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How to be a more sustainable student

View of Cayucos off Highway 101. Photo by Aubrie Arndt

College students can make an impact on the environment by educating themselves and making sustainable switches in their everyday lives.

With the polystyrene ban coming in April, it seems the San Luis Obispo community is dedicating itself to becoming more environmentally friendly. What exactly can students do to help the community improve its environmental sustainability? 

EcoSlo, which is a local nonprofit, and the San Luis Obispo Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) provide helpful information and tips for the community looking to make sustainable switches. Even the smallest alterations in a routine can create an impact that would affect the local environment. 

Not every switch has to come at a high cost either. Sustainability for students on a budget is possible, so these are a few tips for students to do their part here on campus and in their community.

First and foremost, students can try to eliminate the need for single-use plastic. It could be as simple as carrying around a reusable water bottle, or coffee mug. There are a vast amount of different options out there now that replace single-use plastic with something that is reusable.

There are benefits to using these items too. Some places offer a small discount if you bring a reusable coffee mug, including the cafeteria on the Cuesta College campus. This goes along with carrying reusable bags. 

Another way to help with single-use plastic would be to have a cutlery set, some reusable straws, and a small container for food. By having these items, students can avoid creating more waste when taking items to go. 

These sets or reusable items don’t need to be fancy. Students can create their own using what they already have at home. By using items found in their home, students can avoid spending money, and won’t add to unnecessary consumerism.

There are other simple ways that students can do their part. It’s important to know what exactly can and can’t be recycled. Educating themselves is the first step to understanding how they can appropriately recycle, and become more informed on how to help others do the same.

In a survey that was published by The Recycling Partnership, approximately 46% of Americans find proper recycling a difficult task, while 73% of those surveyed said they’re not very knowledgeable about recycling.

Items such as pizza boxes are not recyclable due to the oil that saturates the box. Also, when purchasing drinks on the go, it’s better to purchase aluminum cans than glass bottles. The carbon footprint of glass is much larger, and aluminum is the easiest material for facilities to recycle. 

To become more aware of what items are recyclable, visit www.iwma.comand take note of San Luis Obispo’s green waste program. 

By using the green waste bins provided to their homes, students can place the proper food waste and it will be sent to the anaerobic digestion center. That green waste is digested, and the methane gas that is produced from the process is captured, cleaned, and burned to be used as renewable energy for the electrical grid. This is one way to reduce food waste at the landfill, and keep methane gas from being put into the atmosphere.

Students can help their community by attending clean-ups, or organizing their own. EcoSlo holds clean-ups frequently and they also will allow groups to borrow cleaning supplies if they can’t make other ones. You can check out their upcoming clean-ups by visiting ecoslo.org/volunteer.

Students could also get involved on campus by joining the Coastal Clean-Up club. Meetings are held on Tuesdays at the SLO campus library. If interested in joining the club, please send an email directly to the club president, Hannah Lane-Goldstein, at hannah_lanegoldstein@my.cuesta.edu.

“Don’t think of these things as being annoyances or a sacrifice,” said Justin Bradshaw, a member of the SLO Climate Coalition. “Think of them as improvements to your life, and this is better than the status quo.” 

Being a more sustainable student isn’t about striving for perfection. It’s about making the small switches in everyday lives, and advocating for change.


  1. Being environmentally conscious is all well and good, but according to a recent Carbon Majors Report, just 100 companies are responsible for 70% of all greenhouse emissions. Putting the focus on what individuals can do save the environment really does a disservice to the actual issue — it lets these corporations (who are the real culprits) off the hook, and it ignores the fact that changing individual behaviors will never actually solve the problem.

    If we actually want to avoid climate catastrophe, we need to drastically change the economy and stop these super-polluters.

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