The zero-waste lifestyle has become increasingly popular with the recent emphasis on environmental issues. Products such as metal straws, cloth shopping bags, on-the-go utensil kits and glassware for bulk shopping are particularly trendy.
The idea of living green is appealing to many, but just how easy is the switch from a disposable world to zero waste entirely, especially as a college student?
Amber Holko, a graduate speech language pathology student, began her zero waste journey in August of last year.
“I saw YouTube videos about it and I had heard a lot of stuff about people going zero waste and with all of the political stuff going on and climate change, it made me want to do something,” Holko said. “Going zero waste is something I personally have control over.”
Holko has swapped the majority of her single use items out for more sustainable ones, including a water bottle, utensil kit, collapsible metal straw, silicone zipper bags and glass and metal containers. She also made the decision to start purchasing some of her groceries in bulk at stores like Mama Jean’s Natural Market.
Holko said, in addition to reducing her disposable product usage, shopping at natural food stores has improved her diet.
“I have definitely seen a change in my dietary habits,” Holko said. “Most people who live a low-waste lifestyle tend to have a very veggie-based meal prep. There’s been a lot of stuff in the media about how meat is super consuming of our natural resources. I’ve been more interested in trying to eat more fresh fruits and veggies and buying more food from the produce aisle.”
According to Smithsonian Magazine, “livestock-based food production causes about one-fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions.” Compared to other food sources, beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water.
This being said, altering one’s diet is just one way to leave a smaller carbon footprint.
Besides Mama Jean’s, Holko visits SOAP Refill Station downtown to eliminate her plastic use in the bathroom.
SOAP Refill Station’s mission is to reduce single-use plastics, shop manager Kori Smalley said. Customers can bring in their own containers to refill with the station’s soaps or purchase containers provided.
The refill station not only provides bathroom-use soaps but also laundry soap, lotion, essential oils and other zero waste products.
SOAP Refill Station offers a “Bring Your Own Container Refill” 10% discount to students living in specific apartment complexes and a “Neighbor” 5% off discount to students who live in the downtown area, Smalley said. The refill station also offers bulk discounts to customers who purchase over 24 oz or over one gallon of soap.
Along with taking steps to remove disposable waste from her life, Holko began a small countertop compost bin to recycle kitchen scraps.
Once her bin is full, Holko said she takes the scraps to a communal compost bin behind Ott’s Pasta on Cherry Street.
The 32-gallon compost bin is provided by the Springfield Compost Collective.
Springfield Compost Collective founder and executive director Justine Campbell said she understands recycling and composting can be overwhelming at first, but there are steps college students can take to do their part.
For those living on campus, Campbell said students should slow down in the dining hall and only take servings they’ll eat completely. Chartwells, Missouri State’s dining service, composts in all of their dining halls on campus, which removes the stress for students.
When composting off-campus, Campbell recommended addressing one’s trash area first.
“Can you make your trash can a little smaller, so you can maybe fit a few small containers, where you could start separating plastic and glass?” Campbell asked hypothetically. “Your waste station can’t just be one bag that you mindlessly throw stuff in and forget about. It needs to be something pretty and structured like the rest of your house.”
After making adjustments, learning about what types of items and food products can be recycled and composted is important, Campbell said. The City of Springfield offers a “Recycling & Yardwaste Centers” guide, which includes information regarding what is accepted at their recycling centers and how to manage a personal compost bin.
“It’s hard being a college student and doing low waste,” Holko said. “Start small. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed thinking you have to do it all and be perfect. It is a transition, and you can’t just go and throw away all of these perfectly good things you have and switch them out for glass and metal because you still need to use what you have before you transition to things that may be better for the planet.”