Over the years, people have become much more aware of the importance of protecting the environment. The days of being in denial about the negative effects of plastic, food waste and inefficient energy use are over. But as a student, what can you do about this?

You might consider that, to truly make a difference, you need money, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although financial donations to charities are of course helpful, the small tweaks you can make to your day-to-day life are just as crucial to combating climate change and can even help save you money.

Rosie Saban, media and campaigns officer at Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), said: “The best and easiest things that students can do to help the environment are all free. There is no planet B, so everyone needs to play their part.”

Save energy

As well as helping the environment, saving energy is a great way to lower your bills. Leaving lights and other electrical appliances switched on when you aren’t using them will cause your energy bill to rise a surprising amount. Research shows that if everybody turned off two lights in their homes for an hour each day, more than five billion kWh of electricity nationwide could be saved each year.

Ashley Tate, chief executive officer at bill splitting company Split The Bills, said: “When the temperature first drops, layering up with jumpers and blankets instead of relying on the central heating to keep you warm will help cut costs and save energy.

“You can limit your energy use when doing laundry by washing at 30 degrees instead of anything higher, and avoid using tumble dryers.”

Another way to help your bank balance—as well as the planet—is to reduce the amount of water you use, as this means less energy is used to treat it and deliver it to your home.

Rosie continued: “Using less water is important for your bills, but also the environment. Wasting water means more water is taken out of the ground, rivers and reservoirs due to supply and demand.

“This affects the wildlife that relies on these water sources. Also, heating water uses energy, so reducing this will lessen your carbon footprint.”

Taking shorter showers, turning the tap off while cleaning your teeth and using less water when washing up are all great ways to save water, without it having a huge impact on your daily routine.

Green energy

In 2017, global energy-related carbon emissions grew by 1.4%, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatons, evidence shows. This figure is expected to have risen again during 2018.

To help the environment further, you can use green energy, which is electricity produced from renewable sources such as solar, wind, wave and hydroelectric power.

“All energy causes some harm to the environment, but fossil fuels are particularly harmful,” Rosie added.

“Using renewable ‘green’ energy is a far better option. Most of these produce little carbon emissions and reduce some types of air pollution.”

Ashley said: “Global warming emissions can have extremely harmful effects on the environment, causing higher sea levels, heat waves, intense storms and more.

“We know how important it is for everyone to do what they can to help save the planet, which is why all of the electricity we source is 100% green.”

Recycle and reduce waste

Recycling is an important element of helping the environment. Single-use plastics especially have a devastating impact on the planet.

Rosie said: “Put up a communal reminder [in your house] of when recycling is collected. Your local council will have information about what you can recycle on their website—which can vary—so be sure to look that up.”

Research shows that only 9% of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. In seawater, plastic absorbs man-made chemicals—such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—that are said to damage the human endocrine system and even cause some types of cancer. Worryingly, it’s been reported that one in three fish caught for human consumption contains plastic, and it’s expected that, by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the fish.

“If you aren’t already recycling, it’s important to think about how you dispose of waste and what you can do to change it,” Ashley said.  

“Wasting food, paper, clothes and plastic has detrimental effects on the planet. Reducing waste doesn’t have to be expensive—it can actually help you save money in the long run.”

It’s recently become apparent how much of a negative impact fast fashion—cheap, mass-market clothing produced quickly to keep up with trends—has had on the planet. The textiles used to produce these clothes are often made with toxic chemicals, and research shows that the total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production amount to 1.2 billion tonnes each year.

This industry has also led to many consumers shopping excessively. Last year, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) found that consumption of new clothing is higher in the UK than in any other European country, at 26.7 kg per person. Many people are throwing out clothes they may have worn only once, and buying new on-trend items. The charity WRAP issued a report which estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.

Ashley continued: “It’s important to make smart purchasing decisions and not to impulse-buy anything you don’t actually need. 

“Visiting charity shops or even clothes-swapping events are great ways to save money while reducing waste. Instead of throwing clothes away, donate, recycle or sell them to prevent them going into landfill.”

To reduce the amount of plastic waste you’re responsible for, invest in a reusable water bottle. This means you have no need to buy plastic bottles that you’ll have to throw away. It’s reported that the UK uses 13 billion plastic bottles every year but recycles only 7.5 billion.

When you next do your weekly supermarket shop, instead of picking up more plastic bags—which can take 1,000 years to degrade—take reusable ones. According to some research, shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year, which translates to around 150 bags annually per person.

Avoid wasting paper by taking notes electronically during lectures and revision. If you must print documents for seminars, print in black and white and on both sides of the paper. Make sure you recycle your paper notes once you have finished with them.

Each tonne of recycled paper will save 17 trees. It’s said that if everyone in the UK recycled 10% more paper, it would save around five trees each year.

Eat less meat

Animal agriculture releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into the environment and is allegedly worse for the planet than cars. Eating less meat can make a difference here.

A study by PETA indicated that the greenhouse-gas emissions from a meat-eating diet were:

  • 50%–54% higher than for a vegetarian diet
  • 99%–102% higher than for a vegan diet

“If you aren’t willing to completely commit to a vegan or vegetarian diet, eating less meat each week can encourage positive change,” Ashley said.

“As well as being friendlier to the environment, reducing your meat intake can help you save money and sustain a healthy lifestyle.”

Although the environmental issues seem overwhelming—and there’s a long way to go to repair the damage already done—it isn’t too late to start making these small changes to your daily routine. Following these steps can help you live a much greener lifestyle and go a long way to help better the planet, without having to spend a small fortune.

Rosie added: “Most universities and colleges across the UK have some amazing sustainability initiatives. Take the time to find out if yours does, and get involved. Young people need to be the change they want to see.”

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