Sometimes, or even always, thinking about the state of our environment can inspire feelings of anxiety, unease, and even guilt. We can feel responsible for the state that our world has gotten into, for climate change, for the pollution of the oceans, air, and soil, and for the decimation of natural resources. As young people, and students, we can often feel hopeless. What is one person to do to save the whole world? Why aren’t the big bad corporations, and politicians, doing enough?
I certainly do not have any answers to these questions. I have found, however, that taking steps to change my own habits, big and small, can help the environment and my own peace of mind. Let’s face it, we all could be doing more, but sometimes it can be difficult to take the first step, even if it is a small one. The power of the individual cannot be overlooked so I have compiled some information garnered by both practice and research on things university students can do for the environment.
Something that some of my friends and I have taken on this year is practicing Meatless Mondays. We get together and share a vegan or vegetari-an dinner to reduce our consumption of animal products, and also to have fun. Unfortunately on one such occasion, this fun was somewhat diminished, and I will admit in front of the readers of The Saint that it was some-what my fault.
I had been craving American fast food for a few days (gross, I know), and I had decided on my night to cook for Meatless Monday, that I would realise these futile fantasies in the form of Quorn chicken patty sandwiches. I toasted buns in olive oil spread, chopped lettuce and tomatoes, made chips, arranged condiments and pickles on the table, and set my chicken-less chicken patties in the oven to bake. While my friends sat at the table laughing and talking, thoroughly enjoying what I had made. The patties certainly tasted like chicken, and my craving was satisfied.
It is only after we had all wolfed down seconds that things took a turn for the worse. My friend began to cough and turned a bit red. She felt like she may have something in her throat so she drank some water, then went quickly to the bathroom to splash water on her face. When she came back into the kitchen, her face was swollen and she had a rash on her chest.
This is the moment of this story where I send out a thanks to all the medics studying in St Andrews: we were lucky enough to have one of you in our midst, and she handled calling the advice line and describing symptoms as efficiently as was humanly possible. It turned out that my friend was having an allergic reaction to the Quorn chicken patties, handing out an important lesson to always read the fine print.
Apparently, if one suffers from hay fever or seasonal allergies, they are more likely to have a reaction to whatever substance the fake meat is made out of. While she thankfully made a full recovery, I could not help but feel a bit guilty that it was the meal I had made that had put her in danger. Since then our little group of Monday vegetarians have stuck to vegetable or tofu based dishes and stayed far away from fake meat.
Despite our story of danger and allergic reactions, Meatless Monday has remained a fun way to try out new recipes, hang out with friends, and give a little love to the planet on a regular basis
The planet certainly needs our love. If statisticians are to be believed, average global temperature is set to bypass the two degree ‘point of no return’ threshold as early as 2030. Animal populations are falling rapid-ly, sea level rises are double that of the last century, and there hasn’t been this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for three million years.
Animal products, especially beef and dairy, have a huge impact on the environment and contribute significantly to this alarming rate of climate change. Meat production is one of the leading contributors to carbon and acidifying emissions into the atmosphere (methane accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions). Livestock industries, especially beef and dairy, use vast amounts of resources like freshwater, soil, and land. While I will not be a hypocrite and insist everybody go vegan, taking meat and other animal products out of our diets even one day a week can have a huge impact on our personal footprints.
Perhaps the most simple way to reduce our footprints is to reduce our use of single use plastics, and plastics in general. It is easy, once you start keeping track, to see just how much plastic we buy, use once, then throw away. Plastic takes thousands of years to break down once dumped in the environment, and won’t at all if it is not exposed to the UV rays of the sun. This means that plastic in landfills will not break down at all. There are lots of moments throughout our daily routines, however, that we can say no to plastic, and thus save one more piece from the landfill.
Bring your own bags to the grocery store, and avoid having to carry a new one home, or alternatively, just clutch your groceries in your hands as I sometimes do, and hope that you do not drop anything, as I also sometimes do. Continuing with the food theme, when I am not organised enough to shop for ingredients, I will often get a take away, or eat out. Instead of taking a plastic fork and knife, bring your own from home. While these steps are not exactly radical, they limit the garbage that we produce, specifically the kind that will outlive us for a time far longer than mere generations. Even tea-drinking has its environmental effects. British people , and indeed non British people living in Britain, like myself, love their tea. Most tea bags, however, are made out of plastic. As small as a tea bag can be, it is only used once and then discarded. Switching to loose leaf tea can be a way to take a bit of plastic out of your daily routine.
Another way to avoid plastics is to try to buy things in packaging and containers that are made out of recyclable materials. And if you do choose to do this, make sure to recycle them, instead of throwing glass, paper, and recyclable plastics into a bin that will make its way into a landfill.
Students in St Andrews have a multitude of events to which they can go throughout the year. For many people, a new ball, or party, or society event, means a new outfit. This, and the clothes, shopping we do in our daily lives, can lead to a lot of waste. Cheap clothing that can be worn once and discarded are not often made sustainably. Buying new clothes produces textile waste in manufacturing, and throwing those clothes away when they are out of fashion or because they were worn to an event already, can contribute to our waste that ends up in landfills.
An easy way to avoid always buying new is buying second hand, trading or borrowing from your friends, or rewearing a dress you have worn before. I can not pretend that all my clothes have been acquired sustainably, or that they always will be in the future, but every time I make a more sustainable fashion choice, I contribute just a little bit.
As students in St Andrews, we have lots of options to try to buy more sustainably. We have access to charity shops, online second hand stores, and societies that spread information and host events to help. The Sustainable Style society was founded to address issues with fast fashion in St Andrews.
Their mission statement, found on their Facebook page, advertises that they aim to “Promote the use of second-hand clothes swapping and selling within the St Andrews community”, “Encourage environmental conscience in fashion”, and “Support a circular economy”.
They help to spread awareness through campaigns, hold thrift fairs, and express the message that one does not have to give up their style to be sustainable.
When it comes to being eco-friendly, nobody is perfect, except for maybe those people that collect rubbish in mason jars. Governments, corporations, and industries should be doing more.
While it is easy to feel anxious and hopeless when we look towards the future, we are not entirely powerless. Conservation is valuable, and individuals, such as ourselves, can take small steps every day towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Some days I do not know if I really believe that separating my recycling, and bringing my own bags to Tesco is making a difference at all, but even if I cannot see the effect of my actions in helping save the planet, doing my part makes me feel better about facing the environmental issues we have now, and will continue to face.