Navigating sustainability as a student

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By Emma Love, Third Year Politics and Sociology

The last couple of years have seen a surge in environmental activism across the globe, championed by students and young people. Emma Love suggests some feasible and affordable lifestyle changes that all students can adopt to become more sustainable.

The question of sustainability has very quickly come to the forefront of political agendas and public debate, with phrases such as ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Build Back Greener’ becoming buzzwords in the House of Commons. Many have come to the realisation that a lifestyle change is needed - simply putting out your recycling bins is no longer enough to avert the climate crisis. Vegetarian and vegan diets are on the rise, and a whole new market has opened up for sustainable products and alternatives  – from sportswear to cosmetics.

As a student, budgets are limited – not everyone is able to afford environmentally friendly products, which often lie in the mid to high price range. However, in the average student house, a few new habits and a couple of sustainable gadgets can go a long way in lessening your environmental impact...

Bathrooms are notoriously heavy on plastics. Despite the fact many cosmetic and hygiene products can be recycled, most bottles and tubes fail to make their way into the recycling bin. Packaging can often be complex and difficult to recycle, and, admittedly, it can be more convenient just to throw finished products into the regular bathroom bin.

In a recent report, RECOUP found that 57 per cent of Britons do not recycle their bathroom products. Buying a small recycling bin for your house and making sure to check the recyclability of packaging could help solve this issue.

Additionally, you could swap plastic bottled body washes, shampoos and conditioners for their solid counterparts. For those willing to spend a little extra money in the short term, companies such as LUSH sell solid bars of almost all shower care products - shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, and even body scrubs and butters, most of which last at least a couple of months. Body wash could be swapped for a simple soap bar, costing at most a couple of pounds and lasting for the best part of a year.

Whether we like it or not, student houses must be cleaned. When we actually get around to doing it, we use a number of wasteful products in the process, such as plastic sponges, wipes and cloths. These products are seen as commonplace in a cleaning routine – you wouldn’t think twice about using a sponge to clean your shower, and why would you? They’re available in packs of six at Sainsburys, and everyone uses them. This is another area where plastic waste goes virtually unnoticed.

Companies such as Minky have sought to tackle this problem, offering reusable cleaning pads for as little as £2.50. Once used, the pads can be washed with the rest of your laundry in the washing machine, and used again and again.

Although in the short-term this costs more than a six pack of sponges, products like these are much cheaper in the long run as they are able to be reused, and are a much more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic sponges, which end up in landfill.

'Products like these are much cheaper in the long run as they are able to be reused, and are a much more environmentally friendly'

Ever find yourself in the smoking area on a night out? Or, during the pandemic, standing huddled outside your door? So do I. When you’re a few shots deep, you might, like me, have the tendency to finish your cigarette and lob it into the unknown. That’s a habit you need to get out of. Cigarette butts leach harmful chemicals that can poison animals and fish, and various sources estimate that they can take at least 18 months to break down, and at most, 10 years.

Other elements of your average night out/in are also more wasteful than you think. Look around your living room the morning after and you’ll find a scene riddled with plastic - try buying mixer bottles to share, rather than for individual use, and saving plastic cups to wash and reuse at the next pre-drinks.

In the long run, this could save you money – those red plastic party cups don’t come that cheap. Save those plastic mixer bottles too, they might come in handy when you need to take an unfinished drink with you on the way to the club (post-Covid, of course).

As a planet, we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and around sixty per cent has ended up in landfills or our natural environment. Continuing at our current rate of plastic consumption, we are expected to see ocean plastic waste triple in the next twenty years. Doing the recycling isn’t enough - not only does plastic waste damage the environment when improperly disposed, the production of the material itself is fossil-fuel heavy.

A 2019 report by the Centre for International Environmental Law estimated that, by 2050, the global carbon footprint for plastic production will be equivalent to 615 coal plants running at full capacity.

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As students, our budget might not be able to accommodate high-end sustainable products, but a few changes can make our lives much more environmentally friendly.

However, change needs to come from the top too. We can also make a difference by putting pressure on the government to make changes, through post-pandemic participation in environmental protests and casting our vote in the ballot box. It just might work –  phrases like ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Build Back Greener’ might just be political rhetoric, but ten years ago they were barely spoken in Parliament.


Do you have any top tips for more sustainable living?

Featured Image: Epigram / Tom Taylor

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