
11. Don't bin kilos of perfectly reusable wrapping paper, and don't use tin foil either. You cretin
You're a raging Tory if you haven't received a gift wrapped in tin foil or whatever else your frugal friends can get their hands on. Why not step up your game and impress everyone by wrapping their presents in last year's paper or gift bags?
12. Store your lunch in reusable containers
Speaking of cling film, when you've finished using the last of it to wrap your mate's birthday present, consider buying some reusable containers before you purchase any more. Your lunch is more likely to survive the trip to campus without getting crushed at the bottom of your bag, and you'll be reducing plastic waste at the same time.
13. Commit to meat-free Mondays
Cutting down on meat is one of the best things you can do to help the environment. Whilst it might be unrealistic to ask everyone to go vegan, adopting a vegetarian diet for just one day a week can drastically reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and conserve water.
Equally, replacing dairy products, such as milk, with plant-based alternatives is a great way of doing your bit for the planet.
14. Make sure that you're recycling efficiently
Are you even living in a uni house if there isn't a huge recycling mountain slowly taking over your kitchen? This is a great start to environmentally friendly living, but it turns out lots of us are actually doing it wrong – resulting in recyclable items being sent to landfills or incinerators.
It might seem helpful to crush tin cans or plastic bottles, making more space in the bin, but this can prevent processors from recognising their shape and sorting them correctly.
Recycling centres often won't except anything that has been stained by food, due to the possibility of contamination. However, a quick rinse of most plastic packaging will rid it of any meat juices or residue, so don't be too hasty in throwing them in the bin.
It's also worth checking with your local council whether they except items like pizza boxes that can't be washed before you chuck them on the recycling pile. If they don't, maybe it'll encourage you to cut down on the takeaways and actually learn to cook.
15. Buy food essentials in bulk
Whilst this might initially seem a little more costly, buying in bulk is cheaper in the long run and uses far less packaging than purchasing multiple smaller portions.
You won't ever have to worry about running out of pasta either!
Another tip for when you're shopping is to remember that the natural skin on fruit and veg is sufficient enough to protect them from damage – avoid buying products with unnecessary packaging.
16. Cook together as a house
Buying in bulk might be problematic when it comes to storing the food in your cramped kitchen, so sharing with friends is always another option. You're less likely to waste food, plus cooking with your housemates is a pretty good bonding exercise!
If communal cooking isn't for you, there are still ways you can cut down on food waste. Try only buying what you can eat and don't be fooled by two for one offers – you won't be saving any money when you throw that salad away uneaten.
As tempting as it might be to grab lunch on campus, your Mum was right all those times she told you "we've got food at home", so stick your leftovers in that newly purchased Tupperware and save yourself some money!
17. Reduce how frequently you have to change the bins by composting
Gardening probably isn't your first priority, so you might be wondering how a compost heap will be of any use to you. However, if you do find yourself having to waste food, sticking it on a compost pile isn't just beneficial for the soil, but will save space in your kitchen bin.
You won't have to change the bins as frequently and they'll be cleaner; preventing whoever has the misfortune of changing them from sticking their hands in mouldy food waste.
Plus by decreasing the amount of waste sent to landfill sites, you'll be reducing methane emissions and lowering your carbon footprint in the process!
18. Unless you want to become a free taxi service, leave your car at home
Most university cities have regular public transport or are easily accessible on foot, so bringing your Fiat 500 to uni is just a waste of a parking permit. Car-pooling might be better for the environment than travelling solo, but you could save yourself a lot of money on petrol and that expensive gym membership, by opting to walk or cycle instead.
19. Buy a reusable water bottle
Buying bottled water is not only detrimental to the planet and your wallet, but has also been linked to poor health.
Whilst slightly pricier than their disposable alternative, reusable water bottles are generally BPA free (a type of plastic linked to cancer), and often keep your water cooler for longer.
20. Ditch high street stores and check out the charity shops instead
Buying used clothes has a range of environmental benefits, including fewer carbon emissions, conserving water, and reducing waste. If Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" wasn't enough to persuade you that charity shops can be cool, you can always search for a bargain in an edgy vintage boutique or an online store, such as ASOS Marketplace.
When you get home with your charity shop haul and realise there's no room for those edgy garms in your tiny room, think twice before you chuck out your old clothes. Why not make yourself some money by selling them on a used clothes app, such as Depop.
21. Turn off the radiators in rooms you aren't using
Turning on the heating is a sure-fire way to rack up a huge electricity bill, so put on that designer jumper you picked up at the vintage store, and save your precious loan at the same time as conserving energy.
Everyone knows though, that student-house cold is next level cold, so if it does get to the point where you need to switch on the heating, consider turning off the radiators in rooms which aren't in use. Your boiler will work more efficiently, saving gas and money!