We All Have a Part to Play (But Some Need to Play a Bigger Part)

Whilst researching ideas for this blog I find myself coming up against the same blocks again and again. Mainly the ‘how is me making small changes going to help the environment’ and ‘how much of an impact am I really having on the environment in the first place’. How many of you have bought something wasteful and justified it to yourself with ‘oh it’s just this one time how bad could it be’. I know that i’ve done that on multiple occasions. Sometimes it’s the only way, for me at least because I am incredibly hard on myself, to temper the guilt. Even when i’ve had no other choice, for example if I can’t afford the eco-friendly, organic version of something that I need and therefore have to buy the cheaper, more wasteful version.

Now i’m not saying that you should take this as an out, yes you should go easy on yourself if you make a small slip up, but you should keep trying (I went into more detail in my ‘Never Fear Failure’ post). My main point in this is that sometimes there are things that we have to do that may be wasteful. For example there are many disabled people that have to use plastic straws, and they should not be made to feel guilty about that. What we as a community need to do is allow them to do this, and to help them by not using plastic straws ourselves.

The main point I’m trying to make is that there are some people out there who have a much bigger impact that others, these are also the people who have the ability to reduce that impact. A billionaire who has a private jet, multiple sports cars and a huge multinational corporation are the main causes of pollution, not that one coffee that you bought on a whim the other day. Unfortunately these are also the people who profit the most off of this pollution and waste, they are the ones who create these pointless products, who market what should be long lasting items (phones, clothes etc) as disposable junk that needs to be replaced on a regular basis.

So how can we make any meaningful impact if out actions are just a drop in the ocean? We try to influence others to add their drop too, and if enough of us work together then the people who can contribute more than a drop will have to start paying attention. Now if there’s one thing that I have learnt it’s that word alone won’t be enough, especially in this capitalist society that we currently find ourselves in. So if they won’t listen to our words then what will they listen to? Our wallets.

In today’s society buying power is what will change the consciousness. So use that buying power to support small local businesses, use it and refuse to support those massive polluting companies. Boycott, protest and petition. I myself have been boycotting both Coke and Amazon for a variety of reasons, and not only has it saved me money because it’s forced me to think about my purchases, but it has also helped me to find smaller businesses that I wouldn’t have found other whys.

So the take away of this post is: You alone cannot save the world but you need to do your part to improve it anyway.

Low Waste Learning

One of the last things you may be thinking about as you prepare to go to university, whether you are going back or heading off for the first time, is reducing your waste. But i’m here to tell you that not only can it be relatively simple but can save you money as well, which as a student is something that will definitely be on your mind. These few tips that I learnt from my uni days should definitely come in handy for those first few weeks of settling down.

1. Don’t take everything

One of the mistakes I made when I first headed off to uni and moved into my shared flat was bringing everything that I could think of. Not only did this cost me more money than I needed, multiple trips to pick up crockery, cooking equipment etc. but it was also unnecessary. Most of my new flat-mates had done the exact same thing which meant that we had every cupboard in our kitchen crammed full with more pots, pans and plates than any of us needed to use.

Most university’s will have a day within freshers week where you can buy the things that you need at rock bottom prices, things that have been donated by students the previous year. When I went off to do my Masters and moved back into student accommodation with a new set of flat-mates, we did just this. I already had most of the things that I needed but my flat-mates didn’t, and we managed to get all of it for around £20 per person.

If you do go this route then please remember to donate anything that isn’t broken back to the university to help the next set of students when you leave again.

2. Freshers fair

You may think that the freshers fair is just where you go to pick up free pizza and sign up for societies but it is also a great place to stock up on free stuff. Most stalls will offer free stationary such as pens, pencils, rulers etc. (seriously I don’t think I used anything other than my student finance and Arriva travel pens that I got from the fair the entire time I was at uni). You can also stock up on tote bags which are great to use when shopping because they don’t incur the 5p charge that plastic bags do and you can reuse them for years.

A few other gems that I have picked up during freshers include: A thermos, a money bank, calendars, and so many money off vouchers that I think I lived off of free pizza for about a month.

Also don’t be afraid to go each year, yeah it’s called freshers fair but you don’t have to be a fresher to get free stuff.

3. Textbooks

Now this one depends on which subject you’re taking. For me textbooks were a waste of money as scientific books are basically out of date as soon as they’re published, and I used online journals for all of my papers anyway. My main tip though is that regardless of which subject your taking don’t buy your textbook right away, wait until you know whether or not you actually need to use them more than once. Until then the uni library often has copies or you can share with friends.

If it comes down to it and you have to buy a copy for yourself try abebooks.co.uk. This website is a godsend, it has a massive list of textbooks for incredibly reasonable prices. I’ve already said that I didn’t buy textbooks for my course, but I did have to buy some animal identification books for a field course module that I did, the book that I bought cost me £6 from abebooks, whereas everywhere else it was a minimum of £25.

Also if, like I said earlier, you find yourself using journals more than physical books you may run into the issue of the ‘paywall’. Most universities have access keys to the larger online journals but if there is a specific paper that you need for an assignment then email the author of that paper. The authors are often more than willing to send you the whole paper for free as they don’t get paid by the journals for access. Literally all of the money that you will spend getting past the paywall goes to the journal and not to the academics themselves.

4. Low waste supplies

If you really want to go all out and live as a low waste student then here are a few options for low waste alternatives to common products:

Lunch boxes – when you have a full day of classes you need something to keep you going. Investing in a stainless steel lunch box or linen lunch bag will both save you money and help reduce waste. By bringing food from home instead of eating out you reduce the chances of impulse buying expensive food or food that is wrapped in unnecessary plastic.

Drinks bottles – you may be lucky enough to get a free drinks bottle at the freshers fair but if not then invest in a sturdy metal bottle. I bought a Smash bottle for £12 from Sainsbury’s that can not only keep things cold for up to 24 hours but also keep hot drinks warm for up to 12 hours. I’ve actually taken to leaving the lid off for about half an hour so that I can actually drink my tea without burning my mouth.

Stationary – if you’re not sold on stocking up on free plastic pens at the freshers fair and want a more eco friendly option then try companies such as ‘Ecoverte’ for your eco friendly supplies. There are also many companies that make biodegradable highlighters but I find that underlining or colouring in with coloured pencils works just as well.

Earbuds – now this one isn’t necessarily an essential (although to some people it might be) but I thought it was quite cool. ‘Organic Sound’ are a company that make biodegradable earbuds so you can study and listen to music waste free.