College Green Guide: 7 Ways to Save Money and Protect the Planet

Between classes, clubs, jobs, internships and trying to maintain a social life, you have a million things on your mind as a college student. So unless you’re extremely passionate about a sustainable lifestyle, it’s probably not your top priority.

But honestly, being an eco-friendly student is as easy as program week. With a few small lifestyle changes, you can have a big impact in slowing down the effects of climate change. Plus, going green can actually save you a ton of green — and we know most college students are interested in saving money.

Here are seven simple tips to help you make student life more sustainable.

1. Go to class on foot or by bike

We know what you’re thinking – “Duh!” But did you know that even occasionally, swapping your car for your two feet (or two wheels) could save you around 6 to 14 million tons of CO2 one year?1 That’s a big enough difference to warrant the extra cardio.

Using your car less frequently also means you’ll use fewer harmful pollutants, like gasoline and antifreeze. Not to mention, you’ll save a ton of money on gas and student parking passes. (Seriously, shouldn’t parking be included in tuition?)

2. Ditch single-use plastics

You’ll have to start drinking more water with all that walking and biking, so let’s start with plastic water bottles. Let’s put our environmentalist hat aside for a second: did you know that Americans spent over $36? million on bottled water in 2020?2 Drinking water costs next to nothing, yet we waste millions of dollars on it.3

Returning environmentalist hat: There are currently about 2 million tons of plastic bottles thrown away in US landfills. And during the 1,000 years it takes for a single plastic bottle to decompose, it will leak harmful chemicals into the environment.4 Need we say more? It’s time to recycle all your plastic bottles and stop buying them for good.

If you don’t want to drink tap water, consider buying a filter or take advantage of these free water refill stations on campus. We know it’s not Voss, but it’s free for you, and Mother Nature will thank you.

If you’re looking for a good reusable water bottle, check out One Green Bottle, which is partly made from recycled ocean plastics and reasonably priced compared to most major brands.

While you’re at it, go ahead and forgo plastic bags for tote bags and plastic food containers for Tupperware. And keep an eco-responsible spirit at the grocery store by avoiding unnecessary plastic packaging (pre-peeled oranges, we’re looking at you).

3. Recycle those beer cans

…Or cans of soft/energy drinks. Whatever drink you choose, be sure to recycle those containers properly. Billions of beer and soda cans – around 17.5 million tonnes – have been thrown away rather than recycled over the past five decades.5 It’s even more shameful because aluminum is infinitely recyclable and the carbon footprint of producing a recycled aluminum can is far less than producing a new one.

Also, remember that you can make some quick cash by taking your cans to a recycling center in some states. Sure, it’s not a lot, but 5-10 cents adds up when you recycle every case of PBR from last weekend’s Beer Olympics.

4. Be frugal

Need new furniture for your dorm or apartment? Skip Ikea and Amazon and check out Habitat for Humanity Restore or Facebook Marketplace instead. Need an outfit for a themed party? Go to a thrift or clothing store like Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange or Plato’s Closet. Or organize an on-campus clothing swap.

To get an idea of ​​how useful thrift stores are, listen to this: the fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 10% of global CO.2 emissions – that’s more than all international flights and shipping combined.6 In addition, textiles represent around 17 million tonnes of annual waste.7 Raw.

So go ahead, be frugal with it. And then, when you move house or are ready for a cleaning, you can resell your items. Take that, fast fashion.

This brings us to our next point:

5. Say no to free t-shirts (and other items)

…unless you actually use them. College towns are full of marketers and campus groups handing out freebies. But if you’re not wearing those t-shirts or using those plastic cups, you’re just contributing to the endless cycle of waste. We know gifts are tempting, but if you don’t use them, refuse them.

6. Use solar energy

If you’re a college student reading this, we’re at least 90% sure you’re not a homeowner who can afford to install rooftop solar panels for thousands of dollars. (If we’re wrong, good for you, go ahead!) But you can still enjoy the benefits of solar power on campus or as a tenant. Here are some examples:

  • A mini plug-in solar system for your home that generates enough electricity to power electronics and lights.
  • A window solar charger to power your phone or wireless headphones.
  • Solar powered string lights for your balcony or garden.
  • A portable solar charger for those long days on campus.

There are also plenty of ways to be a solar energy advocate and get involved in renewable energy solutions while being a broke college student. Which is a great transition to our last tip:

7. Start or get involved in a green organization

If you attend a large school with hundreds of student organizations, chances are you can find at least one club dedicated to green living or climate activism. Here are some ideas to try:

  • If you have just moved into a dorm, see if there is a “green living” community. If there isn’t one, start one.
  • Visit the student activities fair or check the student activities page on your school’s website to find clubs dedicated to sustainability.
  • If you’re feeling extra passionate, consider running for student government office and advocating for more sustainable solutions on campus.
  • Many schools have so-called “green funds” available to advance campus sustainability initiatives, or you and your new group can apply for one. You can head to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for these resources.

Final Thoughts

These seven tips can be simple guidelines to get you started (and maybe help you save some money). But don’t discredit them. Your small steps towards sustainability can make a big difference and inspire others to do the same.

As a Vanderbilt University professor told EcoWatch, young people can have the biggest influence on older generations when it comes to slowing climate change.

“When people see young active [and] hearing young people express their concerns, it affects the way people see themselves”, Jonathan Gilligan, assoc. professor of environmental earth science, said. “If they see young people doing things to protect the climate, it makes other people, including older people, more likely to do something.”

Kristina Zagame is a journalist and content writer specializing in solar and other energy-related topics. Prior to joining EcoWatch, Kristina was a television news reporter and producer, covering a wide variety of topics including West Coast wildfires and hurricane relief efforts. Kristina’s reporting has taken her all over the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and Chile.

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