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Our Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Student Life | How To be Eco-Conscious at University
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Our Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Student Life | How To be Eco-Conscious at University

As September rolls around, thousands of students around the UK will be heading off to university. For many, this will involve moving away from home for the first time, marking the start of greater independence. This new journey is incredibly exciting, and allows many students to start making choices that better reflect their beliefs. Over 80% of young people are eager to take action to help the environment, and this new-found freedom will allow thousands of students to create a sustainable life for themselves. Living away from home can be difficult, taking care of everything for yourself is new and daunting. But we have some quick and easy tips to help you live an eco-conscious life whilst you study...


Think About Your Travel

University life often involves a lot of travelling, so it is important to make sustainable choices when it comes to your methods of transportation. Certain campuses and cities will be within easy walking distance of most things you need (which is great!) but some will not. When you do need to travel, your best options are buses, bikes, coaches and trains. It may be worth buying a student bus pass if you intend to use the buses frequently as this can save you a lot of money over the course of a year. Bicycles are also a fantastic option for getting about, and most campuses will have somewhere safe for you to store your bike whilst you study. A lot of University towns and cities will have late-running buses to get you home from a night out. However, if you're a real party animal and miss these, the most sustainable option is to share a taxi with as many of your friends as possible, rather than all getting in separate cabs. 


Carry Your Reusables With You

Most of us have made the swap to more sustainable options such as a reusable water bottle, the main thing is remembering to take them with you! At university, you generally have a lot more free time in between classes than at school or college, and you'll often find yourself going for impromptu coffee dates or lunch with friends. We recommend putting together a little sustainable essentials kit that you can keep with you, prepared for whatever the day might bring. Depending on your lifestyle, some of the key things we'd keep with you are;

A tote bag. Keeping a reusable tote with you is always a great idea. Whether you need it to carry extra library books, food shopping or anything else, it's a great way to avoid plastic bags. Choose something sturdy and made from natural fibres like cotton. 

A reusable water bottle. Choose one that works best for you. Whether that's a collapsible bottle that takes up less space, or a double-walled bottle to keep your drinks chilled. Most campuses will have lots of water fountains for you to refill for free throughout the day.

A reusable coffee cup. Again, there's a huge amount of choice when it comes to reusable coffee cups, so finding one that is right for you is key. My university cafes also gave you a 50p discount if you had your own cup! 

Reusable cutlery & straw. This is such a simple swap that you'll get use out of straight away! During freshers week you'll be enjoying plenty of free food, why not do so guilt free with your reusable cutlery? Pick a set that is lightweight yet hardwearing, perfect for daily use. 


Ditch The Trends

Whether it's clothing, shoes or home decor, choosing not to participate in micro-trends is a great way to live your life more sustainably. Instead of shopping for the latest trends from fast-fashion retail outlets, we recommend shopping secondhand, making the most of what you already have and organising on-campus clothing and homeware swaps with other students. Learning how to do basic repairs such as sewing on a button or fixing a hole are great skills to have, allowing your clothes to live a longer life. Decorating your space is undoubtedly something all students look forward to, for many of us it is our first chance to really have freedom to decorate however we want. It is easy to get swept along buying lots and lots of cheap, poorly-made homewares that we don't need. Instead, try and invest in a few key, quality pieces that you can keep well beyond university. Some great pieces to look for are quilts, blankets and rugs as these inject a lot of personality into a room whilst still being practical and functional. Not only will you create a sustainable space, you will also have somewhere to live that is totally unique to you! Don't be afraid to have fun and experiment with your style, there's no better place to do so than University! 


Get Involved

University is a great chance to meet like-minded people and really get stuck into the things your passionate about. There are lots of different university societies focused around sustainability where people will share the same beliefs and values as you do. Some of the societies at my university included the vegetarian society & the vegan society which were both great for learning new recipes, sharing food and inspiring one another. There was also the zero waste society who would meet weekly to discuss tips and tricks for living a low waste lifestyle. You will also find groups of climate activists who are involved in protesting and creating change. The great thing with joining a society is that you can get involved as much or as little as you like. Don't have a lot of free time? Focus your efforts on sharing petitions or pop by to trade some delicious plant-based food. Sometimes you will even have a chance to be involved in larger campaigns within your local area, implementing changes such as introducing recycling bins and other positive progress for the community. 


Reading Lists

Speaking as an English Literature graduate, I understand the stress when it comes to purchasing your required reading! Reading lists can be long and expensive, with many of the texts not being available in your average high street book shop. Be sure to read your reading list carefully, some texts may be recommended but that doesn't mean they are required. Try to avoid purchasing books new, as this creates a lot of waste as well as emissions from shipping. If you do need to purchase new books, make sure to donate or resell them when you've finished with them. My university hosted second-hand book sales at the start of term where 2nd and 3rd year students would sell their used books at a reduced price for 1st years. This is not only a great way to save money, it also cuts down on waste. If your university doesn't already have a scheme like this - why not set one up? You could advertise with posters on campus & meet some likeminded people who are passionate about sustainability too. University libraries are also well equipped with the texts you might need, just be sure not to rely on this too heavily in case the book you need has already been checked out! There are also digital copies of most texts available, sometimes even for free, so be sure to look into this option too. You can also look online for second-hand books on websites like Book Depository, AbeBooks, Bookfinder & eBay.


Think About What You Eat

University is often the first opportunity many of us have to truly control our eating habits. One of the best things you can do whilst at university is to try and eat more plant-based meals. I was vegetarian when I started university, and went vegan during my first year there. Even if you can't commit to going fully vegan or vegetarian, try eating more plant-based meals throughout the week to reduce your impact on the environment. If you need some vegan inspo, click here. Most fruits and vegetables are available loose, eliminating the unnecessary plastic packaging which is a great way to be more sustainable. Look for zero waste & refill shops in your area as this will also help you to cut down on packaging. Be mindful about the food you buy and try not to waste it. Pre-planning your meals can be really helpful as can batch cooking, freeze any extra portions to reduce waste (plus you'll always have healthy meals on hand!) Many students use apps like OLIO and Too Good To Go, these apps connect you with local business who need to get rid of unsold food. A lot of the food on here is free, or at a heavily reduced price, helping you to save money too! 


Keep an Eye on Your Energy Usage

Keeping an eye on your water and energy consumption is a great habit to get into, whether you're living in halls or renting somewhere privately. A lot of student accommodation comes with bills included, which can make it easy to over-use energy as you are not financially responsible for it. It is essential to get into good habits like turning off the lights when you're not in a room, conserving water by turning off the taps when brushing your teeth and making sure all electronics are turned off when not in use. If you do pay for your bills separately, ensuring you aren't wasting any resources is also a great way to save a fair bit of cash. Smart meters can be an easy way to monitor what you're using and are becoming more and more common in rental properties. If you would like a smart meter but don't have one, it's always worth talking to your landlord.  

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