10 Things Students Can do to Minimise their Impact on the Environment

Small changes DO make a big difference.

1. Recycle

It’s easy to chuck stuff you’re not sure about recycling in the household waste bin instead of the recycling bin. We’ve all done it. Those sandwich boxes when you’ve gone for a Tesco meal deal, punnet boxes from the North road grocers, some of those plastic beer can joiners. For help with which icons to look for, and what they mean, take a look at this page which breaks down all those commonly seen and ignored icons on the back of packaging: http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk/products.html.

Does your item not have any icons or information on it? No excuse! Check out this A-Z council guide to recycling in County Durham: http://www.durham.gov.uk/article/1886/Reuse-and-recycling-A-Z or check out your local council webpage for more information!

2. Food banks and Food Waste Charities

Water, fertiliser, packaging, testing. Petrol for farming equipment, petrol for transportation from source, to processors, to factories, to supermarkets, to garbage trucks. All of these things cost the environment a great deal, and a high level of food waste equals a higher price for Mother Nature. With Oxfam’s current figure at 1/5 of the population in the UK living below our own poverty line, it only makes sense to reduce food wastage for our environment and increase viable donations for our fellow citizens. At the end of the term, instead of throwing away canned goods, drop them off down your nearest food bank! It’s probably closer than you’d thought, and with Christmas fast approaching you might even help make the season better for those in need.

Food banks typically only take food that won’t go off, such as canned goods. Below is the shopping list with food they typically ask for. If you’ve got it, they want it!

· Milk (UHT or powdered)

· Sugar (500g)

· Fruit Juice (carton)

· Tinned Meat / Fish

· Sponge Pudding (Tinned)

· Cereals

· Pasta sauces

· Tomatoes (Tinned)

· Rice Pudding (Tinned)

· Tea Bags/instant coffee

· Instant Mash Potato

· Pasta

· Tinned Fruit

· Jam

· Biscuits or snack bars

Foodbank locations in Durham include the Methodist Church on North Road, for those of you living in the Viaduct, the community centre on Gilesgate, and the Methodist Church on Old Elvet for anyone living up near Whinney Hill! See this page for information about your nearest foodbank: http://durham.foodbank.org.uk/opening-times

3. Buy local

Needless to say, trucking products up and down the country not only requires a lot of petrol. Cutting back how much food you buy from sources that have greater carbon footprints also helps reduce how much they have to transport, and also supports businesses with more sustainable food sourcing.

If that isn’t reason enough, many companies use preservatives just to make sure your food doesn’t go off on the way to the store. These preservatives are also seen in your cosmetic products, and they serve to minimise the numbers of bacteria and fungi that would make the product unusable and unsellable. They’re not all good though, as some studies have shown that particular preservatives, such as methylisothiazolinone have been associated with hypersensitivity reactions (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2011.10523.x/abstract;jsessionid=CB348FE09E5A6B481180A97CB6F016CE.f03t02?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=), while sodium lauryl, commonly found in shampoos, has been associated with damaging structural changes in the skin (http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v128/n5/abs/5701170a.html).

The latest example of the dangers of preservatives in food is the big report by WHO suggesting that processed meats were associated with an 18% increased risk for colorectal cancer. They specify, as written in the BBC article you may have seen, that meats qualify as processed if they have been smoked, cured, or have had salt or preservatives added to them http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/. Purchasing meat which has undergone no further procedures to preserve it, and has been sourced locally will help reduce the negative impact you make on the environment, and on your own body.

4. Buy products without palm oil

Palm oil is used in basically everything now, from Ritz crackers to Herbal Essences. One big issue with palm oil farming currently is the level of deforestation going on to allow such massive production to take place. This means that millions of hectares of tropical rainforests have been targeted for deforestation to give land for palm oil plantations. In the process, this has destroyed habitats for all manners of rare species. Risks of this include a rise in greenhouse gas emissions, air, soil and water pollution, a loss of biodiversity (including endangering and potentially wiping out species such as orangutans, elephants and tigers.

As if this wasn’t enough, local communities are being forced to migrate from their homes to make way for these unsustainable and damaging plantations. You would think that naturally the answer would be to stop these plantations from being built, however they make up a large percentage of income for countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

That doesn’t mean palm oil farming can’t be done in a more sustainable way. WWF have created this educational video to explain the use of palm oil and more sustainable ways of producing it: https://youtu.be/M3b4n7Mz1YE.

For a general guide to going palm oil free, download the Palm Oil Guide provided by the Rainforest Foundation UK: http://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/what-you-can-do/others-ways-to-support-us/be-an-ethical-shopper/.

5. Buy items with smarter packaging

Buying individually packeted biscuits is probably one of the crimes many students are guilty of. Cereal bars, breakfast biscuits, multi-bags of crisps or sweets, even those bleach-free green tea bags you thought you’d done so well to buy! The bottom line is, the more inefficient the packaging, the worse for the environment it is.

This can even mean smaller items are worse for the environment! For example, buying individual yoghurt pots is worse than buying a single, bigger tub, as they are harder to recycle! Take-away coffee cups are another tricky packaging product. Next time you pop into the North Road Starbucks for a seasonal latte or delicious, blood-thickening frappucino, minimise your impact by bringing a re-usable cup instead!

Check the materials your products are packaged in too! If you know it can be recycled, it’s certainly a better purchase than buying something that definitely can’t be.

If you want to know more about packaging issues talked about in the UK currently, take a look at this article by The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/jul/18/good-product-bad-package-plastic-recycle-mistakes

6. Keep a re-usable plastic bottle

Besides another excuse for getting University Stash, this actually saves on energy used for recycling those flimsy plastic bottles you spend a small fortune on in the Calman Learning Centre café, considering they contain a basic commodity.

The Water Project (http://thewaterproject.org/), a non-profit organisation from the United States, dedicated to providing reliable water sources to communities in Sub-Saharan Africa researched into the costs drinking shop-bought bottled water has on the environment. They quote that only 1/5 plastic bottles are recycled due to the use of non-PET plastics for their production. Not only this, but those plastic bottles which make it into landfill sites have a lifetime of over 1000 years before they bio-degrade. Most tragically, Valleywater.org quoted that an estimated 3 litres of water is used in the process of bottling a single litre of water. Throw in the towel and just buy a DU water bottle, it’s better than the alternative!

7. Take notes electronically

Counterintuitive? It’s actually far worse for the environment to use reams upon reams of paper to write up your notes in lecture. Yes, you may eventually recycle this paper, however the recycling process also uses up more energy than would be used simply by having your laptop on energy save for an hour.

8. Turn stuff off

This one may seem pretty obvious, but that doesn’t stop us from leaving the lights on around the house. Besides saving you money on your bills, this is the simplest way to reduce your electricity usage, and helps you remain conscientious about your carbon footprint! Would it really hurt to turn off your phone while you’re getting some work done for an hour, or turn off the TV in the other room while you’re making dinner?

9. Eat sustainable fish

Not that students can often afford to eat fish, but if, by chance, you find yourself venturing into the indoor market and staring down slabs of delicious fish, it’s definitely worth keeping in mind which fish are best to eat.

Overfishing causes a whole host of ecological issues, from unbalancing the food chain, to endangering species. The drag on many fishing ships destroys large areas of underwater habitat, and water pollution effects sea fish, birds and mammals.

The Marine Conservation Society have helpfully put together a rating system, helping you choose the most sustainably farmed fish to eat for dinner on a (fancy) Friday night: http://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/fisheries/PocketGoodFishGuide_2015_low.pdf.

10. Blackle

I of all people know what heresy it is to suggest using a search engine other than Google. The time I opened an internet tab to find Yahoo as my default search engine falls at #3 on my list of most enraging things ever to happen to me. However, Blackle is Google run, and works by using a black background, thus, using significantly less energy to run off. Although it saves relatively little energy, the popularity Google is renowned for, and the frequency of its use means over the course of several years enough energy could be saved by setting Blackle as your default search engine that what seemed such a small change could add up to a big difference. It even helpfully displays how many Watt hours you save by using Blackle just below the search bar.

For more information, read the Blackle About page here: http://blackle.com/about/

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