4 ways to be sustainable during reading week

Hanusia Higgins | Staff Writer
Sustainability graphicBrandon Wilburn | Student Life

So, maybe you’re afraid for the future of the Environmental Protection Agency come Jan. 20. Or maybe you attended Student Union’s screening of “Before the Flood,” the new climate change documentary (or, as I call it, a diCapri-mentary), and got really bummed out and anxious about the future of our entire world. Or perhaps, you’re in the holiday spirit and looking to offset your guilt about extreme consumerism with conscientious actions. Well, the good news is, there are plenty of ways to “Do Good” in your everyday life! Reading week may be stressful, but that’s no excuse for slacking on the good deeds. With these tips, you can make a tangible, positive impact on the world with minimal effort.

1. Donate your unwanted clothing

Are you trying to lighten your suitcase for winter break? Is there a clothing item that you used to love but haven’t worn all semester? Take a cathartic break from studying or final paper writing to declutter your closet. You don’t have to follow the KonMari method, but everyone has at least a few items they wouldn’t mind parting with. To that end, donation bins in Village House and on the second floor of the Danforth University Center are accepting clothing donations of all kinds, especially winter items, until Saturday, Dec. 10. They will go to the International Institute of St. Louis, an organization that helps to settle refugees in the St. Louis area. Decluttering and helping other people at the same time is a great combination and requires very little effort on your part. And, of course, the Trading Post is constantly accepting items (pretty much anything—not just clothes!) to be made available to other Washington University students.

2. Shop secondhand

On the other hand, if retail therapy is what you need to get through the stress of finals season, consider shopping secondhand. Not only is it easier on your wallet, this strategy is also better for the environment—a win-win. In the age-old mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” people seem to focus predominantly on the third part, but reducing and reusing are even more impactful. Those Adidas sneakers made out of recycled ocean plastic are awesome, but a funky thrifted flannel is cheaper and better for the environment. The Trading Post is a fantastic option for secondhand shopping that’s a) conveniently located on the South 40 and b) literally free, while Avalon Exchange on Delmar Boulevard and the Goodwill Outlet downtown offer wider selections.

3. Participate in Green Monday

As a campaign, Green Monday asks very little of you, the consumer: Just think critically about the impacts of what you eat and pledge to eat more sustainably on Mondays. Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be Mondays! Pick any day of the week to eat more conscientiously. Beef production is one of the most energy-intensive and inefficient processes in any industry, period, and it contributes massively to greenhouse gas emissions. Simply swapping out beef for a more efficient protein source, like poultry or fish, makes a huge impact. Forgoing meat altogether is even better—and if you need an incentive, check out the DUC’s vegetarian station at lunchtime for some of the best food on campus. If you’re already a vegetarian, consider trying to eat vegan once a week. In my opinion, soy milk is objectively better in lattes than dairy milk. These changes are minor, but our eating habits have such a significant effect on the environmental that the philanthropic payoff is enormous.

4. Recycle and reuse your school supplies

After finals, you may feel like burning your Organic Chemistry notes, but that’s a really bad idea, not only because there’s a whole new semester of Organic Chemistry in the spring, but combustion reactions—as you should now know—release lots of carbon dioxide. Instead, chuck those pages in the recycling bin. It’s almost as satisfying and much better for the environment. And what about that notebook you filled exactly three pages of before realizing that all of the information you needed was on the PowerPoint slides? Rip out those pages, and reuse the rest of the notebook next semester. If your binders or folders are in decent shape, save those over winter break, too! While you’re at it—and by “at it,” I mean you’re already standing over the recycling bin—stop recycling dirty to-go boxes and disposable coffee cups, because they unfortunately belong in the trash. When these items are improperly sorted, they can contaminate entire loads, which are rejected by the recycling plant, and this has costs for both Wash. U. and the environment. Instead, check out the Office of Sustainability’s new waste sorting guidelines and amaze your friends with your expertise.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe