Most people would say that the college lifestyle is about two things: convenience and affordability, and that a green lifestyle is the exact opposite: difficult and expensive. However, I’m living proof that you can live an environmentally friendly life without going out of your way or breaking the bank. Being environmentally conscious is actually really easy. To be fair, there are more difficult paths, such as zero-waste, that can be a little more complicated to follow. I would like to be zero-waste eventually, but for now, I’ll stick to the plan that I already have. It really is simple! Reducing your footprint doesn’t mean you have to buy everything you own at Earth Fare or Whole Foods, it just mean that you need to think about your purchases and what happens after you’re done with them.
The absolute easiest way to become more environmentally conscious is to recycle. It’s that easy. I hear people gripe and complain about recycling all the time, saying that it’s not worth the time; but it literally takes me an extra 15 seconds to take out my recycling with my trash. College campuses provide recycling bins and locations for us, shouldn’t we use them? If all college students began recycling, the impact would be huge. Massive projects are underway to clean our oceans, but those projects and others aren’t worth it if we continue to throw away plastics and other materials that could be recycled.
Shopping can be a base for many more green habits. I always bring my reusable bags to the store, whether I’m getting groceries or clothes. Reusable bags are so cheap, and I’ve received several free ones during my time at ETSU. I also use cloth bags for produce at the grocery store; they keep your veggies fresh in the fridge and you don’t have to worry about using plastic bags at all.
I usually shop at Earth Fare or The Fresh Market when I want to buy something in bulk, like coffee beans or pasta, without the packaging. However, I generally do the rest of my shopping at Kroger. Kroger actually has a great section of natural and organic products, but you don’t have to buy stuff from those aisles. A misconception about green lifestyles is that you have to be a vegan and you can only buy organic products before driving off in your Prius, but that’s just not true. I happen to be a vegetarian, but that doesn’t have anything to do with my other habits and lifestyle choices. Sometimes, products are better out of the natural aisle, and sometimes they’re not. You have to find the products that you like and that you feel comfortable buying and consuming. Try out different products to find ones that you feel good about purchasing and using.
Coffee culture is so prominent in the college lifestyle, but unfortunately, it also fills up our landfills. As a freshman, I lasted about 4 days before I jumped on the bandwagon and bought a Keurig. I did this partly because my french press didn’t fit into my little dorm room sink, but also because I wanted the convenience of coffee at the push of a button. It took about a month before I started feeling guilty about all of the little plastic k-cups that were filling up my waste basket. Then, I got some reusable k-cups; you fill them with ground coffee, make your cup of joe, and then rinse them out to use again the next day. It takes a little extra time in your daily routine, but the reward is worth it to me. I love my Keurig, but when it eventually bites the dust, I think I’ll just go back to my much simpler french press now that I have a sink large enough to wash it in. Using a reusable coffee mug is another great way to reduce coffee culture waste, and it actually saves you money. Most places give you a discount for using your own cup! There is absolutely no point in throwing away a Starbucks cup every single day when you could just use one for years, and save money for doing it.
For the over achiever: if you’re not happy with a product or the amount of waste that it produces, make it yourself! There are tons of recipes online, for both food and home goods. I’ve gotten in the habit of baking bread every couple of weeks; its better than store bought and I don’t waste all of that plastic packaging. I’ve also starting making my own toothpaste lately; I know it sounds weird but I actually like my homemade one so much more than store bought. (Just mix 2 parts coconut oil to 1 part baking soda and add peppermint essential oil for that good ol’ toothpaste flavor) My teeth actually feel way cleaner now than they used to. There are countless home good recipes online: from deodorant to detergent to lotions. I’m looking forward to trying more of them eventually.
Ultimately, being environmentally conscious shouldn’t be something that you dread doing. It should be a natural (no pun intended) part of an easy routine, and it definitely shouldn’t be expensive. Being green is something that we should all strive to be doing; after all, we do live on this planet, and I hope that we will be able to for many generations to come.
My reusable k-cups:
My recycled toothbrush (bamboo is great too):
My produce bags:
My laundry detergent: