Five Earth-friendly changes students can make

Illustration by Amber Kirlew | The Signal

Most college students live in small spaces, many of them the size of a one-car garage. 36% of public four-year college students live in university housing, 23% live in purpose-built, off-campus housing, and most students who don’t live in on-campus housing live in nearby apartments with up to three roommates. 

While 39% of college students believe that climate change is the “most pressing issue facing the world today, living in dorm rooms can make being eco-friendly challenging. 

Most college students cannot easily grow all their food, change to more sustainable energy sources or harvest rainwater, but that does not mean college students have no control over their environmental footprint

Despite the challenges associated with living in a tiny space and living on a college budget, college students can still make lifestyle changes that minimize their negative impact on the Earth while increasing awareness about climate change.

  • Re-use items:

Most students probably know the mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” This old saying is still true. The average American throws away 110 pounds of single-use plastic every year, more than any other nation in the world. 

Using reusable water bottles, metal straws, or reusable silicon trash bags keeps single-use plastics like water bottles out of landfills and the ocean.

  • Join a community garden:

While students might not have the space to garden in their apartments or dormitories, community gardens create a shared area to grow food, chat with local community members and learn new skills. Atlanta is home to over ten community gardens, from Peachtree Hills to Westview Community Garden.

  •  Purchase from thrift stores:

College students are buying from thrift stores more than ever before. Despite the pandemic, selling and thrifting have grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market. While many students choose to shop at thrift stores because they like the clothes on the rack or want to support local businesses, thrift purchases tend to be significantly more environmentally-friendly than “fast fashion.” 

In fact, according to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, “The fashion industry is currently responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” 

  • Avoid “greenwashing”:

Buying more Earth-friendly products is a step most college students say they take to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but a marketing practice called “greenwashing” often makes this challenging. According to CNBC, “‘Greenwashing’ is the deceptive practice of branding a company as environmentally-friendly without adopting legitimate, sustainable operations.” 

To avoid buying “greenwashed” products, students can look for vague claims, labels without certifications to support them, or flowery images of animals or open fields.

  • Buy less, make more:

While students can reuse what they already have to minimize their purchases of items with a high carbon footprint, making items from scratch removes the need to buy those items in the first place. 

Those who live a “zero-waste” lifestyle find ways to make their toothpaste, deodorant and other household items.