As a college student in this day and age, I know better than anyone how hard it is to be environmentally friendly. We tear through one-use notecards, chug late-night espresso out of paper coffee cups, and take any opportunity to drive around aimlessly blasting music and burning gas. After watching one too many Netflix nature documentaries, I decided that David Attenborough's pleas would not land on deaf ears. So, from one college student to another, here are fourteen ways to save the Earth and be a dope human.
One of my favorite additions to my at-school-snack bin has been reusable sandwich and snack bags from Amazon. These bags are convenient, sleek-looking, and an amazing alternative to one-use zip-top bags! They come in many different colors and sizes and they are incredibly easy to use. I put snacks in them at the beginning of the week, shove them in the front pocket of my backpack and clean them out with soap and water at the end of the week when they're empty.
We've been taught since we were little how harmful one-use plastic bottles can be for the environment. Each one can take up to 450 years to decompose and in that time they pose a serious threat to wildlife and can leach harmful chemicals into our ecosystems. A great solution to this is reusable water bottles! However it is you obtain one, whether it be for free from the booths on campus or from the Hydro Flask display at Dick's #sksksksk, this is a great way to keep disposable plastic water bottles out of the oceans and sea creatures bellies!
I found these really cool recycled paper notebooks on accident while looking for folders at Target and they are now my favorite school supply. They're made by designer Michael Roger, based in New York, and sold by big-box retailers like Target, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. They are made of "100% Consumer Waste" and come in a wide selection of aesthetically pleasing designs and patterns. I used one for each of my classes this semester and I'm hyped to recycle them and get a new set for the spring.
4. Turn Off Your Lights.
I know your parents have probably been telling you this for as long as you can remember, but one of the easiest ways to be environmentally conscious is to turn off the lights when you leave a room. While your parents were most likely advising turning off the lights so their electric bill wouldn't skyrocket, turning off lights can actually be very beneficial to the environment! You see, the electricity used to power your home is in many cases produced in communities solely reliant on fossil fuel-fired power plants. As we know, fossil fuels are garbage for the environment, so leaving the lights on and wasting energy inevitably leads to the burning of excess fossil fuels to replenish what was lost. To avoid this, all we have to do is flip a switch!
5. Unplug Power Strips and Cords.
Along the same lines, unplugging power strips and chargers while not in use is another great way to save energy. I learned quite recently that when a charger of any kind, computer, phone, speaker, etc is left plugged into the wall while not in use, it can still pull electricity, which of course has no place to go and dissipates. While this seems like a rather minute issue, think about how many days you have left your phone charger plugged into the wall next to your bed. Total up all of those days and you have a significant amount of energy loss per day, per month, even per year! I understand the inconvenience of having to unplug and replug your charger every time you aren't using it, so consider unplugging it when you leave for work or school in the morning, and then plugging it back in when you get home or plugging all of your chargers into a power strip with an off switch.
Ah, one of my true favorites, reusable grocery bags. In my hometown, Austin, plastic bags were banned by a city ordinance in 2013 to help achieve the city's zero-waste goals. When I got to College Station, however, I was quickly reminded that single-use plastic and paper bags are still a prevalent source of pollution in Texas and the U.S. as a whole, and seem to be used just about everywhere. The answer? Reusable bags! I have at least five that I have received for free as promotional items from various companies, and they are typically sold at your local grocery store as a green alternative. So throw some in the back of your car and get shopping! One of my favorite grocery bags is this canvas one from Etsy that I received as a gift and now bring with me everywhere!
7. Thrift Shop.
You know what's trendy? Thrift shopping. You know why else thrift shopping is cool? It's great for the environment! Reusing has proven time and time again to be the best way to be consistently environmentally conscious, and thrifting is a really fun way to do it. I have found some of the best old sports t-shirts, vintage denim, and vibey 80's windbreakers while thrift shopping and I can feel good about purchasing them as well because they're affordable and really good for ole' mother earth! The same goes for getting rid of old clothes. Instead of throwing them away, you can donate them to your local thrift stores like Goodwill or The Salvation Army, or you can aim your sights a little higher and take your clothes to a resale retailer like Plato's Closet or Buffalo Exchange to make a little cash off of your unwanted things.
8. Look for Environmentally Conscious Beauty Products.
This one tends to be a bit of a toughy because environmentally friendly products can be expensive and difficult to come by. Lucky for you, lots of local grocery and drug-stores have begun to carry more sustainable brands and I've recently discovered that some of my favorite brands have always been sustainable. My personal favorites are Burt's Bees, Alba Botanica, SheaMoisture, and Love Beauty and Planet. Having used all of these myself, I can attest to the fact that they work, they are sustainable and they are easy to obtain! The Murumuru Butter and Rose scent is my favorite from Love Beauty and Planet. 10/10 Would recommend.
As the Vsco girls have made very known, plastic straws are not awesome for the environment. For clarification, plastic straws make up a minuscule percent of global pollution, but it can't hurt to limit our usage of them! I asked for a set of reusable metal and rubber straws for my birthday last year and now I take them everywhere with me. I have one in my backpack, a few in my car, and one or two in my kitchen for when I really just want to use a straw. The same concept goes for plastic silverware. Instead of opting for the one-use wonders at a restaurant, consider obtaining your own set of reusables to take with you. Many sets come with helpful carrying pouches or cases to keep your silverware together and make them easier to transport, which I have found to be incredibly helpful. Another alternative to one-use plastic silverware is Sporks! Purchasing a single utensil with the function of three is a super-easy way to keep from using one-use plastic silverware. I bought one from Amazon and it is a little goofy but I love it, it works great and it's dishwasher safe-aka my new favorite utensil.
10. Meatless Days/Meals.
According to an ICCP (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report published recently, an easy and sustainable way to be environmentally friendly is to take one meatless day a week, or per month if that better suits you. Raising livestock requires massive amounts of water and produces lots of harmful greenhouse gases. A great way to combat this is by taking one meat-free day a week. Whether that be by eating mac and cheese for all three meals or going plant-based for a day, it can be a really fun and impactful way to be environmentally conscious. It has been said that going meatless also has various health benefits! According to the Mayo Clinic, reducing the amount of red meat we ingest can lead to a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, which sounds pretty awesome to me. I also tend to take one meatless meal per day, which can be a lot less intimidating than an entire day.
11. Concentrated Cleaners.
Another huge use of plastic in our day-to-day lives is in cleaning products. Our window and countertop cleaners, our dishwasher detergent, etc. I would encourage you all to look for more eco-friendly cleaning options when shopping for groceries and I promise you'll be surprised at how many options there are. One of my favorites is something called concentrated cleaners. The way they work is you buy a concentrated cleaner compatible spray bottle, and they will typically come with the first set of concentrated cleaners in pod-form. You place a pod in the neck of the bottle, and after filling it up with water you've essentially made your own cleaner. Once you have used up the bottle, you simply take out the pod and put in a new one. My favorite brand of concentrated cleaner is Truman's, one my mom started using a while back and hasn't stopped since! Using concentrated cleaners prevents us from buying a new plastic bottle each time and saves money because we're no longer paying for the plastic bottle along with the cleaner. Sounds like a win-win to me!
I am beginning to understand that there are many things we traditionally recycle that can not actually be processed as recycling. Republic Services has a very cool website that goes into detail into the do's and don'ts of recycling and provides a quick list of some common mistakes that we make when recycling. If you have a minute or so, check it out! It is an incredibly easy way to work with your community to be more environmentally friendly.
13. Get Informed.
In the current consumer-driven culture we've grown up in, I have noticed a strong correlation between environmentally harmful products and the uninformed consumer. We go about our daily routine- plastic straw in our morning coffee, a burger for lunch, toss another one-use plastic water bottle onto the floorboards of our car, and so on and so forth. As Americans, we are so disconnected from product to industry to overarching environmental impact. We don't feel bad eating meat because we don't see how cows are raised commercially, we don't feel bad throwing a plastic bottle out the window because we don't see it ten years down the road in the stomach of a seagull. We can be painfully ignorant of the environmental impact we have as individuals, and it oftentimes isn't even our fault. Large scale industries constantly take advantage of our naivety, making sure we are distanced from the truth because they understand how much sales would decline if we understood the negative implications of our constant consumption. A good way to combat this is to make yourself more aware! Watch a documentary on Netflix, listen to a podcast, read an article, or even follow an environmentally conscious account on Instagram. A few of my favorite educating tools are the OurPlanet and OurPlanet Behind the Scenes series on Netflix, the Trophy documentary available for rent on Amazon video, the book Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet by Ashlee Piper, and Instagram accounts @spaceandpause, @jenlittlebirdie, and @educatedearthling.
14. Share What You Know.
Odds are, lots of people walking on the Earth right now don't know or care about the state that our environment is in or what a pivotal time 2020 is. I know people in my own life who feel that way, and as frustrating as it can be, sometimes the only thing to do is give them the tools to understand on their own. So what should you do? Share what you know! Share something you learned from this article, something you learned from a documentary or post, heck! You could even share this article! Shameless plug, but as far as the environment is concerned, no exposure is bad exposure, and we need to start educating our peers and making changes right now. Our environmental journey starts today!