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How to be greener and planet-friendly as a student

Becoming a student means starting a new chapter in your life and usually one where you’re living independently for the first time, too. Exciting and nerve wracking all in one, it’s also a great opportunity to change up some of your existing habits or implement planet-friendly changes that you may feel you haven’t been able to at home. Start your student life off the right way by planning to be greener and more planet-friendly from the start, whether you want to make a few small changes or embrace a way of living entirely. Any small change is a step forward!

Why it’s important to be planet-friendly as a student

The way we choose to travel, the purchases we make and the things we eat; these are all things that have a massive impact on the world around us, even if it doesn’t feel that way. As a student, whether you’re living away from home or not, you’re in a position to make good choices that will benefit the planet in the long-run.

You’re probably aware that we only have one planet, so doing everything we can to look after it is a responsibility we all have to shoulder and one we should be actively engaging with at all times. With that in mind, read on for all the different ways you can join your peers in being a green and planet-friendly student.

Buy used books

Every academic year begins with a long list of books classed as essential reading for the modules you’re due to study. We all know that not all of those books end up getting read so what’s the point in paying top dollar for them? Skip this step and buy your books second-hand instead. Not only will you be helping out the planet just a little bit, but you may even benefit from your predecessor’s notes in the margin! You can find books in many online stores but Abe Books specialises in second-hand ones.

Get a reusable bottle and mug

Learning is thirsty business but that isn’t a good enough excuse for buying plastic bottles of water in between lectures. In the UK especially, tap water is nearly always potable, meaning you can fill up a reusable bottle anywhere. You can even ask staff at the student pub to fill your bottles up and they will gladly oblige. Whilst we’re on the topic, if you’re a caffeine-fiend then invest in a reusable mug too. More often than not you’ll get a small discount for using a reusable option when you buy a hot drink to go.

Be mindful of water usage

Yes, we’re still banging on about water! Living on your own terms for the first time can be very liberating and you may want to take extra-long showers, do tiny loads of laundry just because, or even leave the tap running whilst brushing your teeth. We get it, but it’s lazy and it’s also really bad for the planet.

Watch your utilities usage in general

Image of thermostat on high temp

If you’re living in an all-bills included student property it can be really tempting to live in tropical temperatures all year long, because someone else is footing the bill. After years of your parents telling you to put a jumper on whenever you beg for the heating to be switched on, it can feel very freeing to swan around your student digs in nothing but a t-shirt whilst snow falls outside. However, your dad wasn’t wrong and if you’re doing this then your heating is set to overkill mode.

Switch off unnecessary electricals

We’ve all got them but we don’t always think about how much power they’re using just to be in standby mode. If you’re got something electrical in your home that only gets used every now and again then switch it off at the plug for an easy planet-friendly change.

Rechargeable batteries instead of disposable

And, whilst we’re on the topic of electricals, if you have any that are battery-powered instead of mains, purchase some rechargeable batteries to run them. Trust us, it saves a lot of frustration too!

Avoid the student stereotype

Image of bin overflowing with single-use items

You know the one; where their bedroom is littered with takeaway boxes, paper plates (“no washing up!”) and plastic solo cups. Takeaways are a nice treat but that’s exactly what they should remain; something you have on a rare occasion whilst cooking most of your meals from scratch. Paper plates and plastic cups may also save you on washing up but they also cause damage to the planet for the sake of a few saved minutes.

Skip the paper for the keyboard

A laptop can be a heavy thing to lug around to lectures but taking electronic notes instead of paper ones is better for the planet and is a major lifesaver next time you need to review what was said in a seminar. With paper notes you’ll be scrambling around an old bag amongst old receipts; with electronic notes? Well of course you’ve filed them away neatly with a reference that relates to the title and date of the lecture . . .

Shun the printer

In the same wheelhouse as paper notes is the printed note! Sometimes it’s essential to print an essay for an assignment, or perhaps you really struggle to review what you’ve written without making handwritten notes. We completely get it, but try to minimise how much you print where you can and, when you do print, do so double-sided!

Opt out of mail

Whilst we’re on the topic of paper make sure to do some admin to stop pointless mail from making its way to your home. You can opt for electronic bank statements, bills and even e-magazines instead of your usual printed subscription, so make sure you do your bit to stop this other form of needless paper usage!

Reuse and recycle

Image of flowers growing in old tins secured to fence

We all know how to do it but how many of us actually do it? Try to get in the habit of always keeping a tote bag or bag for life with you, just in case you pick up some milk on your way home. You should also take care to recycle your waste properly and even consider what other things you could use those old jars and tins for.

Sell or recycle old items

The impoverished student is a cliché that’s sadly here to stay, which is why we encourage you to try to sell on items you don’t need where you can. From clothes to old electricals there’s bound to be someone out there who covets what you no longer love, helping you to make some easy money whilst breaking the chain of consumerism. If they’re not in sellable condition then please recycle them.

Use up what you buy

Whilst we’re talking about consumerism it’s important to acknowledge that most of us spend the majority of our money on food. We should all take care to spend wisely however, buying only as much food as we will eat and freezing items that we don’t think we will get round to in time.

Decrease your consumption of animal products

The rate at which we consume animal products isn’t sustainable and causes great harm to the planet. You don’t have to make a massive lifestyle change but consider trying to cut down on your consumption of animal products, whether this is a loose commitment to simply buy less meat, or a clad in iron day of the week where you’re completely vegan. Your lifestyle means your choice, but whatever change you make will be a beneficial one.

Keep some bee-friendly plants

Image of a bee flying above pink flower

Speaking of living things that make our world a nicer place to live in! Bees need all the help they can get and if you’re a fan of interacting with nature – and you have a nice outdoor spot – then consider purchasing some potted plants that bees love. There are plenty of resources online about what plants are best and all will be mightily appreciated by our buzzing friends.

Rent and borrow

They say to never a lender nor borrower be, but that sentiment doesn’t stand nowadays! In fact, renting and borrowing items that you need on only a temporary basis is the way forward, with schemes available offering rental clothes, jewellery, decorations, furniture . . .! If you’re considering cycling to campus – which is a great way to cut down on the impact your travel will have – then you could look into bike rental schemes in your area, especially as you may only require your bike for a short period of time.

Buy quality, buy once

Try to get in the mindset of paying attention to the quality of the item you’re buying and whether or not it will stand the test of time. This applies to everything from clothes to kitchen implements. If you buy something that is good quality and designed to last for years to come you won’t have to buy a replacement, which only contributes to our ever-growing landfill problem.

Buy local

And when you do buy try to buy local. Locally produced and grown foods help to cut down on carbon emissions created when food is transported from one area to another. Even your local chain supermarket will stock local items, so try to look for that alternative when doing your food shop.

Consider the implication of what you buy

Reusable options can be more expensive in the short-term, but they do help to save you pennies in the long run. Reusable cotton pads, reusable sanitary items, cloth food wraps and reusable cups can all add up, but a year from now you’ll still have them. Can you say the same of disposable cotton pads, clingfilm and plastic bottles?

If you’re new to the mentality of being a green and planet-friendly student then all these points may seem overwhelming. However, whatever change you make will be one for the better and things will grow from there. By the time you’ve mastered one of the suggestions in this article you’ll be on your way. Who knows, you could be convincing other people to make these changes by the end of your first term!


Leigh Horan

Leigh is the Marketing Manager at Varcity Living. She enjoys going for walks in the Welsh countryside, discovering new places to eat and talking about the most recent film she's watched.