Giving Sustainability the “Old College Try”

Written by: Chelsea Brown

My morning routine is much like any of the thousands of other college students across the world. Step one: coffee. Step two: breakfast on the run. Step three: more coffee. The combination of late night study sessions and early morning classes leaves little time for thinking about anything more than your exam on Friday. But with the amount of plastic waste in our oceans becoming a regular major headline and the threat of some pretty wacky weather as global temperatures rise, it may be time to take a break from sipping your third Starbucks and think about your impact on the environment. It took me about two seconds of cleaning out the backseat of my car a few years ago of what felt like a hundred empty plastic water bottles to realize I needed to make some changes to my consumption habits. Don’t worry though. As a notorious over sleeper and procrastinator, the changes I made were simple, easy, and perfect for my fellow on the go coffee/snack/smoothie lovers.img_5204

BABY STEPS. The first thing I did was take a good long look at what my daily life consisted of. A quick rundown: one or two cups of coffee from K-cups, a few individually wrapped snacks, anywhere from two to four plastic water bottles, and my daily smoothie habit meant grabbing a bottle of one pre-made. That doesn’t include my weekly grocery trips or the occasional trip to the mall and the plastic bags I accumulated. And things that most people don’t even think about like the tooth brush you swap out every few months or those dryer sheets when you finally breakdown and do your laundry for the first time this semester or the plastic straws in basically everything.

All of those things amount to quite a bit of garbage. While some is recyclable, it doesn’t always end up where it is supposed to. Annual beach cleanups around the world report single use plastic items making up a large majority of the trash they collect. So that is where I focused my efforts. Where could I eliminate the single use items from my life? Pretty much everywhere. So I put a little list together of things I changed, perfect for busy students. All it takes is a little bit of extra planning and reworking of your shopping habits. Nothing a bunch of smarty pants college students can’t handle.

NOT JUST FOR JAMS. I have two very important words for you: MASON JARS. Honestly. They are simple and so handy. I have used them for coffee, smoothies, salads, soups, and snacks. They help me eliminate about 80% of the plastic waste that I used to generate. With a little night-time prep I no longer need to purchase a salad in a plastic container, a smoothie in a plastic bottle, or granola bars or crackers in plastic wrappers. img_5195Plus it’s the perfect way to try all of those smoothie recipes you have pinned on Pinterest.

GREEN YOUR CAFFEINE FIX. An amazing classmate of mine introduced me to the glory of coffee during my senior year of my undergraduate career. My life has never been the same. But when I first started drinking it, I was getting one or two cups of coffee from Wawa a day using their single use plastic and wax-lined paper cups. While the lid is recyclable, the cup portion is not.  You’re probably thinking: but Chelsea I use a reusable mug filled with my home brewed coffee. To which I ask: Are you using a K-Cup to brew that coffee? Unfortunately, that little cartridge is not recyclable at all and even the inventor regrets creating something so detrimental to the environment. So when I did my soul-searching in order to green-up my life, I knew my coffee habit was top of my list.

The first step I took was buying a reusable coffee mug. Which most of you already probably have. But did you know you can use it to get coffee at Wawa and it is CHEAPER?! You save money and the environment. But I often forgot my mug at home or didn’t have enough time to stop (did I mention I’m an oversleeper?) and I was always resorting to bad habits. So don’t worry friends. I have two options for you if you want to have more control over you coffee making. One, get a French press. Two, get reusable K-Cups. My French press is my favorite because I can make more than one cup at a time and it can be brewed hot or cold. (Side note: if you haven’t tried cold brewed coffee, you should). With the French press I eliminated the plastic K-Cup, the filter sometimes used with reusable K-Cups and coffee makers, and you can save the coffee grounds for some DIY magic.

TECH BREAK. Adapting a greener life-style is as simple as one extra click. At night or when you’re in class, just simply put your laptop on Sleep Mode instead of leaving it powered on all day. Most laptops will do this on their own now, but if yours doesn’t you could save up to 13-15W of power, the same amount of energy it takes to charge your iPhone for an hour. Another technology based tip, print double sided as much as you can. Two years or four years of college means a lot of paper. Printing double sided basically cuts your usage in half. Even better, avoid printing all together by taking notes directly on your laptop or tablet. Disable the wifi so you don’t get distracted in class. img_5189

HYGIENE HIJACK. No, I’m not telling you stop showering every day to save water. Last year, President Obama passed a law phasing out the use of mircobeads in all hygiene products culminating with them ultimately being banned completely by 2019. Don’t wait until then. Start early and switch your body care products next time you shop. Use the free app Beat the Microbead to scan a bar code or search a product while in the store or a safe bet is to just avoid any products that have ingredients that start with “poly.” With there being enough plastic microbeads in one bottle of exfoliant to equal a full plastic bottle according to the United National Environment Programme, it certainly won’t hurt to start early.

SAY NO TO THE STRAW. By now you have probably already seen the video of a the sweet little green sea turtle that had  a large piece of  plastic straw removed from his nose that went viral this summer. So when you’re out with your roommate at Taco Tuesday or eating on campus, skip the straw. I won’t say you won’t get some weird looks, but think of the turtles. Plus, some cities like Miami have already banned them, and we all know how cool the people that live in Miami are.

My biggest tip of all, start small. Choose one thing that you know you can manage. College is overwhelming enough, no need to make yourself even a little extra stressed. Have a friend join you or make the announcement on your social media for a little accountability. Living a green lifestyle in college doesn’t require you selling your old gas guzzling car or moving into a log cabin off the grid. All you need is a little extra planning and a couple handy items and you’re on your way to saving the planet and maybe a few bucks, which is always helpful for college students.