It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the news on climate change and the reports on the action we should be taking. Rather than turning a blind eye to the negativity, I am channeling my energy into positive action and you can do too with these tips on how to reduce your waste.
Over the last three years living and working as a student at Leeds Beckett I have tried to establish as close to zero free student lifestyle as I can. I have spoken at Student Sustainability Research Conferences on environmental issues and been involved with the allotment society, the sustainability society and climate initiatives going on in Leeds – all things you can get involved with too!
Leeds is a great city to not only practice sustainability but to get involved in environmental projects as well: from zero-waste shops and fruit and veg markets to community gardens and recycling point. All these things in the city have made it much easier to practice a sustainable lifestyle.
Plastic is our number one problem when it comes to waste because it can take up to 1000 years to decompose, and yet it is so easy to replace. Here is how I am currently reducing my plastic usage:
- Shop zero waste. I am currently living a zero-waste lifestyle and it’s great to see zero waste shops are a growing movement in Leeds. Customers can take in containers of any kind and refill them with products from bulk jars and boxes cutting out packaging. In Leeds, Ecotopia and Out Of This World provide these services.
- Buy loose produce. I have found markets and stalls, such as Kirkgate Market near Leeds station, sell food with little plastic packaging at a really good price too.
- Use a reusable cup. For days when I can’t sit down and take my time over a coffee, I take my refillable coffee cup and have it to go without worrying that I am adding to the 2,700,000 cup that’s are thrown away every day! Many cafes in Leeds will give you a little discount if you take your own cup. These are widely available, and the university even does their own ones. Buy yours at the one of the shops at either city or Headingley campus. On days that you forget to take a refillable be sure to pop down to the university canteen and recycle your coffee cup at the bright yellow machine. It will reward you with a receipt giving you 20p off your next purchases from Leeds Beckett café and canteen.
Paper, although decomposable, should be reduced at all costs because it contributes to deforestation. Paper is easy to reduce because we can do so much online nowadays. Here’s a few ways I’m reducing the amount of paper I use:
- Ditch tissues for handkerchiefs. I make handkerchiefs easily out of old sheets or t-shirts. I also use tea towels and dish cloths instead of paper towels.
- Avoid junk mail by sticking a label on your letter box. I have created a label for my door to reduce the number of leaflets and takeaway adverts we get. It keeps your house tidier and reduces the temptation to order in every time you see that pizza menu lying on the door mat!
- Sign up to paperless bills, bank statements and receipts. I have them emailed to me and can access banking information online. This improves your security and prevents you from having to update your mailing address every time you move house or accommodation as a student, which as we know is way too many times!
Change Your Lifestyle
With a change of attitude towards our planet comes a fresh motivation to do what you can to help reduce our impact on it. I’ve found that with a little research and a new mindset, small changes can come easily and go a long way. Before you know it, these actions can become habit. Here are some of the ways in which I have changed my lifestyle:
- I shop in charity or second hand stores, not just for clothes but books, games, crockery, lamps, music, films - literally anything! Headingley high street is the best place for charity shops and where I enjoy thrift shopping with uni friends. It’s good fun and everything you find is so unique too.
- Swap your clothes at one of Leeds’s many clothes swaps or host one with your friends. I’ve found that Woodhouse Community Centre holds a brilliant one every 4th Saturday of the month. I do this because fast fashion is the second most pollutant industry in the world after fossil fuels because of the large consumption of water, energy and chemicals required to produce fabric at many stages in the production process.
- Borrow. If there is an item you need for a single occasion ask around and see if you can borrow it before you buy anything new. I have terrible fashion sense but lucky for me my best friend is queen of style. I always check with her if I need an outfit to see if I can borrow something. Or, if she is planning on throwing anything away, I’ll have a rummage first. Share and save!
Repairing things is a great way of learning a few practical skills! Learn how to repair your possessions when they break, be that with by sewing a button back on to a coat or re-hemming a skirt. This doesn’t just apply to clothes, get creative with superglue or remake broken items into entirely new things. I always do this when I sit on my sunglasses and you’d never be able to tell. You might find a new hobby or natural talent in the process.
Reducing food waste
Food can seem like an unpolluting waste because of its organic material. However, when food rots with other organics in landfill, it produces methane gas, which is 25x more polluting than carbon. Here are a few ways in which I am reducing my food waste:
- Compost. Come empty your compost pile at Leeds Beckett Allotment on Sunday mornings, if you can’t compost in your own house. You don’t have to stay and garden with us, just empty your bin and go knowing you’ve help re-fertilize the land from which your food came. (Only uncooked food please!) If you are interested in popping along or want to join us to help garden check out our Facebook page for more information. We are a very chilled friendly bunch!
- I regularly store cooked food as leftovers in the fridge in a reusable container. You can even use takeaway or ice cream tubs for this. Saves you cooking another meal and money too.
- Use loose leaf tea in a reusable strainer instead of tea bags. I’ve found there are a couple of lovely loose-leaf tea shops down the bottom of Leeds near the Corn Exchange which have a huge variety of flavours.
It’s easy to forget the waste that comes from our daily bathroom routines, but most toiletries are sold in plastic too. There are plenty of ways to avoid these products. Here’s a few of my tips:
- Use a bar of soap instead of liquid soap. You are left without a plastic bottle at the end! For other products, I refill my bottles of soap, shampoo, conditioner and even laundry and washing up liquid at Ecotopia or Out Of This World in Leeds city centre.
- Try making your own lotion. Raw materials are free from chemicals, better for your body and you can learn some useful practical skills and recipes too. I have found coconut oil is an essential natural ingredient for homemade beauty care and there are plenty of recipes and blogs online.
- Swap make up wipes and cotton pads for cloths. Make up wipes clog up drains, get into our oceans and are terrible for our skin anyway! Girls, swap your disposable pads and tampons for cloth pads or a menstrual cup. With a little practice these are easy to use. Swap plastic earbuds for plastic-free or reusable. There is no need for these to be plastic. You literally use it once.
We all know we should be recycling paper, plastic, glass and tins but what about the packages that are less widely recycled. Well Ecotopia in the central arcade has facilities to recycle crisp packets, cracker, biscuit and cake wrappers, and oral care waste from toothpaste tubes to toothbrushes and their packaging. I was very happy when I found this because it meant that I could finally stop feeling guilty about all the crisp packets I had previously had to throw out. Obviously, it would be better overall if they were made of paper but at least for now my crisp addiction can continue.
I hope these tips help you on your journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle. Remember, individual actions telling governments and businesses what we want, can change policy as well as attitudes. I hope you enjoy the process of adapting to a sustainable lifestyle as much as I have and keep in mind that it is a process!