One Person’s Trash is Often Still Trash

October 05, 2020

Some of you come from backgrounds that were very focused on living sustainably, others may be hearing the term “sustainability” for the first time.  This article is focused towards the people that have never tried so far in their life to lead a sustainable life, but these tips will be useful for everyone to read.   

Let’s begin by discussing what it means to live sustainably.  Simply put, it means to perpetually minimize one’s waste.  So many things we do in our lives create waste.  The food we eat, the buildings we heat, and the consumerism we feed all create waste.  To break it down, the packaging from your food, the pollution from gas plants, and the piles of retail items in the dump are all byproducts of our day to day lives.  While it is very difficult to live completely waste free, it is super easy to reduce your waste.  We’ll break down some simple things you can do later on in this article. 

Here’s a short paragraph for those that think sustainability isn’t their problem, for those that think climate change doesn’t exist.  You’re in an academic institution now, so you’d better start thinking critically about the matter.  No extra effort nor economic challenge outweighs the need for action against climate change.  You’re just one small person, but if every small person made a simple change in their life, we would be left with one huge wave of progress towards keeping our planet safe for generations to come.  Paraphrasing Bill Nye, you’re not 12 years old anymore learning about photosynthesis, you’re all adults that need to wake up and realize this is a real crisis we’re against.  Now that I’ve let out a bit of steam, I’m going to tone it back and explain some super simple steps we can all take to improve the state of the climate crisis. 

In community living, it’s even more important to live sustainably.  You are not only accountable to yourself, but you’re accountable to everyone living on your floor, in your building, around campus, and even in London!  Take this for an example: everyone in your building is super great at sorting their recycling, but one person throws their trash in the recycling.  Because of the one person, the whole bin of recycling will go in the trash, because there isn’t the time nor the money to have someone pick through recycling to make sure it is all recyclable. 

Don’t use paper plates or plastic cups 

Your dining hall is equipped with very nice reusable plates, bowls, cutlery, and cups.  There is no reason to eat off of something disposable.  I’ve heard people say they chose to use the plastic cups and cutlery because they think it’s more sanitary, I’m here to tell you that’s wrong.  The dishes in the dining hall are sanitized in intense heat and detergent to kills all germs.  The plastic cutlery you might be using comes from a supplier whose sanitary practices cannot be verified.  It’s also a much nicer experience to eat off of a real plate, and not have a paper plate get soggy and be cut through with the gentle swipe of a knife. 

Use a travel mug 

Buy a travel mug that you enjoy drinking out of and carry it everywhere with you.  Since you’ll likely have your backpack with you wherever you go, it is super easy to always have a travel mug on you.  This way if you’re studying and you feel like a coffee, you can put it in your travel mug; if you want to grab a tea from the dining hall before you run off to class, you can put it in your travel mug.  Most places even give you a discount for using a travel mug.  The discount is usually about 10 cents which adds up, if you buy as much coffee as most university students do.   

Buy a water bottle 

You may or may not be surprised to see that reusable water bottles are almost ubiquitous on campus.  Look around you in the library or in a lecture hall and you’ll see that 95% of water bottles are reusable.  It’s even almost a bit of a fashion statement.  Go out and treat yourself to a Swell or a Nalgene or a Brita or a no name brand that works just as well and costs half as much.  Then all you need to do is use it and don’t lose it.  No point in buying a water bottle if you lose it every week.  One of the things that blows my mind the most is that people buy cases of water.  I want to ask those people, “Don’t you know water is free?”  If companies sold you canned air, would you buy it?  There is no difference in absurdity between that and buying water.  By around the winter holidays, when your bank account is running real low, maybe then you’ll consider buying water an illegitimate expense. 

Keep your windows closed 

Residences are climate-controlled so if your window is left open, all you’re doing is climate-controlling the neighbourhood around your building.  Often when I’m in my room I want a bit of fresh air and to feel a breeze, that is ok, you can’t live in a stuffy room all year.  But when you leave your room, close your window.  You’ll be saving a lot of energy and therefore reduce the waste you contribute. 

Air dry your hands 

All the public washrooms in residence are equipped with paper towel dispensers to dry your hands.  I challenge you not to use them.  If you shake your hands around a little after washing them, they will be dry in under a minute.  If you wipe them once on your pants, they’ll be dry in under 20 seconds.  Having wet hands for 20 seconds never killed anyone.  Or if you really hate having damp hands for a minute, limit yourself to one square of paper towel every time you dry your hands.  I see people dispense four squares and the big bunch of paper towel remains mostly dry even once the culprit tosses it in the garbage.  Here’s the secret to drying your hands with one square of paper towel: 

  1. Shake your hands to get rid of water droplets
  2. Dispense ONE square of paper towel and fold it in half.  Water will get trapped between the two sheets of paper towel resulting an apparently more absorbent paper towel. 

Turn off your lights 

When leaving your room, turn off your lights; when you’re not rummaging around in your closet, turn off your closet light (if you have one); when you’re not working at your desk, turn off your desk lamp.  This simple step, if done by everyone, could make a huge difference in energy consumption. 

Separate your recycling 

Your recycling room will have different bins with different labels on them.  They might say containers, paper, or cans and bottles.  Whatever the categories are, it’s super important you sort your recycling into the proper bin.  Improper sorting will result in the entire bin of recycling being thrown into the trash because the recycling plant won’t be able to deal with it properly.  A tip is to have separate bins in your room for your different types of recycling.  That way you don’t have to dig through old recycling every two weeks when you decide it’s time to bring it to the recycling room. 

Shower to your favourite song, and only that song 

What is your favourite song at the moment?  Mine’s Cross Me by Ed Sheeran.  When I shower, I put that sh*t on blast and shower until the song is over.  It’s a great way to keep my showers short, or else I’d be in there forever, just enjoying the warm water.  I know lots of you can relate.  If you commit to showering only for as long as one song, you will use much less water.  Another way to have shorter showers, and this one’s a bit extreme, is to take cold showers.  There’s no way you’ll want to hang out in a shower so cold it’s uncomfortable to stand in.