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Cost-effective tips to reduce your environmental impact

By: Jenna Gilmour

I grew up in South Africa, where wildlife is abundant and everyone has a great appreciation for it. But there is also great poverty and development that threaten the wildlife and their homes. My name is Jenna Gilmour and this conflict between humans and the environment is what fuelled me to study Conservation Biology at the University of Plymouth, England.

Being on the coastline and surrounded by the moors, Plymouth gave me a great opportunity to specialise in coastal habitats and the effects of global climate change on these ecosystems.

As part of my degree course, I have been able to travel to Peru and California on summer placements. This has allowed me to apply my subject knowledge to real climate change problems. Both of these placements dealt with environmental issues that directly impact humans, such as saltwater seeping into irrigation water and reducing crop yield. This just highlights how connected humans are to the environment, and, with global climate change becoming an increasing problem, there is an increasing need in global awareness and conscious change to our daily lives.

Through my research I have found that the best way to minimise my impact on the environment is to adopt some ‘Zero Waste Hacks’. These hacks focus on minimising plastic or decreasing your ‘resource load’. By just taking a moment to think about what is used to make a product, you might be able to reduce the amount of water or electricity your household consumes.

As a university student, I am fully aware of the cost implications of switching to what has now been deemed a ‘Zero Waste Lifestyle’. However, there are always cheaper alternatives, and some are even free! I have had to learn the hard way.

1. Recycle! The most obvious and the easiest swap. If your council allows it, you could also compost your food scraps.

2. Don’t purchase single-use items. These include plastic bags or paper coffee cups. Think about how many coffee cups would not need to be produced if you just used a travel mug- plus your coffee/tea would stay hotter for longer. Same goes for plastic bags. I just keep one in all my backpacks or handbags for those spontaneous trips. It is often needed when spending all day in library.

3. Similar to above, reuse your freezer bags or use Tupperware instead (I used the free takeaway containers from my housemates). I understand that not everyone has the freezer space to use Tupperware, especially in a shared house at uni. So I just reuse those Ziplock bags by just washing them like I would a Tupperware container.

4. Use your freezer! I cannot stress enough how much food is wasted because we just don’t get to it quick enough. By chopping up veggies (and freezing them) before they turn, you are minimising the demand on crops and landfills. Plus, you could save money by doing one-pot cooking and then freezing as separate meal for convenience.

5. Order online responsibly. Etsy is a great resource for responsible products and they offset their carbon. You are able to purchase locally to support small businesses or internationally if you are looking for something specific. The sellers also usually disclaim if their packaging is recyclable or plastic free.

6. Swap to shampoo/conditioner and soap bars. These are super easy to use and lather like any normal shampoo and are usually free of any harmful chemicals. They also come in cheaper options and some really amazing scents. Great for gifts!

As a student, these are all swaps I have been able to make in my everyday life really easily. However, the biggest impact any student or young adult could have on the welfare of the environment is to just start that conversation. Just talking about an issue you might be aware of to your friends and family spreads the awareness and can help change the mindset of those around you. Educate yourself at university on these topics – other students can be a fountain of knowledge on different ways to be sustainable. If you make it a conscious change in your life it drives the conscious change of others by example.

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