Beginner's guide to reducing waste for college students

Do you really need that decoration in your drink? Or the straw, for that matter? It's OK to pass on these extras. (Alpha du centaure/Creative Commons)

As a sophomore at George Washington University, I find that not many students know beginner's tricks to living more sustainably and cheaply. I started a list, tailored to college students, with a few ideas they can use to change up their daily routine to be more gentle to our earth. 

According to the EPA, an American produces a daily average of 4.5 pounds of solid trash each day, pushing us to the top of the list for greatest annual per capita trash generation. These statistics mean more than needing extra muscle to take out trash in the U.S. compared to other countries. It means that we are suffocating our earth and are far from living as sustainably as we should. We’ve all heard the words “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” but what exactly can we as college students do to lighten our trip to the trash chute and give Mother Earth a breather?

As college students, we have the power to change the world for the better. With a few minor change-ups in your weekly routine, you can help start this change and prove that living sustainably is achievable for even those stuck in a dorm. 

Here are a few tips and tricks for college students to reduce their waste (and save some money)!

  1. Ditch the paper towels. We all need these to clean up the spilled Easy Mac in our microwave and to wipe up the coffee spilled on our laptops. But, paper towels will fill up your trash cans fast and at around $1.50 a roll, they’ll empty your pockets even quicker. Pick up some wash cloths or kitchen towels at a nearby store for $5 and throw them in your weekly wash once they’ve cleaned up all your spills. Bonus points if you let them air dry instead of using the drier!
  2. Ask your bartender to hold the umbrella. Going out to get drinks with friends or to happy hour with coworkers is something we’ve all done. Your regular fruity drink might come with umbrellas, a straw, and a plastic sword plunging through a Maraschino. Ask your bartender to hold the decorations and I promise that your drink will still taste the same. Bonus points if you’re using a cloth napkin instead of a paper one!
  3. Pass on the plastic. If you typically grab a Dasani for $2 in between classes to stay hydrated, this is your wake up call! You’re not only wasting money on water that is extremely similar from what you would get from your tap, but you’re also contributing to the approximately 19 billion pounds of plastic that clog our landfills. If you switch to a reusable water bottle, you’re saving yourself a lot of money and doing the oceans a favor. If you’re one of those people who likes to keep their water cold, there are reusable water bottles that insulate your beverage and prevent condensation from occurring outside of your bottle. “You’re welcome” in advance for saving your textbook from water damage!
  4. Fill your own box. Each time you go to the dining hall to fill up a disposable container with food, Mother Nature sheds a tear. Try bringing your own Tupperware to the dining hall for your next meal. Since it’s airtight, you can bring extra food home and save it for some midnight snacking. Additionally, speak to the manager if you’re planning on doing this – many stores and hot food bars offer discounts if you use your own containers!

By taking these little steps and working on reducing your waste every day, you are inspiring others to do the same and making a world of change. Good luck!

 

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