The consequences of climate change, if left unchecked, are downright terrifying — so much so that they’ve created a new strain of anxiety, rightly dubbed “eco-anxiety”. I’m not interested in fear-mongering or finger-pointing, though. Read the news for five minutes and you’ll find more than enough of that.
Instead, I want to share a little actionable advice on zero-waste living for university students who are already up to their eyeballs in stress. Reducing your waste will not only contribute to the greater fight against climate change, but it’ll also save you money. (Talk about a win-win!)
(Disclaimer: References to the following products or companies are not paid endorsements.)
Swap your toiletries
Read any article on zero waste living and you’ll find that most swaps start in the bathroom. Replacing your bathroom products is easy, and often cheaper in the long run.
Opt for package-free bar soaps over liquid body wash in plastic bottles. Bar soaps smell just as good and take up less space in the shower.
Lush carries a range of package-free shampoo and conditioner bars which cost the same as liquid shampoos, but last three times as long.
Bamboo toothbrushes are readily available on the market, and most are biodegradable and even compostable. Colgate has also launched a new oral product recycling service in the UK, so you can stop sending those unrecyclable toothpaste tubes to landfill!
While nylon itself is recyclable, dental floss is not — nor is the plastic case it comes in. Silk dental floss is a fully biodegradable alternative and often comes in recyclable and reusable packaging.
Ditch the disposable plastic razors for a stainless steel safety razor. Not only are safety razors plastic-free, but they also shave closer to the skin.
Ladies, when it comes to creating your zero-waste makeup case, you’ll want to start by ditching the makeup wipes. Did you know that wet wipes account for 93 percent of sewer blockages in the UK? Switch the wipes for reusable, 100 percent cotton pads.
Menstrual products, even pads and tampons made of cotton, also carry a hefty carbon footprint. Save yourself some money and swap out your menstrual products for a pair of absorbent underwear, a menstrual cup or washable cloth pads.
If you’re crafty, you might consider DIYing some of your toiletries. You can find zero-waste recipes online for everything from lotion and dry shampoo to eyeshadow and lipstick.
Climate change is here + we’ve got a deadline: 12 years left to cut emissions in half.
A #GreenNewDeal is our plan for a world and a future worth fighting for.
How did we get here?
What is at stake?
And where are we going?
Please watch & share widely ⬇️pic.twitter.com/IMCtS86VXG
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 17, 2019
Ditch single-use for biodegradable and sustainable
Last year, the European Union voted by a landslide to ban single-use plastics by 2021. The EU Parliament has also proposed that EU countries decrease their reliance on other single-use products, like food packaging.
Glass, bamboo and cotton are staples of the zero-waste lifestyle. Glass, unlike plastic and paper, can be recycled over and over again, since it doesn’t degrade.
Bamboo is biodegradable, compostable, and free of BPA and other harmful chemicals often found in plastics.
If you’re making the effort to reduce your waste, opt for sustainable materials over single-use disposables. Always try to buy second-hand when you can, and avoid the temptation to splurge on “fast fashion” items.
Whenever you go to grab some grub or coffee from the food hall, bring your own containers. Mason jars, glass water bottles and stainless steel tins are excellent alternatives to single-use takeout containers like plastic-lined coffee cups and styrofoam boxes. Make a note to bring your reusable cotton shopping bags with you when you go out as well.
Tips for adjusting to reduced-waste living in shared accommodation
- Talk to your flatmates. It’s important that you and your housemates come to a mutual understanding at the very least. That conversation can be difficult, but the best way to approach the delicate issue is to lead by example. This article has some excellent tips for discussing waste and setting boundaries.
- Speak to your family about gift-giving. Discuss your efforts to reduce waste with your parents and anyone else who might give you Christmas or birthday gifts. (Fun fact: after I spoke to my mother-in-law about my efforts to reduce waste, she gifted me bamboo socks and an adorable bamboo keep-cup for my birthday!)
- Subscribe to zero-waste blogs and newsletters to learn more about the zero-waste lifestyle. Going Zero Waste is one of my favourites. Zero Waste Chef is a great resource for cutting down kitchen waste, and the Zeroing In blog is run by a college student who lives in shared accommodation.
The war on climate change: consumers vs. corportations
The term “zero-waste” is somewhat of a misnomer — achieving absolute zero waste is nigh on impossible.
And frankly, preventing climate change shouldn’t be up to the consumers alone. After all, 71 percent percent of global carbon emissions can be traced back to just 100 companies.
Here’s the problem, though: we consume what those companies produce. As long as there is demand, manufacturers will continue to supply.
While corporations and governments should absolutely do more to combat climate change, we as individual consumers can do our part and make small lifestyle changes to reduce waste dumped in oceans and landfill.
There is some good news amidst the doomsday reports on climate change — so don’t let your “eco-anxiety” consume you, for lack of a better word. But remember, we all have a responsibility to help put out this house fire, to paraphrase young Greta, in our own, small ways.