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How To Live a Sustainable Life on an Unsustainable Budget

You know who you are. The student whose trash bag is filled with ramen, plastic, and other unsustainable goods that make dorm living easy. Going green has become a cultural phenomenon, but introducing sustainable living on a college student’s budget causes guilt, stress, and unsustainable habits. Environmental activism is something all students take pride in; but when you are confined to a low budget, finding ways to reduce waste and electricity consumption can be difficult. Students are notorious for lacking money in the bank because part-time jobs do not meet a high standard of living; so those who care about where their waste goes feel trapped in a plastic hell.

Let me try to help. There may not be much you can do when it comes to affording organic goods, or sustainable clothing; but by changing little habits, you can still do your part. Conserving energy is one way to help reduce the impact of urban living. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the three most common [resources] are coal, natural gas, and nuclear power” which helps to convert energy to a student’s handy-dandy, dependable laptop.  This silent form of energy is a waste of resources and serves as a pollutant because it contributes to greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, especially when burned.  It also uses and pollutes water (fresh water is becoming a limited resource), consumes land space, and affects ecosystems.

So what can a student do to lessen the burden?  For one thing, you can start by getting a power strip that allows you to simply flip a switch, and negates phantom energy. Turning off lights, fans, and straighteners when you run to class is another component to reducing one’s carbon footprint (luckily, Lesley has incorporated automatic light switches in most of its buildings); that’s helpful because the energy grid is working to produce electric for a ghost, and if you’re not in the room, you probably don’t need the energy anyway.  For students who love being outdoors, let the sun shine through, because not only will you be helping the environment but natural sunlight rejuvenates the soul.

Living on campus, I’ve realized how much I waste in a week because of the trash bag that lurks near my door, secretly hidden so I can forget my consumer’s guilt. According to NPR, while researching Recycling Works in Massachusetts, college students generate 142 pounds of food waste each year – and that’s not even plastic. In a study conducted by Boston College, students “produce 640 pounds of solid waste each year, including 500 disposable cups and 320 pounds of paper.”  There are many factors that go into this amount but I’m here to help you lessen the burden on the planet, and your conscience.

To minimize your consumption, you can:

  1.  RECYCLE!  Yes, there are certain products that cannot be recycled because of their composition, but plenty of products let you know where they belong. When it comes to food waste, here’s a fact:  all dining facilities at Lesley have composting bins, and the product is sent to a farm on the North Shore where in return, the farmer sends their produce as a give-and-take relationship (Lesley’s Waste Diversion site calls it a “closed-loop stream”).
  2. Reuse water bottles, or even transform them into your own personal dorm garden. You can find many sites that will help you transform your room into a green haven. Or decorate– make use of your art student friends!
  3. Think about what you are purchasing, whether it be lightbulbs (fluorescents for the win), clothing, decorations, or cleaning products, because there is a way to lessen your carbon foot print by doing research. Think of it like the U.S. government: since it’s not working for us, we can make it work for ourselves.

In addition, keep in mind that students at Lesley University are lucky, because we attend a school whose campus is confined to a small area. For students living on campus, bikes, sneakers, and scooters are an easy mode of transportation that also lessens your carbon footprint. Take advantage of the small campus!

The moral of the story is to be conscious of what you are doing. Living a sustainable life is not black and white, but while we have our heads consumed with getting good grades, why not do the little things for now? Lesley is filled with the most courteous students who love making a difference, and I could not be prouder of the community. Even though sustainable living disrupts our comfort, we should make good use of the opportunities that our school has given us. Lesley is moving to make our lives easier, and cleaner. If you check out Lesley’s Sustainability Newsletter, you will see some of the work they’ve done to help create a sustainable campus. The fall newsletter announced that Doble and Brattle will be utilizing Bigbelly Solar Compactors which are “self-powered, cleaner, provide no visible waste, keep out pest and weather with total containment and increase capacity,” and that reverses some of the waste we create. Yes, sustainable living can be a challenge, but these days, it’s not so difficult, and the rewards for our planet are many.  Let’s work with our school on becoming a cleaner, greener, environment!




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