Top Tips On Being Sustainable At University

For many heading off to university, it is their first experience of living away from home. It marks the start of independence and new control over your finances, accommodation, eating and shopping habits. For those remaining at home for university, it still marks the beginning of a new journey, one that sustainability can be a large part of. I completed my undergraduate degree in July. The list below represents the lessons I learnt from three years of living away from home and the advice I have for new students and those continuing their studies to give you a sustainable start to the new term. 

Get your sustainable swaps ready.

If you’ve followed sustainability content at all on social media, then I’m sure you’ve come across multiple videos and blog posts with titles like ‘what’s in my sustainable bag’. Unlike at school, university was the first time that I had varied a timetable where there were multiple opportunities to be out during the week. Enter the sustainable bag. Whether you’re on campus all day studying and travelling from class to class or meeting friends for lunch, there’s a collection of items that is always useful to have with you.

1. Reusable water bottle.

This is the poster girl of sustainable swaps, and no bag should be without one. I opted for an aluminium bottle which was double-walled to keep drinks cold for longer. At Wearth, we have a selection available to suit every colour preference and transport-related need, check out our selection here.

2. Coffee mug/ keep cup.

I hadn’t owned something like this before university and the uni branded keep cups got the better of me. What better way to get through your hard day of studying than with a reusable coffee mug to keep you caffeinated throughout the day? Small and transportable, they’re easy to store, rinse and re-use.

3. Reusable cutlery, straws, and storage containers.

These were all early purchases for me when I started university and I quickly got my money’s worth. In freshers there are lots of opportunities to grab free food on the go and these easy and lightweight swaps help to keep you plastic-free at each opportunity.

4. Tote bags.

I am a big advocate for always carrying a folded-up tote bag in your rucksack. It’s great for carrying last-minute groceries, library books and other items while avoiding plastic bags. Between 2018-2019 major UK retailers sold 549 million single-use plastic bags in England as opposed to 1 billion in 2017-2018. This is a huge decrease that still needs to reduce further and with a sturdy tote always on hand, you can help to reduce that figure.  Why not check out this previous Wearth blog post about different totes for every different occasion?

Tote bag

Credit – Morcant

Take a pause before buying stationary.

There is so much marketing around ‘back to school’ or starting university and it can be a tough tide to resist. Of course, you may need to purchase some new stationery in preparation for your first year and where possible recycled or refillable options are the way to go. However, I’m sure that many of you, like me, have a hoard of old pens and half-used notebooks just waiting for a second lease of life. This is their opportunity! I found that I not only helped the environment by using what I had but also saved money as a student by simply shopping my own stash first.

Booklists are the worst!

Speaking as an English Literature graduate here, book lists are a real pain! Not only can they be long and expensive, but you rarely require all the books that are listed. My university would host second-hand book sales where you could pick up books for less. Remember there are also digital versions that you can consider. Both options are kinder to the environment as they reduce or remove shipping emissions and packaging and buying second-hand means an item is being reused. My school also had a subject-specific page on Facebook where I bought and sold a lot of my books. If options such as these aren’t available at your university, why not start them? It’s a great way to get involved in sustainability while getting to meet other students.

Get involved in student climate activism

This builds upon my previous point. University is a great opportunity to meet people with similar values and beliefs. There are loads of university societies dedicated to sustainability. While I was at university there were groups involved in climate activism and protesting while others like the Zero Waste society met weekly to share helpful tips and tricks. There are also great opportunities to write to your MP or local council to bring about the change that you want to see. I regularly wrote to my university in my first year to ask about recycling bins to be provided in my student accommodation. They were finally brought in two months before I finished my first year but it’s great that they have been implemented for future students.

Eat more plant-based & think about food waste.

University brings the opportunity to change your eating habits as you can control what you buy and cook. For me, university was my first opportunity to truly control my diet, partly to save money and partly for the planet, I ate almost exclusively vegetarian food. Not only did this save me money, but it allowed me to experiment with new foods and cook food from scratch to help reduce plastic packaging.

At Wearth, there are plenty of recipe blogs to choose from. Some of my personal favourites include potato peel crispsbroccoli stem pesto and masoor dal tadka.

If you’re in larger cities it’s worth looking for bulk stores and specialist zero waste shops, which can help you to reduce your plastic packaging. While I was at uni apps such as Too Good To Go and OLIO were popular among students who wanted to buy food cheaply and reduce food waste.

Broccoli Stem Pesto

Donate your unwanted belongings when you move out.

This tip probably feels miles away if you’re starting uni this year but it’s worth keeping in mind. It was sometimes quite depressing to me seeing good stuff dumped in bins outside student accommodations as people moved out. I always tried to either pass items on to friends or donate them to charity shops. It’s important that you donate good quality items which can be re-used and re-sold. Many charities will publish lists to tell you what to donate. Other charities such as homeless organisations are often willing to collect items from your home. Organisations near me welcomed clothes, cooking utensils, stationery, and books, while local food banks are always willing to take leftover tins and packets of food. Rather than throwing things out try and find a new home for them instead.

I hope this list is helpful and offers some sustainable inspiration for the incoming academic term. Good luck with your studies!

By Emma Ferguson

Emma Ferguson is a freelance writer who focuses on sustainability and disability-related content. You can find her on Instagram @em_fergus