A College Student’s Guide to Sustainable Living

Being a college student can stretch your budget, but you can still live sustainably. Eco-friendly living helps you preserve the environment and reverse the effects of climate change. Here are five ways to have sustainable habits on a college budget.

By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated

5 Sustainable Habits for the College Student

1. Conserve Energy

Power from lights, chargers and appliances is non-renewable and creates greenhouse gases. The gases released continue to weaken the ozone layer. Of course, avoiding your laptop, toaster and phone charger is unreasonable, especially when working on your degree.

However, you can do some things to reduce the energy you use. Keep all lights off except for when you need them. Turn room lights off anytime you leave your dorm or apartment. If your spending time in your bedroom, keep the living room lights off and vice versa. You might not need to have lights on at all during the day — depending on the windows you have, try studying or making a meal with natural light instead of relying on artificial bulbs.

Even when plugged-in items aren’t on, they can still suck up energy. Unplug unused electronic devices or appliances before leaving your apartment and turn off any accompanying power strips. Doing so will ensure no power goes to waste while you are gone.

Opt for light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs when purchasing light bulbs instead of fluorescent halogen ones. Not only are they less of a fire hazard, but they can last around a decade and use at least 75% less energy than other options.

If you wash your clothes in warm or hot water, consider switching most loads to cold water. It works just fine in most cases and delicate items tend to hold up better with it. It can remove dirt and stains from clothes without using energy from a hot water tank. Only washing full loads can help conserve more energy since you’ll use a washer fewer times. If you have the space, consider hanging your clothes to dry instead of using a dryer.

Help your thermostat by closing windows and doors completely to eliminate excess air messing with the temperature. You can prevent turning it up or down too much by utilizing your ceiling fan and opening your windows when it is hot or wearing layers when it’s chilly. By taking these steps to save energy, you’ll help the environment and see a decrease in your electricity bills.

Another thing you can do to save energy is to not drive to places you don’t need to. By utilizing public transportation for long distances and walking or biking to shorter ones, you can reduce the number of emissions going into the air.

2. Eat and Drink Responsibly

Eliminating food and packaging waste is another way to live sustainably on campus. You don’t need a large budget to meal-plan, so long as you plan ahead and keep pantry staples on hand. Keep salt, pepper, flour and your favorite spices at home to aid a variety of recipes. These dry ingredients don’t quickly expire, making them easy to keep throughout the year.

Each week, determine when your schedule will allow you to eat at or take your food from home. Then, plan your grocery list based on the meals you want to make and eat during those times, accounting for any leftovers they will provide. You can reduce food waste by planning meals instead of buying what looks good.

You can also eat sustainably by choosing locally-sourced food instead of going to chain locations. Not only will that food be fresher, but it also takes less transportation to get it to you.

Avoid using plastic cups and water bottles when possible, opting for a reusable water bottle or tumbler. You can find them inexpensively at many grocery stores and pharmacies and they can reduce the environmental impact of harmful plastics. Americans throw away more than 60 million plastic water bottles each day. Around 70% of these bottles never get recycled, sitting in landfills and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Plastic cups and bottles also carry harmful chemicals you can avoid with reusable products.

3. Recycle

Recycling is an excellent way to take care of the single-use paper, aluminum and plastic products you would otherwise throw away. Most colleges and universities have recycling bins throughout where you can deposit items to be transformed into materials for new products.

If you live off-campus, look into municipal recycling programs you can take advantage of throughout the school year. Recycling keeps these items out of landfills, saves energy and conserves natural resources used to make new items.

4. Save Water

Water is another limited resource you should conserve when possible. You can do this by turning off the faucet when you scrub your hands or brush your teeth, taking a shorter shower and utilizing the double-flush features on toilets that have them. Also, turn down the water pressure in the shower as you use it.

Don’t let the faucet run while you do the dishes. If you have a large load, filling the dishwasher may be more efficient than doing them all by hand.

5. Thrift

Thrifting is another excellent way to live sustainably, as you’re not contributing to creating new products. By shopping for clothes, accessories and furniture at thrift stores, you give new life to older items, keeping those pieces out of the landfill.

Thrifting also comes with the advantage of being much more inexpensive than new items, so you can get more bang for your buck. You can find unique pieces you can’t find in retail stores.

Photo of the exterior of UCLA: A College Student’s Guide to Sustainable Living
Photo Credit: UCLA Sustainability

Reasons to Live Sustainably

There are many reasons to live sustainably during college:

  • It’s healthy: Sustainable habits aren’t just good for the environment — they’re also good for you. Meal planning can help you eat healthier, walking more enables you to get exercise and turning lights off can increase your natural light exposure.
  • Saves money: When you use reusable products, you won’t have to pay to replace them constantly. By thrift shopping, you’ll find lower prices and using less energy and water will reduce your bills.
  • Preserves the planet: As of now, there’s only one planet humans can live on and it’s crucial for everyone comes together to safeguard it for the future. The actions you take now contribute to the environment your descendants will experience.

Staying Sustainable on Campus

By creating sustainable habits, you can have a college experience that aids in slowing the impacts of climate change. Consider following these tips to combine being green with living on a budget at school.

Rose Morrison

About the Author

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.