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7 Easy Steps Students Can Take to Be More Sustainable

Going green can be hard on a student's budget and lifestyle. Here are some of my tips and tricks to make it easier!

Written by
Rachel Liu

It’s hard to be eco-friendly as a student. But then again, it’s hard to be eco-friendly, period. However, going green means making a commitment and sticking to it so we can learn ways to deal with these challenges.

If you're trying to live more sustainably but often find yourself being limited by the choices available to you as a student, this article is for you.

7 Steps Students Can Take to Be More Sustainable

1. Take Notes Electronically

Are you a stationery fiend? Muji-obsessed? Love the way crisp, lined notebook paper feels underneath your palms? Well, my friend, I have some news for you. Every time you fill up a new notebook (and if we’re being honest, it doesn’t happen all that often), the environment bears an additional burden.

Paper accounts for around 26% of total waste at landfills, and deforestation, energy overuse, water overconsumption, and air pollution are all problems that come hand-in-hand with the production of that paper in your back-to-school notebooks.

Instead of using paper, opt for electronic notes. Whether you use Word or Google Docs on your laptop or iPad apps such as Notion and GoodNotes, know you’ll get the ultimate Tumblr study aesthetic that’s both good for your grades and the planet. 

2. Reuse

You might be surprised, but everything, from Tupperware to Ziploc bags can and should be reused. In fact, even though Ziploc bags aren’t typically marketed as being reusable, carrying some crackers in them to snack on during a boring Econ lecture—then washing them out and doing the same thing the next day—is perfectly acceptable. (And dare we say innovative.) Just make sure you haven’t marinated raw meat or stored eggs inside your bags; the bacteria that might remain isn’t worth getting food poisoning over.

Also, do yourself a favor and buy a nice, long-lasting reusable water bottle. Then—and we can’t emphasize this enough—hydrate yourself. 

3. Order Less Takeout or Reduce Your Takeout Waste

Used Doordash recently? Yeah, me too. But did you know that while eating takeout, we’re contributing to an enormous amount of waste? According to National Geographic, over 36 billion disposable knives, forks, and spoons are used annually in the United States: “Laid end to end, they could wrap around the globe 139 times.”

While takeout is a ubiquitous part of college life, the waste that often accompanies your favorite order of beef fried rice doesn’t have to be. Keep some plates and silverware in your dorm, then order at your favorite takeout places and write a note requesting no disposable napkins, plastic utensils, or straws. It really is that easy.

Plus, if you’re ordering on GrubHub, the website even lets you check a box that declines napkins, plastic-ware, and straws during checkout. Modern problems really do require modern solutions.

4. Take Public Transit or Bike

Carbon emissions are another huge problem for us modern travelers. According to the Center for Climate Solutions, carbon dioxide produced by the fuel used in our cars makes up 76% of total greenhouse gas emissions. And the United States, along with Russia, currently holds one of the world’s highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions.

If you remember back to your middle school science curriculum, greenhouse gases contribute precipitously to global warming, causing rising sea levels, droughts, wildfires, and negatively impacting natural ecosystems, food supplies, and world health. Although Elon Musk is currently trying to build a green-travel empire, the rest of us non-billionaires can contribute by decreasing our mileage and taking the bus or biking around campus whenever possible. 

Buy discounted monthly bus fares, or better yet, use your student ID for mostly free transportation! Enough said. 

5. BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag

The UN estimates that every day, around 8 million pieces of plastic enter the ocean, endangering wildlife and disrupting precariously balanced ecosystems. 

To do your part in reducing plastic waste, get a cute tote, then bring it everywhere. Yes, really. Everywhere. The grocery store, where you can bag your own produce, thank you very much. The thrift shop, where you don’t really need a plastic bag for “just five cents.” Around campus, where you might be expected to lug around some textbooks or some extra light reading that turns out to be not so light after all. Efficient, fashionable, and environmentally friendly!

6. Buy Secondhand

Although buying new sustainable products is a good step forward, always look to buy secondhand first. Mercari and Poshmark are my go-to’s for snagging affordable deals. Facebook marketplace is good for in-person treasures. Plus, seniors will also have good quality, barely-used furniture that they’re willing to sell at severely discounted prices when they move out, so get on those at the end of each year.

As for college-specific secondhand initiatives, UC Berkeley owns a student-run ReUSE store where everything sells for $3 or less to encourage students to rescue secondhand goods before they become dumped in landfills. Rather than buying brand new dorm essentials then retiring them four years later, students can save some money and reduce waste by giving gently used items a second life.

7. Turn It Off

Like the Book of Mormon once advised, just turn it off! Water, electricity, lights. These are all no-brainer energy resources we don’t typically think of conserving when we’re talking about going green. But really, you can buy all the fancy, reusable beeswax wraps you want and still be wasting serious amounts of energy per month, not to mention hundreds of dollars. Unplugging what you're not using is one easy free way to make a difference.