How Sustainably Conscious are You?
Stepping towards a zero-waste lifestyle
A zero-waste lifestyle goes beyond the three R’s. By using everyday items to their fullest, we can prevent more trash from filling our landfills, incinerators, and oceans. A zero-waste lifestyle is a goal rather than a hard target—a change we should all strive for.
It’s not unusual to see people carrying plastics bags, drinking from plastic straws, carrying food in foam packaging, and printing hundreds of sheets of paper. As BCIT students with a heavy course load, I’m positive all of us have forgotten our reusable mugs or bags every now and again.
Making a consistent effort to be more environmentally conscious can reduce the amount of waste we generate every day. Tiny steps will lead to great results, like replacing single-use plastics with reusable alternatives. Start by picking items that are compostable or recyclable, and reduce the amount you’re using them as much as possible. Here are some suggestions for environmentally-friendly choices on campus:
Always keep one inside your backpack or briefcase; you never know when you might need to pick up groceries or toiletries. Tote bags are great for books, the beach, and the gym as well.
Avoid plastic if you can—bamboo, steel, glass or paper are great alternatives to hardshell containers. Even though reusable plastics are better than single-use, they take more time to decompose than other materials when eventually disposed of. Some companies will even offer an incentive if you bring your own container (like Nada Groceries and Pokerrito). You can also find snack bags made of cotton or silicon that are dishwasher or washing machine safe, BPA-Free, and easily recyclable.
Single-use paper cups tend to have a plastic lining. These paper and plastic layers need to separate before they can be recycled, which is difficult and time-consuming. As a result, only ~1% of disposable cups are recycled. Even though reusable mugs need to be manufactured and washed, which will use some energy and water, their longevity makes them a better sustainable choice than disposable cups. Also, at many coffee shops, you receive a discount for bringing your own mug!
According to Heal the Bay, the U.S. uses about 17 million barrels of oil to produce about 50 billion plastic bottles, and just 1 in 5 bottles are recycled. A reusable water bottle will save you money in the long run (tap water is free), will take up less storage space, and will be built for long-term durability.
How Long it Takes Materials to Decompose in a Landfill
Plastic bottles: Up to 450 years
Cotton Shirt: 3-6 months
Paper: 2-6 weeks
As students, we often have the convenience of laptops and tablets over notebooks and journals. When you are close to printing, think twice. Is it essential to print now? Is this project really complete? Do I need these notes on paper? Although regular printer paper is an easily recyclable material, coloured paper is more tricky, as it can’t be recycled with other paper colours. Sticky notes can’t be recycled at all, due to the adhesive on them.
Waste, Recycling and Compost Bins
Disposing of waste in the appropriate bin is crucial. Did you know that even a small shard of glass can deem an entire bag of compost non-recyclable? When you are on a BCIT campus, look for the garbage, recycling, compost, and ashtrays provided.
Thrift and second-hand stores take in donations of good-condition furniture, clothing, electronics, and housewares. Donation is a great way to lessen garbage going into the landfill, and if you donate to a non-profit, the proceeds often go towards a good cause.
Avoid driving alone in a car as much as possible. Taking transit, carpooling, and utilizing carshare services (e.g. Evo or Car2go) reduces carbon dioxide emissions and saves money on gas. On sunny days, try walking or cycling to your next destination. Don’t have a bike? If you’re in Vancouver there’s Mobi, a bike-share service with plenty of pickup spots.
Hopefully, these suggestions encourage you to step into an environmentally conscious lifestyle. We are still years ahead of making zero-waste living commonplace and single-use plastics have an unavoidable presence. By embracing positive habits like bringing a reusable bag to the store or carpooling with a friend, we can help make it happen.