Story by Joyce Jiang
Being environmentally friendly can seem intimidating, but here are some easy ways to help the planet that go beyond simply using the recycling bin.
- Use canvas bags instead of plastic bags.
Canvas bags help reduce the amount of plastic you use, as regular plastic bags add up quickly. Not only will canvas bags help the environment since many are made from recycled plastic, but they will also make your life easier. They are more durable, eliminating ripping from heavier items. You can also carry more items with fewer bags, making your trip home much easier.
Keep a few in the trunk of your car or stash some in your kitchen. Even if you forget occasionally and have to use a plastic bag, don’t beat yourself up—just remember to use a canvas bag the next time. In the meantime, reuse the plastic bag to line your trash can.
- Reduce food waste.
According to the USDA, between 30-40% of food is wasted (usda.gov). By planning out how much food you need for the week, you can reduce impulse purchases and ensure that overbought food does not spoil, saving both the planet and your budget.
Compost food scraps like fruit peels, apple cores, potato skins, or any other organic material generated in your kitchen. Collect these in a container in the freezer to prevent any foul smells and then drop them off at the UF Student Compost Cooperative (SCC). You can also receive the compost you helped make and use it to grow your own organic garden on a plot of land provided by the SCC.
- Eat seasonal and local food.
Seasonal food will be less expensive, taste better, be more nutritional, and won’t need a greenhouse to grow. Eating local food will support local businesses and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that result from food transportation, one of the major causes of carbon emissions from food production. Currently, bell peppers, broccoli, oranges, mushrooms, strawberries are in season (fdacs.gov).
- Stop paying for plastic with your coffee.
The next time you stop by Starbucks for your caffeine fix, bring a reusable mug. You’ll reduce the amount of plastic you use, keep your coffee hot or cold longer, prevent spills on your new jacket, and save money as most coffee shops offer a discount when you bring your own reusable mug. If you brew your own coffee at home in a Keurig, try using a reusable K-cup. In the long run, you will not only use less plastic, but also save money and give yourself the opportunity to try new types of coffee beyond those that have been packaged into K-cups.
- Reduce the amount of paper in your life.
Most are not ready to go paperless. If you need to take notes in class on paper, go for it. However, one way to save some trees without feeling any impact on your lifestyle is buying recycled paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper. It is easy to forget that these everyday items were once trees, and as they are single-use, they can be particularly damaging to the environment.
According to the NRDC, Americans use the most toilet paper per capita, topping the charts at 141 rolls annually (nrdc.org). Choose products that use post-consumer recycled materials to cut down your impact. Using recycled paper goes beyond just saving trees—bleaching paper releases harmful chemicals into the environment and recycled paper, which has already been bleached, requires less of these toxic chemicals.
- Pay attention to how much water you use.
According to the US Geological Survey, the average person uses about 80-100 gallons of water per day (usgs.gov). To reduce this number, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, fix any leaks in your plumbing as soon as you notice them, and try to take shorter showers.
If you don’t already know how long you spend in the shower, try timing yourself, and then challenge yourself to make it just a little bit shorter.
- Shop in thrift stores.
By purchasing or donating items at a thrift store, you are helping keep items from going to a landfill. Buying used items can have a big impact on the environment by eliminating the raw materials, water, energy, chemicals, and packaging that go into producing a new item that you would get in a traditional store.
Shopping at thrift stores tends to be cheaper and, as many thrift stores are non-profit, donating items can be tax deductible. Thrift stores like The Repurpose Project in Gainesville also offer a wide range of items, from building supplies and chairs to office supplies and phone chargers. A unique aspect of The Repurpose Project is that the buyer can decide how much to pay for items (repurposeproject.org).