I did my masters in Earth Education and Communication from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India. Bangalore, which was once known to be a ‘city of lakes’ booming with a number of 51 healthy lakes now calls for immediate attention as most of these water bodies have been largely encroached for urban infrastructure. Urban development has caused 19 of these lakes getting converted to bus stands, golf courses, playgrounds and residential colonies, and a few tanks were breached under the malaria eradication program and some being used as dumping grounds for sewage disposal without functional water treatment plants.
While I was getting sensitised to the problems of the city I was dwelling in at that time during college, I started to adopt different ways in which I could create as minimal environmental impact as possible. As students, we have a powerful drive within us that immediately seeks to call for action. We must allow ourselves, at that time itself, to incorporate these small tweaks into our lives and even promote this knowledge sharing amongst our peers that will result in greater, lasting changes within the community, both inside and outside school.
Let’s look at some of the ways in which we can get through college sustainably -
1. Do NOT Bubble Wrap
Instead of using plastic bubble wraps to secure your liquid bottles, photo frames and other such breakable items, cover them up with your clothes, towels and bedding that you bring along with you.
2. Visit a Garage Sale / Thrift Shop
Instead of buying everything afresh for your new housing, look for garage sales hosted by your seniors or junior college graduates. Students are more than willing to sell their stuff for a few bucks as they are not going to take those items back to their cities. Also, look around for flea markets or thrift shops in your city that sell second hand items such as kitchen utensils, dishes, pressure cookers. They also sell doormats, mops and washcloths made out of scrap fabric at very low prices.
3. Use Reusable Dishes and Cutlery
Instead of using plastic / paper plates and cups every day, take your stainless steel glasses, plates, bowls and cutlery along. Invest in a good travel coffee mug that retains the temperature of all your fluids. Meanwhile, also try to ditch the paper cups that you buy from the shops on the go!
4. Cover Your Bins
Bangalore city is very specific about segregating its wet and dry waste. While dry dustbins are generally clean and odour free, wet wastes are usually lined with large plastic disposal bags to dump our wastes in. It blew my mind when I saw my friend buy two boxes of those black plastic bags and our maid throwing away one bag a day filled with our wet organic kitchen waste. I immediately had a eureka moment when I thought of lining the bins with two sheets of daily newspaper. I had learnt it in college that newspapers are excellent moisture absorbers thus, not only did I reduce my plastic consumption by one bag a day, my dust bin also did not reek of wet vegetable waste odour.
5. Recyclable Containers
Take along plastic containers and boxes to store your kitchen items. Not only did my flat mates and I use those to stack our food items such as flour, rice, pulses, rice and other spices, we also saved the plastic containers of our food orders to reuse it later on. Many restaurants also offer to take those boxes back and even offer you a small discount when you return those. It is a great incentive to save all the plastic cutlery, boxes and bowls they mindlessly throw in. We also preserved the glass bottles that you get when you buy a milk shake and use it store our cooking oils, milk and also to refrigerate water or make our DIY detox water.
6. Cloth Bags for Grocery
Make sure that you carry cloth bags each time you visit a grocery store to bring in your daily/monthly supply. Be very mindful about not using plastic bags at all costs. Use paper wraps to bind your greens and leafy vegetables or to pack small items such as lemon and chilies. Use a jute twine to secure your item in place.
7. Distribute Power
Saving electricity is the most important requirement in today's age when everything we use requires large volumes of power supply to run. Be it our refrigerators, internet routers, microwaves and oven, fans and lights, laptop and mobile chargers or any other grooming or hair styling devices. What one can do is take out an hour (more the merrier) everyday when you switch off the main power supply of your flat or apartment. Use that time to talk to your flatmates, go out in the park for a walk or hit the gym! This is also a good exercise for 'technology detox' when you set out time for yourself for your own self discovery and improvement.
8. Reuse Paper
Make sure that you use both the sides of papers, envelopes and bill receipts for scribbling down your grocery list or daily task reminders. I made sure to pick up all the copier sheets I found lying around my college printer which were callously thrown away by the juniors. Often times, only one side of the A4 sheets were used and I could use the other side for my rough sketches and drawings. As much as we talk about recycling paper, we must keep in mind how water intensive that process is. It is better to prolong the consumption of paper and later give it away to vendors who buy these stacks of used paper, old newspapers, books and magazines at a moderate price.
9. Plant More
It is a very engaging and an almost cathartic experience of planting your own kitchen or flower garden. Look for idle spaces around your college campus or housing societies where you could plant some easy seeds like lemon, ginger, neem, tomato, marigold, hibiscus, aloe vera, tulsi and many other such plants that do not require much attention. Not only are you increasing the green cover in your premises, but you are also inviting in more birds, butterflies and honey bees which are essential to our whole garden and community ecology.
10. Kitchen Compost
You could also dig up a pit somewhere to dump your kitchen waste in. Wet organic matter from the kitchen adds to the nutrition of the soil. Use this compost for gardening, planting your saplings and enriching the soil condition of your area.
These are my ten simple ways of making through college as sustainably as possible by minimising my waste and maximising my ecological potential. These small steps are intrinsic motivators that go a long run when one individual influences the whole community around him/her to make subtle environmental contributions which is essential to the earth and also extremely gratifying to oneself.