19 Ways You Can Protect the Environment as a Student (+ An Ecologist’s Advice)
Revising, exams, trying to enjoy a social life and maintain general order in your life. It’s busy being a student, and it can be hard to find time to make yourself ‘eco-friendly’.
But you don’t need to overhaul your lifestyle to make a difference – we’ve picked 19 ways you can make a positive impact by making small changes.
Before we get started, try this footprint calculator to determine how many planets we’d need if everyone lived like you.
How to Protect the Environment as a Student
1. Ditch the Paper
You can do anything without paper these days – enrol on your course, get learning resources and class resources via email, and take lecture notes on your phone (assuming you’re paying attention anyway).
If you think there are ways your uni could decrease the amount of paper they use, make suggestions and check their paper usage policy.
Further Reading: The University of Manchester Paper Reduction Statement
2. Buy a Water Bottle
We use so much plastic from buying bottled water instead of reusing old ones when we could be carrying a more permanent solution. If you forget your bottle, your uni should have a water cooler (which stocks recyclable cups, we hope).
Further Reading: The Best Durable Water Bottles
3. Recycle/Reuse Your Books
While your books certainly aren’t doing any harm sat on your bookshelf, they could be recycled or reused by someone else.
Send your books to a book buyer who will either resell them or recycle them, so it can be used for other purposes. You’ll be giving someone else the chance to learn without using more resources, or saving resources. It’s a win-win.
4. Turn Off Your Phone
Do you need to check your Instagram when you’re falling asleep in your 5th lecture of the day? Do you want notifications from the Student Beans app at 3 am?
If you know you won’t be needing your phone for the foreseeable future, turn it off. You won’t be scrambling around like the world’s about to end as you hit 1%, and you’ll be saving energy.
Further Reading: Tips for Saving Energy With Your Mobile Phone
It’s pretty obvious – but still relevant. If your uni has recycling bins, use them. If they don’t, ask why they don’t.
It can be difficult to recycle, especially if you’re living in the herd-like environment of shared living. Other people might not be passionate about the planet, so you might have to take on more responsibility.
Check your university’s recycling and wastage scheme for more information – here’s one from The University of Sussex.
6. Avoid Public Transport When Possible
We get it, it rains a lot in the UK and it’s cold. But if you want to protect the environment, get your raincoat and mittens out and brave the storm. Plus, you’ll be burning off all those Aldi value pot noodles you devoured the night before.
Further Reading: 10 Smart Ways to Use Walking to Protect Planet Earth
7. Save Water
Protecting the planet means saving water – only 0.03% of the 70% of water available to us is freshwater.
There are plenty of ways you can save water in your student digs, like taking shorter showers, avoiding small clothes washes, and turn all your taps off.
8. Save Electricity
Sources of electricity such as coal are depleting, so it’s important to be mindful of electricity use and make adaptations so we can preserve sources while we find sustainable alternatives.
Methods of saving electricity are quite simple: don’t use unnecessary lights, unplug used electronics and try to limit the use of your washing machine.
9. Decrease Meat & Dairy Consumption
If the world is to avoid drastic climate change, meat-eating in the west has to decrease by 90% alone.
We consume a vast amount of livestock in our diets and the methane released into the atmosphere and deforestation required to house animals like cows and chickens are damaging the environment.
Unsustainable dairy farming leads to the destruction of ecologically important areas such as wetlands and forests.
However, the only way we can prevent more damage is by being responsible, and eating less meat.
Further Reading: 30+ Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Students
10. Buy Sustainable Foods
As humans started to get clever, we experimented with man-made chemicals and new methods of transport. Unfortunately, chemicals damage farmland and lengthy transport routes pollute the air.
If you want to eat more sustainably, check the source of your food and look for sustainable accreditations like Fairtrade, Freedom Food and The Marine Stewardship Council.
Further Reading: Six Tips to Help You Eat More Sustainably
11. Only Buy What You Need
Consumerism has everyone believing that we need to buy everything in the store.
You must have seen the panic every time a supermarket shuts for one bank holiday. People stock up as though they’re shutting for a month.
By only buying what you need, you reduce waste processing because you’re not generating as much waste.
12. Spread the Word
It’s easy to get overly passionate with this one – remember that Great Thunberg video?
While a lot of what she was saying was true and it gained plenty of news coverage, there was some negative backlash.
Remember you aren’t perfect, so try to be positive, spread the good news if it’s available and encourage everyone to get involved.
13. Buy From Considerate Brands
Manufacturing, distribution, waste – brands are being questioned all fronts nowadays, and often lose customers and money if they don’t make an effort to become sustainable.
Before you’re about to buy something – this can be tricky and you won’t be able to do it for every purchase – do some research on the company you’re buying the item from. You can look for indicators on the product as well, like recycling information.
Further Reading: 25 Sustainable UK Companies That Are Out to Save the Planet
14. Buy Reusable Bags
To see this number drop even further, you can buy reusable bags – they’re generally stronger than plastic bags anyway so they last longer.
15. Start Volunteering
You can make an impact on the environment by getting involved with local charities and assisting in the community.
There are several ways you can get involved, which include practical help like litter picks or river cleanups, fundraising opportunities like events and administrative roles like PR or legal assistance.
16. Pick Up Rubbish
Ugh! You must be crazy! While we wouldn’t advise picking up anything that could harm you – e.g. mouldy products, food or sharp objects, if you can dispose of any waste as you go about your daily routine you’ll be helping the environment.
Further Reading: Find a Litter Pick Near You
17. Support Local Food Produce
Do some research and find out who the local greengrocers and butchers are in your area. If you live close to the town or city centre, there should be a local market you can drop by.
Buying locally is good for the environment because you’re cutting transportation costs, it’s also great for the local economy because you’re keeping money flowing around your area.
18. Stop Littering
If you care about the environment we’ll presume you aren’t doing this anyway! But if you are, it can have a catastrophic effect.
Water and sewage systems can suffer damage, wildlife can eat the waste and soil can absorb toxic elements.
19. Buy Eco-Friendly Supplies
When you’re stocking up on university supplies like folders and pens, buy eco-friendly products that support the environment. Instead of buying 20 pens, buy one refillable pen that will last.
Further Reading: 7 Sustainable Stationery Products
An Ecologist’s Point of View – Charlotte Johnson
Caring is Cool
To protect the environment as a student is a pinnacle in establishing a ‘cool’ reputation among other students. Before I joined university in 2008, my passion for wildlife and conserving our local environment was something I kept under wraps, it certainly wasn’t considered trendy.
However, when I joined university and started studying environmental management, I was amazed at how many other students were like-minded, which encouraged me to become more vocal about the importance of the environment and the need to protect it.
How Can Students Make an Impact?
Many universities have dedicated environmental groups, but if they don’t, it could be an opportunity to become a founder of one. There are several projects or campaigns which you could establish, and could help influence the habits of fellow students and protect the environment.
- Increasing recycling within halls;
- Eradicating single use plastics from the university;
- Creating eco-events such as clothes swaps or local wine tasting; and
- Improving the habitats within your university grounds
How Can It Help Your Career Prospects?
University provides you with an opportunity like no other, and as a student you can influence others to make meaningful changes, changes we should all make in our everyday lives.
By working with people and demonstrating the importance of the environment, we can take responsibility for our actions and make a difference.
It can also help build those life skills that are required when you begin working. Through my involvement with my university’s environment group, I became an eco-rep which was also partly paid work.
It provided me with experience in presentation skills and stall holding at events. I also coordinated and executed projects within local schools.
My university education, along with my involvement in groups like this, has led me to my current ecological career at Mott MacDonald.
Are You Feeling More Eco-Friendly?
If you feel like you can make any of the positive changes listed in this article, it’s been a success.
So next time you’re thinking of grabbing your rucksack and trekking to Aldi for some processed pizzas made in Poland, think again!
And be aware that businesses are becoming more environmentally-conscious, so showing you’re passionate about the environment could help you land a job when you finish your degree.