As an aspiring environmental engineer, with a background in Environmental Sciences, it almost goes without saying that environmental concerns are at the forefront of my mind. With this in mind, I thought it might be a nice idea to share with you how I go about trying to make a change, in my small bubble. This post by no means intends to adopt a patronising stance, since I have a long way to go and am still trying to learn how to become a more sustainable individual. The reality is that acting in environmentally conscious ways not only helps our planet but it also make so much financial sense, and we all know how valuable that is for us students.
Going back home and travel around the UK
Unfortunately I need to fly back to Italy for the holidays, and that really bothers me. I’ve decided in 2020 to try and take the train back home and maybe enjoy a couple of nights in Paris during one of the layovers. In the meantime, I never travel home for a fleeting weekend trip, but only go back for the 3-4 weeks of holidays. During the academic semester I rigorously take the train when visiting friends and family around the UK. The 16-25 railcard lowers the price to a reasonable standard, and a bit of advance searching/tweaking travel times can further improve the prices.
Reducing plastic and waste
I could write a whole book on this topic, so I will try to be succinct and simply focus on a few key-points: (1) Reusable carrier bags are key. You never know if you need to pick up some oil or garlic on the way back home, or if there is a nice plant or vintage sale on campus. Having an extra bag that does not take up space when folded can easily avoid you having to pay those extra 10p at the checkout. (2) Re-usable water bottle and mug. What’s the point of not having those anyways? There are free water fountains all around campus (and in town if you ask cafés!) and discounts on drinks if you bring your own mug: an all round, win-win situation. (3) Shop local and organic. I know, organic stores are normally super expensive – that said, the good news for prospective Bath students is that I found a gorgeous little place in town where I spend more or less £20 a week on food. And trust me, my weekly intake of food is pretty substantial. Added to selling local vegetables and produce, the shop also features grain and cereal on tap and a range of other cool products (i.e. soaps, creams, shampoos, reusable make-up remover pads). There is always a basket filled with discounted items (got myself some oatcakes last week for £1 per packet of 20). However, I do understand that this may not be the best thing for you – so my next suggestion would be choosing supermarket vegetables and fruit that are not already wrapped in plastic, and simply carrying them as they are. Or maybe to target the organic meat choices, as well as avoiding eating beef.
My first point on "green living" would be that walking or cycling over using the bus or driving in Bath has got endless advantages, to yourself and the natural environment. The city is hilly, but it’s also small enough that walking anywhere will not take that long, and so picturesque that it will be worth it every time. That said, I’m much more of a cyclist than I am a walker. The centre of the city is actually quite flat, and getting to the university now has become (almost) easy. The first month of cycling to classes was a real struggle, and I will not sugar-coat it, but seeing how much my cardio and strength has improved now is so satisfying. Also, think of how much money and time I save by not having to go the gym this way, nor having to pay bus fees. A last point I wanted to focus on was plants. Disclaimer: I love plants and trees. I am constantly having to refrain myself from turning my room into a jungle. And as an aspiring environmental engineer, I can confidently say that trees are the technology nature created for carbon capture. That is one of their ecosystem services: cleaning up the air we breathe. Because of this reason, I have been trying to surround myself with more greenery, and try to plant a few trees myself. The thing is, there are innumerable studies out there that outline the range of psychological benefits that plants give to you. I genuinely think that going for a walk around Alexandra Park, or in any green part of town or the countryside, is one of the best coping methods you can give yourself for dealing with stress and anxiety. So, my suggestion would be: surround yourself with plants!
Did you know that tumble driers are the household items that consume the absolute most amount of energy? I know that Bath can get quite rainy, but airdrying clothes takes me one day on non-rainy weather (maybe 2 in the winter), and the thing is clothes smell so nice that way! Also, the house really doesn’t have to be 25 degrees all year long. In my eyes, wearing a jumper and socks indoors is acceptable, and I also save money on my electricity bill. Switching lights off whenever I leave a room is a habit my parents drilled in me since I was a child, and it just makes sense financially. And, for those of you who love to clean (lucky you), there are environmentally biodegradable alternatives to cleaning products, that you can also make yourself at home (lots of online recipes, and they work!).
There are innumerable ways in which we can all try to reduce our environmental footprint, and the reality is that these shifts in behaviour only require 1-2 weeks of conscious effort until they become habits. Up to two-three years ago, I was using plastic bottles every day, didn’t know reusable mugs existed and my kitchen and bedroom drawers were always overflowing with plastic. Now, I can happily say these problems and nuisances do not concern me in any way. In addition, overcoming them makes sense for us and for our planet, and if all of us do it we WILL actually make a difference! I believe in that, and hope you do too.