Reducing Campus Waste Production: A Student’s Guide to Sustainability | the ReFab Diaries

We all know that sustainability begins at home: we try to save water, compost, recycle, reuse, support local businesses, and use public transport to live an eco-friendly life. Why not do the same when you start living in university or college housing? Technically, the campus becomes your home for the next few years. 

Statistics suggest that 59% of undergraduates believe their universities are ‘somewhat’ eco-friendly. Moreover, less than one-quarter of students consider their campus sustainable. Insight from green activities like transportation, waste management, energy usage, and water usage supported these findings. 

In this blog, we will discuss ways to reduce campus waste, tips, and more. 

3 Tips for a Sustainable Campus Life

While you might shy away from an eco-friendly lifestyle because you aren't sure how to go about it, fear not - we're here to help. As a student, recycling in college will help improve environmental practices on campus overall. Moreover, you'll be setting an example for others while also contributing to the campus community. 

Hence, some tips for embracing a sustainable life on campus are: 

a. Embrace Technology

Every year, America cuts down 4 to 8 billion trees to make paper. However, 1.4 billion trees go to landfills due to paper waste and product packaging issues. This level of deforestation can have a massive ecological effect and enhance carbon footprint. 

Instead of using paper notepads, you can digitize your notes as a silent protest against this practice - look for opportunities to record lectures then use apps to transcribe the lectures into notes. Moreover, you can use a Kindle and study from digital textbooks. 

Every semester, you will have new coursework. Hence, reducing the use of paper books will ensure low waste production from old textbooks. Another benefit: you no longer need to carry heavy textbooks to class if you shift to digital books and notes.

b. Zero Waste Mentality

Statistics suggest that college students produce 640 pounds of individual waste every year. Usually, students create waste via disposable cups, paper, single-use pens, clothes, and more. To minimize this, you need to try on a ‘zero waste mentality.’ 

That means an enhanced implementation of the three Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle). You can recycle paper, electronics, plastic, and clothing. Moreover, you can reduce the use of ‘single-use’ plastic products by bringing reusable cups to coffee shops (and even parties) and reusable containers for takeout. If you must use plastic bottles etc, reuse them for a few weeks before recycling them. 

Additionally, consider buying clothes at your campus thrift store or from second-hand websites. And try to take a minimalistic approach to dorm design and use natural products whenever possible. 

c. Compost and Grow Fresh Produce on Campus

Reports state that growing food on campus can be rewarding. It ensures your financial, physical, and mental well-being. Of course, growing vegetables and fruits in your dorm is also a great way to embrace sustainability. You can use single-use containers to plant herbs and lettuce on your balcony or window sills. 

Furthermore, an eco-friendly way to make fertilizer is by composting your organic waste. You can collect fruit peels, coffee grounds, and vegetable scraps in a bin and let them decompose. It will reduce waste production and make your plants nutrient-rich. 

You can also advocate for community garden development on campus to promote sustainability. Doing so will let you spread awareness among friends and other residents. 

Five Waste Management Tips to Practice With Friends 

The sustainable living tips mentioned above will help you on an individual level. However, you can invest in initiatives that impact the entire campus. Some practical waste management tips to share with your friends are: 

  1. Standardize the labeling of recycle bins and promote proper waste disposal. 
  2. Create a consolidated shopping list and buy groceries together. 
  3. Bring a little competition to on-campus recycling and make it fun for other students. 
  4. Explore local shops and use or reuse products that you have bought. 
  5. Coordinate with your friends and start a campus "green team" if one doesn't already exist.

You can also audit the existing waste management practices and involve the campus custodial team. This way, you can drum up more attention and be successful with your ‘green initiative.’ 

What Does a Sustainable Campus Look Like?

Universities are uniquely equipped to regulate and manage waste production. The management tightly monitors the campuses, and students live a structured life. Hence, the on-site facilities management can implement a zero-waste policy. 

For example, the University of California, Merced, is top-rated as the ‘greenest’ college campus. Initiatives like biodiversity, sustainable waste management, and reduced energy usage have made the campus famous. Cornell University ranks #2 with initiatives like sustainability planning and waste reduction. 

Technically, a sustainable campus should have the following eco-friendly options: 

  • Quarterly waste audits to determine changes required by the waste management facilities. 
  • Advocacy by the faculty to promote sustainable practices like ‘say no to plastic’ or ‘say no to single-use utensils.’ 
  • Universities should organize sustainable move-in and move-out programs to reduce waste production. 
  • An incentive program for all campus students can help reinforce eco-friendly behavior.
  • Campuses should focus on mandatory celebrations for all environment-related holidays. 
  • Having eco-friendly infrastructure, implementing a waste diversion program, and using sustainable energy options will also help. 

The Bottom Line

These environmental practices require dedication, investment, and passion. That is why some students are apprehensive about it. However, sustainable practices in college will benefit the campus and the environment. 

Your actions will reap benefits like reduced trash on campus grounds and an enhanced college environmental program. The university will look pristine. As a result, there will be a reduction in health hazards. Your consistent recycling activities and advocacy will attract other students to participate. 

You can use tips like reducing the use of paper, composting, and recycling. Additionally, waste management techniques will help you create a positive environment at college. Remember, the change starts with you.

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