How to Be Eco-Friendly on a Student Budget
Thankfully, it seems like everybody has clocked on to the fact that we need to start treating Planet Earth a lot better than we have been doing. We can all do our bit, and it’s not just bold and expensive moves (like getting solar panels) that make a difference – anyone and everyone can get involved, including students like you.
Here are some simple and reasonable ways that you can do your bit.
Avoid single-use plastic wherever possible
We all know that single-use plastic is harmful to the environment, but it is quite hard to avoid when we’re food-shopping. Milk bottles, fruit boxes, meat trays, drinks bottles, carrier bags, and so on – it all adds up. And despite increased efforts to recycle across the world, the fact remains that millions of tonnes of this single-use plastic ends up in our oceans each year.
Completely swerving single-use plastic may be nigh-on impossible, but there are several clever ways that we can at least avoid some of it:
- Buy a stainless-steel drinks bottle. Forget crates of mineral water. Just get yourself a Brita water jug (£20ish) and a stainless-steel drinks bottle (£10ish), and there’s your source of nice clean water all sorted. Make sure that the bottle you buy is stainless-steel, because ones made from other metals (like aluminium) can be harmful to your health in the long run.
- Get some reusable carrier bags. That 5p carrier-bag charge is pretty annoying, but it’s actually making a positive impact in the fight against needless plastic. If those sturdy bags-for-life at the supermarket tills don’t float your boat (stylistically), then you can still take your own bags with you each time you head out for groceries – the internet is full of nice tote bags and canvas bags that will do the job perfectly. This investment doesn’t really save you money (at least not immediately), but it doesn’t break the bank, either, and it does save the planet – which is what we’re really aiming for here. The fewer carrier bags we buy, the fewer will end up in our landfills, on our streets, and in our oceans.
- Buy loose fruit and veg. Buying fruit and veg from old-fashioned greengrocers and market stalls may be more expensive than buying from the supermarkets, but not much more expensive – and, besides, the produce is often far fresher and tastier from these vendors.
- Boycott plastic straws. Next time you’re getting a drink on a night out or in a fast-food restaurant, try to do without the straw – there’s a good chance that it will eventually end up in the ocean, in and among all those beautiful creatures. If you need any more convincing, do a Google search for “sea turtle with plastic straw up its nostril” – a pretty upsetting video, as you can imagine.
Eat less dairy and less meat
We’re not suggesting that you go full-on vegetarian or vegan – unless you want to or you already are! – because we know how big an ask that is. It’s hard to imagine life without cheese, for example. But just cutting down on meat and dairy is actually quite achievable for everyone, and it’s much easier than it first sounds. Most of all, though, it’s great for the planet. How great? Well, put it this way: the production of red meat produces more carbon emissions than the use of cars. That’s a pretty crazy stat, isn’t it?
If everyone on Earth were to make small sacrifices when it comes to dairy and meat, these efforts would collectively make big differences to the health of the environment.
By all means, still have your fried halloumi and your crumbled feta and your creamy cheddar, but maybe try to balance that out by having dairy-substitutes elsewhere – such as non-dairy milk on your cereal or in your tea and coffee, or olive-based spreads instead of butter. Sure, the taste of these substitutes might take a bit of getting used to, but you won’t even think about it after a while. On the flipside, if you’re smitten with cows’ milk but you’re not particularly mad about cheese, give the latter up instead.
The same applies to meat: indulge in a nice big steak or a loaded bacon butty when you feel like treating yourself, but try to avoid having meat just for the sake of it. A plate of food is still a meal even if there’s no meat on it.
Curry is one type of dish where meat is arguably just filler. Sure, a lamb jalfrezi on a Saturday night is an undeniable delight, but there are so many other flavours going on in that dish – flavours that are bolder and more distinctive. The meat isn’t necessary every time. Plus, there are very few vegetables that don’t work well in curry, so you can chuck virtually any in there to pad it out.
The same goes for spaghetti and pasta. Do you really need the chunks of chicken or the minced beef in that rich sauce? Doesn’t the tomato, onion, and garlic do most of the work? If you need something chewy in there to substitute the meat, opt for mushrooms or even lentils for a veggie bolognese.
Also, from a purely selfish and financial perspective, cutting down on meat is better for your pocket, and means more money for those nights out or those weekends away exploring other parts of the UK.
Take tactical showers
Only 1% of Earth’s water is available for our consumption. The rest of it is in the oceans and therefore too salty for us to use, or is frozen in the polar ice caps. As such, water is actually precious – not some magically unlimited resource – so we Earthlings need to collectively work to reduce water-wastage.
If you’re taking showers instead of having baths, you’re already doing some good. They say that a regular bathful of water is around 80 litres (or 140 pints), whereas a five-minute shower uses around 45 litres (or 79 pints).
But 45 litres is still quite a lot of water just to clean ourselves each morning, isn’t it? We can easily use less water than that and still come out squeaky clean. Here’s how…
Instead of having the shower on for the full five minutes that you’re in it, just have it on for 30 seconds at the start to get yourself wet, then turn it off while you apply your shower gel, facewash, shampoo, and so on. (Plus, doing it this way means that you’ll actually get to properly soap yourself rather than washing it all off as soon as it goes on.) Then, once the lather is covering you and making you look a bit like a cloud, you turn the shower back on for about a minute or so to rinse the suds off. All in all, that’s about 14-18 litres (or 25-32 pints).
Here are other ways to save water:
- Turn the tap off when you’re doing the actual brushing of your teeth
- Boil just the exact amount of water you need each time you use the kettle (fill up your cup – or however many cups – with water, then pour this into the kettle)
- Use just a little bit of hot water to create the soapy suds you need to do the washing up – no need to half-fill the sink and submerge everything in there
- Save your dirty washing for when you’ll have a full washing machine (obviously, make sure you still wash whites and colours separately)
Walk it, cycle it, or bus it – instead of driving
Having your own car gives you plenty of freedom to go where you want, when you want, but with more vehicles on the roads, the environment suffers more carbon emissions.
We’re not saying don’t take your own car to uni with you – we know how it makes travelling home to see family much easier, and how it enables you to get away for a day or two. But when it comes to day-to-day trips while you’re in your uni city – like going to McDonald’s, or the cinema, or the supermarket – do you really need to drive there? Probably not. All we’re saying is that if you can walk there, cycle there, or take the bus there, then that’s gonna be better for Planet Earth in the long run.
This will also save you money – either a little or a lot, depending on what your current car situation is. If you do have a car and plan to take it to uni, then only using it for long trips will make your petrol spend a lot smaller. If you’ve decided that you don’t need to take the car at all, and would instead prefer to get a bike or just walk to most places, then you won’t have any of the costs of running a car.
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