1. Watch your food waste.
Food waste is one of the easiest steps an individual can take to cut down their carbon footprint. It takes ridiculous amounts of energy to produce the meats, produce, and dairy that we eat on a daily basis — and throwing away half-eaten meals exacerbates the very real problem of food waste. According to the New York Times, 60 million metric tons of food are wasted a year. For Sewanee students, monitoring food waste is as simple as starting out with one serving and going back for more if need be. Preemptively heaping food onto your plate actively wastes energy and contributes to food waste.
2. Reusable over to-go
The need for on-the-go food and coffee is a need many students and faculty (quite understandably) feel. For students, especially, last-minute cup-stuffing in Clurg is a great way of mitigating hunger throughout the day if you’re running late to class, or can’t find time to devote time to sit down and eat in McClurg. But, it’s important to realize that the impulse to cup-stuff is something of a luxury, and does have environmental impacts.
Instead of using paper cups for your coffee, bring around a mug or thermos with you. Plan your day around meals both for the sanity of your body and for the Earth. Ending the consumption of a paper coffee cup a day (365 cups a year) is no small act. And if you absolutely must eat something on the go, just hold it and enjoy on the way to class.
3. Buy a cloth napkin
Ever noticed the endless supply of paper napkins in McClurg? Their seemingly ceaseless quality is precisely what makes them so appealingly consumable. But instead of using multiple napkins per meal or per day, opt for a cloth napkin to tuck in your backpack or bag. Throw in your napkin with the rest of your laundry once a week, and voila–environmentalism made easy.
4. Get a reusable water bottle
Another great way for students to be green is to invest in a good reusable water bottle. These are handy, eco-friendly, and can even double as dining hall glasses for any given meal.
5. Avoid plastics
One incredibly easy way to do your part for the environment is to avoid small one-use plastics like straws and spoons. Unless washed after coming in contact with food, plastics generally cannot be recycled, meaning they’ll go straight to landfills. Embrace a dazzlingly lost expression and walk around McClurg until you find metal utensils rather than grabbing plastic ones.
6. Understand the relationship between trash, recycling, and compost.
This will take some initiative on your part, but understanding the relationship between trash, recycling and compost is a great way to learn just how complex waste management is. Indeed, recyclables that come into contact with food and aren’t washed afterward often cannot be recycled. Meat and dairy products often cannot be composted unless sent to large composting sites designed in spite of these traditional limitations of compost.
Understand, too, that anything going in the trashcan is generally a “lose.” The goal is zero waste, so each time you walk to throw something away, ask yourself: “Could I have been a more conscious consumer and avoided this nonrecyclable material or packaging? Could I recycle this, but am simply being lazy?”
7. Be conscious of dorm utility usage
One obvious, yet nonetheless important, strategy for being eco-friendly at college is to be conscious of dorm utility usage. When you brush your teeth, turn off the water. If you’re on a floor with communal bathrooms and it’s 3 a.m., it’s probably safe to flip the light switch off for a few hours. If you’ll be gone for classes all day, make sure your thermostat isn’t set at an absurd temperature. And, of course, turn out the lights in the room before you leave. If you’re up for the challenge, avoid phantom power (electricity that fuels phone chargers, coffee makers, etc. even when not in use); just unplug your power strips before you leave your room!
8. Avoid using your car
This is a pretty doable tip for Sewanee students. Just avoid driving your car short distances! Nearly everything is within walking distance, and certainly in biking distance. The Sewanee Village may seem far, but keep in mind that at large universities, students often have to walk 10-15 minutes just to get to class.
9. Avoid buying fast fashion items
Admittedly one of the harder ways to be green, avoiding fast fashion can definitely have positive impacts on the planet. Huge amounts of waste are generated by fast fashion companies in production of their cheap clothes, and the cheap quality of fast fashion clothes often leads to their early discardment. Fast fashion is also just socially irresponsible and generally problematic. Alternatives to fast fashion (companies like Forever 21, ASOS, or H&M) can look like thrifting or buying higher quality clothes that are produced ethically.
10. Decrease meat consumption
Though it may not be fun to hear, it is still important to recognize that overzealous meat consumption is detrimental to the environment. According to one Climate Lab Vox video, one serving of beef emits up to 330 grams of carbon, where one serving of vegetables produces a much more modest 14g. It’s not about becoming vegan — abruptly doing so will likely be an unsuccessful endeavor — it’s about trying to minimize meat consumption in gradual steps. Perhaps consider cutting out red meats from your routine diet, and eating a primarily pescatarian or plant-based diet.