zero waste

Habits of compassion at university and beyond

Heading off to university can be exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure. There are lots of changes to get used to: having more independence, living away from home (maybe for the first time) and coping with your studies. With all of these things comes more responsibility and it certainly took me a little while to learn what this responsibility meant in terms of how I treat the planet and those with whom I share it.

For many people university is the first time that they begin to see what part they have to play in a global society. Once you have left the familiar surroundings of where you were brought up the world starts to seem like a much bigger place. All of our actions have consequences and as we start to take control of our own decisions we are able to choose to have a positive impact with these actions rather than detrimental ones.

This idea of everything we decide to do every single day having an impact on someone’s life somewhere else in the world can be overwhelming.

Or it can be so exciting! What if, as we head off to university and figure out what adulthood means for us, we commit to making a positive statement with our every action. We commit to standing up against modern day slavery, we commit to standing up for our planet and all of those people and animals across the world with whom we share it.

I will admit when I first arrived at university I had no idea about what this responsibility really meant for me. Just coping with all the changes seemed to be enough to deal with. I had never heard of living ‘zero waste’ and I was blind to the devastating effects our consumerist habits were having across the world. I had no idea of the issue of plastic and I certainly didn’t think anything of my rubbish once I had thrown it in the bin.

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Three years on and I am now so aware of how important it is to become aware of our responsibility as global citizens during these crucial years at university so that you can take those principals with you throughout the rest of your life. University is a time for having fun, for sure, for making friends and memories. But it is also a real time of moulding, and how incredible would it be if every university student graduated with a changed heart for the world around them and a sustainable view of consumerism? Our world would have a much better chance if this was the case!

I have been involved in an organisation called Just Love whilst studying and it has been such an integral part of helping me to understand how my actions effect our planet. I learnt about living ‘zero waste’, ended up running a Zero Waste Week and became so much more aware about how I can stand up against modern day slavery in the consumer choices I make. Do check them out – they might have a group running at your university!

So, as you settle in to your new university life or if you are facing final year what can you do to make a positive statement with each of your choices?

Don’t buy any more bottled water. Grab yourself a reusable, preferably metal, bottle and although it might seem pricey to start with it will save you money in the long run and the world will thank you. Check out these great brands: Klean Kanteen, Chillys and One Green Bottle. Watch this space for Glogg bottles too – coming in 2018!

That coffee that keeps you awake during lectures? Don’t let it harm the earth. Make a commitment to choosing Fairtrade and stand up against slavery and poor working conditions. The same goes for tea, chocolate (and many other things besides). If it costs a little more then maybe buy a little less. Standing up for the rights of your global neighbour is much more important. Invest in a reusable coffee cup too, the stats for the disposable type are pretty scary, we throw away 2.5 billion in the UK every year…

Realised you’ve left your warm jumper at home and the weather has turned? Before you make that purchase, think about who made it. Are you causing harm by supporting modern day slavery? Check what the retailer has to say about the supply chain, is it transparent? There are lots of great companies online who are committed to ethical fashion so do have a look – Annie Greenabelle, Thought, Birdsong, Sundried. Again, if they are a little more than you would usually spend on a student budget, just be happy with less. Don’t forget charity shops offer some great bargains too! On the topic of charity shops, I have found nearly all of my kitchen utensils in them. Much better for the environment than buying new and it can be fun to see what you can find – I’ve found cake tins, a colander, and ramekins!

Consumerism is having a detrimental effect on our planet, it’s time to start bucking the trend of materialism. Often it can be tempting when you’re living off a tight budget to just buy the cheapest option but what statement are you making about your attitude towards the planet by doing that?

When it comes to food, an absolute necessity for those hard-working brains, have a look to see what markets your university town boasts. Does it have a bulk shop? Don’t pollute the oceans with pointless plastic packaging, just don’t do it. Vegetables were meant to be free! I have found a great way of cooking cheaply, avoiding food waste and using up leftovers is to make soup. A great winter warmer too! There are thousands of recipes online or just throw whatever you have in your fridge together and enjoy the experimentation!

One final note. Think of all those laptops, tablets, and phones that students must own between them…that’s a lot right! Technology has become disposable too and it’s shocking when you think of where some of the metals come from to make these things. Slavery and conflict are so bound up with the mining for these metals, a lot of which happens in the developing world. Think hard about whether you really need that upgrade: could you grab a second hand deal or even invest in a Fairphone? When your phone really does give up do your research and find out where you can recycle it so the parts can be reused. The planet says thank you.

If you’re interested in reading more about supply chains and the impact on the environment of slavery to show just how much consumer choices do make a difference I would recommend Kevin Bales’ book, ‘Blood and Earth’.

Your university years might well be some of the best in your life (or that could just be a cliché) but one thing is for sure, the habits you make whilst there will stay with you. Let’s make those habits thoroughly earth-loving and compassionate to everyone we share this incredible world with.

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Our Plastic Problem

We have an uncomfortable yet undeniable truth on our hands. We live in a world of plastic. The unfortunate reality is that this man-made material is taking over and is well on its way to drowning the very man that makes it.

We come across plastic in every area of our lives, every minute of every day. It is a convenient solution to allow us to live the fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle we all know so well. But just how convenient has it turned out to be? It seems quite the opposite is closer to the truth. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century and half of this is only used once before being thrown away. We have come to see this indestructible material as disposable. Clever, or not? I believe we have a very serious problem here. Plastic does not break down, it never will. It breaks up. It breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces which are causing havoc in our natural environments and have even made it into our food chain. This is a dangerous reality which is affecting every part of the natural world. Plastic has been found in salt, fish and seafood which most of us consider a normal part of a human diet.

I first came across the magnitude of this plastic problem at university when I became involved in the environmental section of Just Love. I have since been utterly convicted that it is up to every single one of us to sort out this problem we have all had a part in creating.

A small anecdote. I made it into work early one morning and found a coffee shop to do some people watching. I sat in as I thought this way I would avoid the dreaded disposable coffee cup situation. Apparently not. It seems that now, even if you sit in you receive your coffee in a disposable cup! So I find myself in a pickle with this cup on my hands and feeling irritated at the prospect of coffee shops ditching the crockery altogether. On top of this, even as I sat there, 7 full bags of rubbish were carried out and it wasn’t even 8:30am. I am easily frustrated at this issue as it seems clear that we have become so immune to the idea of rubbish. Out of sight, out of mind. Sadly, the reality is not so simple. Having seen the recent documentary film, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ – I cannot recommend it enough – I am no longer ignorant of the truth that rubbish is literally taking over in some places. We are all part of this problem. We continue to demand plastic packaging every time we do our weekly shop of multi-pack peppers and shrink wrapped broccoli.

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My conviction has led me to explore the idea of a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle. Sounds wacky? This is no stylish fad aiming for minimalist white walls and single-stem pot plants. This is a real attempt at combatting a real issue which affects so many people and our planet. It is definitely clear that plastic is chosen for convenience and time-saving. This is hardly surprising as the fast-paced, busy lives which we lead demand as much efficiency as possible and this often leads to packaged items being chosen over homemade zero-waste options. Time is precious, I understand this but our beautiful world is also precious. Therefore, making some homemade brownies, flapjacks or a sandwich to take to work seems like a very do-able step to avoiding the biscuit and crisp packets in the lunchtime meal deal. Also, as a bonus, it’s cheaper too!

I don’t have all the answers and haven’t yet sussed out this alternative way of living,  I’m still walking the walk one step at a time but I would love to share some of the top tips for zero waste living which I have found very helpful. Hopefully this will encourage you to take up the challenge yourself! There are changes we can make in our homes and offices to ditch the plastic for good.

Before you get started, if you’ve yet to warm up to this idea that life is better without plastic why not commit to keeping every piece of disposable plastic for a month. I can testify to what a humbling experience this can be. It certainly opened up my eyes.

So, tip number one: Go for bamboo when it comes to brushing your teeth. Every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists. So that means every toothbrush is still out there somewhere. Bamboo toothbrushes are easily available, inexpensive and completely biodegradable. Win, win, win. (www.savesomegreen.co.uk)

Take two: …but not two disposable coffee cups. In fact never take one again. They are not currently recycled in this country and we certainly do get through a fair few. Get yourself a reusable cup (they come in bamboo too!) and never look back.

Finally: Take the plunge and go loose when you buy your fruit and veg. Only buy the vegetables you need, none of this multi-pack business and save on the food waste as well as the polymers. Bananas have their own skin, they don’t need an extra plastic one to make it home.

There is a lot of information out there on zero waste living and how this can work practically. Have a browse and get creative!

Together we can make a stand against plastic and the problems it causes and begin to halt the suffocating effect it is having all across the world. Our planet is far too precious and we can all play our small, yet significant part, in showing it some love.

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