Many students accustomed to sustainable energy, composting, reusing and reducing waste at home find it difficult to continue a sustainable lifestyle at college where convenience is key and living spaces are miniscule.
The zero waste movement is on the rise in the United States and many colleges across the country and abroad are taking sustainability more seriously. For example, the University of Northern British Columbia has estimated that the campus could cut down their solid waste output by 70 percent through reducing, reusing and composting. Their Prince George campus has particularly focused on paper and plastic products, disposable drink containers and compostable material in order to cut back on waste. John Brown University in Arkansas is another example of a campus pioneering efforts to go zero waste”
According to their website, “since July 2012, John Brown University’s main campus has been a zero landfill institution, a transition that is part of an overall sustainability strategy. John Brown University is believed to be the first university in Arkansas and Oklahoma to have a zero landfill campus…In addition to becoming a zero landfill campus, the university has implemented programs around campus to reduce the volume of usable energy and used material.”
JBU has focused on decreasing energy usage, reusing materials and compacting cafeteria and non-disposable waste. Although becoming a zero landfill institution takes time and campus-wide effort, there are steps Northwestern students can individually take to lessen their environmental impact and spearhead sustainability.
First, students can intentionally recycle more often. There are recycling receptacles in every building across campus for paper, plastic and cardboard waste. There are also convenient receptacles right by the mail room for packaging waste. Also nearby the mailroom is a receptacle to dispose of electronics so they can be responsibly discarded. Keeping a recycling bin in dorm rooms and apartments is also a great way to recycle on a daily basis. Textbooks that can’t be bought back at the end of the semester can go into the large cardboard containers around campus so they can also be responsibly disposed of or donated.
Second, students should aim to reduce the amount of single-use items they consume. Many students already avoid using the plastic lids and straws at the Hub, and several academic departments encourage students to use their own mugs for coffee and tea. Bringing a to-go mug to Common Grounds for coffee is another way to reduce single-use cups. While grocery shopping, students can bring reusable bags or opt for paper bags instead. If they must use plastic bags, reusing those bags as many times as possible is a great way to reduce waste. Opting for reusable materials over disposable ones is another way to reduce waste and the impact the campus has on landfills. For example, students can swap disposable plates and silverware for real plates and silverware without spending a lot of money. Many students have also swapped plastic toothbrushes for biodegradable bamboo-handled toothbrushes, which is another thrifty and sustainable swap for a greener future.
Third, students can consciously conserve energy in many ways. Turning lights off when leaving a room, keeping thermostats low and unplugging small appliances when not in use are small steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Building a sustainable campus requires everyone taking small steps to cleaner energy and waste reduction. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make small changes in conservation and protect the earth.