For the average college student, two things are typically true: you don't have a lot of time, and you don't have a lot of money. Studying for classes, meeting new people and living on a small stipend or allowance from mom or dad doesn't create a great recipe for being thoughtful or conscientious about your lifestyle. It's just something that we accept about being a college student! If you're stressed about a big project or exam and only have five bucks to spare for dinner, of course, you're going to go for filling instant noodles in a polystyrene cup; these kinds of things feel like a given. Why wouldn't you go for the most cost-effective option?

There's, of course, another side of this story, though. We're living in a time where being aware of our consumption is more important than ever. It's about more than being eco-friendly, it's about making the most ethical choices we're capable of given the circumstances we're in. This might sound like an insurmountable task. The good news is, it doesn't have to be. Here are a few tips for college students (or really, anyone without a lot of time or money) to get started on being environmentally aware.

1. Compost food scraps.

We talk a lot about recycling, but recycling is more than just separating your glass, paper and plastic (more on that later though). Make sure you're properly disposing of organic matter, too. Have food that can't be saved or re-purposed? Toss it in your composting bin. If you're super handy, you can go all out with a three-bin system and use it in gardening. If you're just trying to be more conscientious about how you're disposing of your food, most cities have compost pick up now.


2. Before you start your recycling plan, eliminate plastic where you can.

Plastic is a lot more insidious than we've been lead to believe. Cut down on plastic wherever you can, and that's more than just plastic straws. Not only does plastic contain dangerous hormone disruptors, but according to National Geographic, only 9 percent of plastic ends up getting recycled.

Plastic usually ends up in one of two places: In Asia, where it can sit in landfills indefinitely, or the ocean. Understandably, cutting plastic out completely seems near impossible. There are places where it seems like it can't be avoided, like soaps. Take small steps, like cutting plastic out of food. This doesn't mean going to expensive farmer's markets. Even Big Box grocery stores typically have bulk sections where you can buy food and bring your own containers. Plus, this is a great way to save money, too.


3. Make sure you're recycling – properly!

Recycling has been in the public consciousness since the early 1970s, but the truth is most people don't know to recycle. Make sure you're properly separating you're recycling. It's easy (not to mention free) to recycle properly. If you're not sure how something should be recycled, or if it even can be, look it up.

Furthermore, make sure you're aware of how and when your dorm (or city if you're living off-campus) collects recycling too. If they don't and you have the bandwidth? Why not encourage them to start.


4. Reduce and reuse.

Don't stop at recycling, though. There are a lot of large, systemic problems with recycling. As mentioned above, even if you're doing it perfectly at home, there's a good chance your university or city might not be doing the legwork. A lot of trash (including recycling) gets shipped to places like China, or even ends up in the ocean. A simple way to help to mitigate the problem is reusing as much as possible. It's not enough that you recycle: buy less stuff and make better use of the stuff you already have.


5. Make sure you're eliminating any oils correctly.

Oil's a tricky one. You cook with oil and it's hard to know where that excess waste should go. It's extremely important that you don't just toss it in the garbage or down the drain. Not only does that create a mess (or worse, pipe damage!) for you, it's also extraordinarily bad for the environment. Check with your university to see if they offer a sustainable oil disposal service.


6. Walk, bike, or use public transit (including your university's shuttle) whenever you can.

Most college students don't have cars and college towns do a good job of keeping things within walking distance. Make use of that!

Reducing how often you use your car is a small but impactful way you can be more environmentally conscientious. Plus, it's a good way to save money. If your university has a competent shuttle system, why not make use of it? As for walking and biking, if you don't have time to go to the gym maybe that'll get you a part of the way there.


7. Go digital.

When you can afford it, grab the eBook version of your textbooks. Reduce how much paper and ink you're using. Only print things when necessary.


8. Buy green, but make sure it's actually green.

Buy green but stay conscious about it! Not everything that's marketed as "green" is green. Do your research.


Being a college student is tough and the day-to-day grind is mentally draining, but following these few simple tips will ultimately be beneficial for our planet in the long term.  

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