New Year’s Resolutions: Small changes to reduce your carbon footprint at university

As a university student it’s easy to feel that you have little power to make a difference – but you would be wrong. It is in our power, and in our interest, to make a difference. Every landslide starts with a stone, and every small action accumulates to form a greater whole.

You may have heard talk of the need for nations to move towards a circular economy. In essence, this reduces the growing amount of waste we produce in the form of plastic, food, toxic waste and resources. This can be achieved by:

Reducing consumption (and thus demand).
Reusing products more than once.
Recycling that which can be no longer used – in that order.

Here are some easy changes you can make to reduce your impact on the planet in 2021:

Clothes

Fast fashion is hugely harmful to the environment, with polyester and other petroleum-based synthetic fabrics making up the majority of clothing material. The industry is also known for exploiting workers and contributing to wealth disparity, with just a handful of companies monopolising the market. Instead of giving away your money to billionaires who are responsible for one third of all carbon emissions, save yourself a few quid with these fun alternatives:

Repair clothes by learning to sew! Many of my most loved and worn clothes are over 10 years old and have inevitability seen the odd tear, hole or lost button. Sewing is easy to learn, and mended clothes can look as good as new.

Repurpose – make something new out of something old. Old top? Crop top. Old jean jacket? Sew on snazzy patterns or patches to personalise it. Distress anything to make it faux vintage.

Swap clothes with friends and family or with students at Warwick. Warwick SU often holds Swap Shops where you can donate your old clothes in return for other student’s second-hand clothes. Once coronavirus restrictions are eased, look out for them on Facebook – several of my favourite shirts came from someone else’s wardrobe!

Menstruation

Despite being a necessity for many of us, sanitary products are rarely talked about in the climate movement. Single-use products like tampons and pads, however, come in plastic packaging, don’t biodegrade easily and are expensive in the long-run. However, there are many alternatives on the market that will help you have a more environmentally friendly period:

Choose non-applicator tampons – I’ve never understood applicator tampons, they’re bulkier, produce more packaging waste and are more expensive. Shopping for them can be frustrating, as the majority of tampons sold in UK shops have applicators; however, most stores do stock a couple of non-applicator options.

Invest in a menstrual cup – I cannot stress their virtues enough. They are comfortable and invisible when in use, and good value for money as each cup can be used for years. They are also hygienic, easy to clean, and leak-proof, so they’re ideal for swimming, running and all everyday activities. They’re especially great for sleeping as they can hold more volume than either pads or tampons.

Washable pads – can be washed in the washing machine along with your clothes. You’ll need about a dozen depending on your cycle, but they’ll last you forever. Some of them come in really cool designs and you can even make your own if you’re keen.

This range of options shows that there is an environmentally alternative for whatever your usual sanitary product of choice.

Grocery shopping

Food shopping – we all do it. But are we doing it sustainably? What you buy and what you eat can really impact your personal carbon footprint and the waste you produce. What we really need is supermarkets to actually deliver on their promises to eliminate unnecessary packaging – but until then, why not show The Man what you stand for?

Bring your own bags – sports bags, backpacks, tote bags, bags-for-life, there are so many options that don’t involve bagging your weekly shop in new plastic bags.

Buy loose produce – reject unnecessary packaging, and pick individual fruit and veg. That way you can buy exactly the quantity that you need and inspect each food item before you buy. 79p per item? Biggest and juiciest red pepper, in you go!

Eat less red meat and dairy – with emphasis on less. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to go vegan overnight. However, substituting beef and lamb for chicken has a massive impact. Don’t believe it? Have a look at this data!

Develop green habits

Habits are routines we perform without thinking. While snacking between meals or procrastinating starting an assignment can be defined as bad habits, there are good ones too, such as cleaning up after yourself and making your bed in the morning. How many tasks a day do you do without thinking? Have a read of the green habits below to see how well (or not!) you make green choices subconsciously:

Walk, cycle, and use public transport instead of driving (where possible). Exercise is great for physical and mental health – and cheaper too! If driving in is non-negotiable, why not carpool to and from university? If you don’t live with other students, check out Warwick University’s Car Sharing schemes for students and staff.

Buy second hand – clothes, books, kitchenware, you name it, someone’s selling. There are many great second-hand clothes shops in Coventry and Leamington. Also, most course books are available for free, as online resources and in the library. Check if your book is available to borrow before buying new.

Turn off lights, taps and electrical appliances when not in use – it’s the little things like turning the water off while brushing your teeth, and using the small flush on the toilet that really add up.

Litter picking on your way to and from shops and seminars or on a walk around campus. This simple hobby is instantly rewarding – it makes our campus cleaner, greener and more beautiful, and prevents wildlife from eating it.

These suggestions are just a sample of the many ways in which you can make a difference this year. It is now more crucial than ever that everyone comes together to reduce our impact on the planet – so why not try to make your New Year’s Resolutions that little bit greener for 2021?

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