Keeping your student property green this year


 7th June 2022

It’s not like you don’t know about it: climate change, global warming, energy crisis. Everywhere you look, someone’s telling you what to do. Trouble is, sometimes it feels like a lot of effort, and it’s hard to see how one person can make any difference. Plus your bills are included in your rent, so why not use as much as you can…

There’s no real doubt that we need to do something about how our use of resources is impacting on the planet. Whilst you taking out the recycling or turning down the thermostat isn’t going to fix things by itself, as a recent study from Imperial College London says, ‘using your voice as a consumer, a customer, a member of the electorate and an active citizen, will lead to changes on a much grander scale.’ (https://www.imperial.ac.uk/stories/climate-action/). In other words, if everyone does their bit, it’ll have a huge impact overall.

There are benefits for you in the long term as well: your first rented student place might be the first time that you’ve had control over what happens in your home and getting into good habits now will not only help the environment but will set you up for a money-saving, climate-changing rest of your life. 

Here are a few easy-to-accomplish steps to make a difference in your carbon footprint and your pocket:

Fashion

Fun as they are, single-use items and fast fashion play a huge part in environmental degradation. They’re responsible for 10% of carbon emissions and their production causes pollution of water sources and causes water scarcity in some parts of the world. Throwing away what we don’t wear is also a huge problem: in the UK alone, up to 350 million tonnes of wearable clothing goes into landfill every year. 

  • Have a regular house clothes swap rather than buying new. You could also help the Student Union set up a larger event at uni - look up ‘clothes swap’ or ‘swishing’ to find out how. Some people even turn these kind of swaps into a profitable business! 

  • Look for apps aimed at making swaps beyond your student house simple: Dopplle and Untagged apply ‘coins’or tokens in exchange for you uploading the clothes you want to swap, and you can spend them on the clothes you want.

  • Mend rather than throw away - you don’t have to be a sewing expert, just check out visible mending ideas on YouTube or TikTok. If your university has a fashion department, see if they run hands-on workshops for transforming your clothes.

  • Go charity shopping. For best results, it’s worth dropping in on a regular basis as stock changes all the time. You could even volunteer to keep an eye on what’s turning up! Charity shops are also a great way to have a guilt-free binge, and make a good home for those clothes you still love but don’t wear. Some charities offer dropoff points: Shelter, for example, will email you a printable label and you can drop a bag off at a convenient local shop.

  • You can often drop off textiles for recycling at supermarkets. They ask for it to be clean and wearable, in bags and shoes in pairs.

  • Sell for cash: there are outlets where you take a bag of clothes and get paid so much per kilo. Otherwise, upload items to sites such as Vinted, eBay or Depop. It could bring in a handy amount of cash.

  • When you’re buying new stuff, check for sustainable labels and think about buying one quality item rather than ten cheap throwaways. 


Food

What we eat has a huge impact on the planet, from deforestation and over-fishing to a major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Changing the way you eat doesn’t need to be radical and doesn’t need to cost you a huge amount in specialist, organic prices. Here are some ideas for cooking up a storm in your student kitchen.

  • Aim to buy fresh, local ingredients and cut down on processed ready meals (which has a side benefit of cutting down on your plastic usage!). Online recipes make it easy to try out cuisines from around the world, making your food tastier and your diet better for both you and the planet.

  • Don’t shop hungry, it’ll make it more likely that you buy too much without thinking what you’ll need for proper meals. Some people find it helps to batch cook: buy all the ingredients at once, set aside an afternoon to prepare, and you’ve got meals for the week ready. It helps to avoid those snacky moments and late night takeaway orders as well.

  • Eat less meat. You don’t have to go vegan, but explore some of the fabulous food that doesn’t involve animals. Meat production is widely held to be the no.1 culprit of emissions in the food industry, so choose smaller portions, eat more plant-based food and maybe think about having a meat free day or two each week.

  • Be aware of food waste. Did you know that around 30% of food gets thrown away? In fact, food waste is responsible for the third largest global emissions of greenhouse gas after China and the US. To avoid chucking out, plan meals in advance, stick to your shopping list, and have some good leftover recipes to hand.

  • Sometimes it can feel as if the kitchen bin is just an indoor compost heap: if your rubbish collection includes compost, keep a separate tub for food scraps. If your rental place has a yard or garden, you could think about having your own compost bin - it’s not as complicated as you might think. There are even apps where you can connect with someone who’d be delighted to use your peelings to feed their chickens or enrich their soil.

  • Look out for campus initiatives aimed at reducing food waste and eating with sustainability in mind.


Water

Did you know that 97.5% of the world’s water is found in the ocean or the sea, and is therefore too salty to be used? Or that most of what’s left is locked in the ice caps? (For the time being, anyway…). The modern world is pretty wasteful of what water we do have available, which means most of us will face shortages at some point in the future. Here are some everyday actions that, once they become habits, will have a long-term effect.


  • Turn the tap off in between actions, e.g. whilst you’re brushing your teeth or washing your hair. 

  • Tired of waiting for the bathroom to be free when you’ve got a lecture to get to? Keeping shower times short will save water and save arguments over who takes too long getting ready in the morning. An egg timer can help to track how long you’re in there. Showers use less water than a bath, so save the soaks for a treat.

  •  Get a water-saving bag for the toilet cistern so that you use less water per flush. (This is just for toilets with a lever: if you’ve got one with a dual action press button, you’re already good to go). It’s a dead easy hack, and Some water companies give these away for free, or you can improvise with a plastic bottle filled with water. Just lift the lid off and pop it inside. Job done.

  • Use a bowl when washing fruit and veg rather than holding it under a running tap. 

  • Wait until you have a full load when using the washing machine: if you feel comfortable about it, check if housemates have clothes they want to wash to make one big load rather than several small ones. Also, choosing a cooler wash setting is better for your clothes and helps to reduce microplastics.

  • If your student house has a dishwasher, the good news is that an efficient machine uses less water than washing up by hand. Result! 



Plastics 

The best way to cut back is to consciously buy less stuff wrapped in plastic. It takes a lot of time and energy to be 100% plastic-free, but even small reductions in use add up.

  • The rubbish collection for your house or flat will include recycling, so separate your waste as much as you can. It might help to have smaller containers in the kitchen which can be taken out to the recycling bin periodically. It’s best to rinse containers out and take labels off where possible. You can often drop soft plastics off at the supermarket, and Superdrug is the place to take your empty makeup packaging. They’ll also take old hairdryers and batteries. Result!

  • Have tap water ready in fridge rather than buying bottled water: the water bill makes up part of your rent, so make the most of it.

  • Make your own lunch to take to college (in a reusable tub, of course!) and have reusable coffee cups handy. You’ll often get a discount for using them.

  • Take reusable bags with you for shopping.

  • Try out a zero-waste shop, if there’s one nearby. 


Electricity

This is one for long-term thinking: your student house bills may be inclusive, but keeping your energy use low may nudge your landlord into keeping the cost down in the future rather than automatically putting them up. You could keep track and present a case if the prices do rise. And you’ll also be laying down good habits for when you do need to pay the bills - it comes to us all in time!

  • Turn off electronics rather than leave on standby. Energy Saving Trust research reckons that up to 16% of a household’s electricity use can come from electronics which haven’t been turned off at the wall.

  • It’s better for your phone to charge it for a couple of hours during the day rather than leaving it plugged in all night.

  • Turn lights off when you’re not in the room or when it’s sunny. I know, it sounds like your parents going on, but there’s a good reason for it!

  • Make sure you’re using energy efficient light bulbs. This is a good thing to suggest to your landlord.

  • Dry washing outdoors where you can, or use a clothes horse rather than tumble drying.


Heating

No-one wants you to freeze, but being able to walk around in a T-shirt in the middle of winter is just wrong. A warm jumper isn’t just for Christmas, after all.

  • Have the curtains open for the sun to come in: it doesn’t just warm the room but it increases your sense of wellbeing. Bask like a cat.

  • Turn the thermostat down and wear that extra jumper. And a vest. And a snuggly pair of socks.

  • Think about how you can draught-proof, and suggest ways your landlord can improve with, for example, leaky windows. Point out that it's good for their investment in the long term as well as saving the planet.

  • Exercise. There’s nothing like a brisk walk or a spot of weight-training to get the blood moving. You can fill empty plastic bottles with water or sand to stand in for actual weights, which also brings brownie points for reuse.


Household tips

  • Try to buy environmentally-friendly house cleaning products, or make your own with vinegar. 

  • Grow some houseplants to remind yourself how good it is to be green. If you have some outdoor space, you could try salad leaves or tomatoes as well.


Negotiating the challenge of renting for the first time can be hard and your housemates aren’t going to agree with you on everything. It’s not always possible to get everyone to change habits, but putting some of these ideas into practice for some of the time still makes a difference. Bear in mind that a light-hearted reminder on the wall is often more effective than nagging and don’t be dispirited if you’re the only one in your houseshare making the effort. At the end of the day, you only have control over what you do, but your example will make a difference.

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