University of London

How to cultivate sustainability in your everyday life

Highlighting the issues of plastic and advice about how you can make a difference.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Wind turberine for sustainability
Since 2010, the university has achieved a 32% carbon reduction and a recycling rate of 74%.

Our resident students in London do their bit with Reduce the Juice, the University’s sustainability competition to reduce energy use, water use and encourage recycling.

Today we live in an increasingly polluted world. With ever depleting resources and enough plastic in the ocean to go around the world over four times. Sustainability is now more important than ever. In this article we take a look at small and bigger steps to how you can make a difference.

Plastic is all-pervasive and everywhere, many marine birds now have plastic in their stomachs, making up to 10 percent of their body weight. The UK media recently highlighted the blight of plastic microbeads which contribute further plastic debris to our oceans.

Microbeads are abrasive beads used in toothpaste, shower gels, facial scrubs and washing powder. It washes down our drains in alarming quantities. An estimated 8,000 tonnes from cosmetic products wash into the sea every year, even finding their way onto our food plates.

So how do you know if a product contains microbeads? Take a look at the list of ingredients – the words polyethylene, polypropylene and polymethyl methacrylate are the chemical names for plastics. Nylon may also be listed as the abbreviations PE, PET, PTFE and PMMA. To make choices easier, Beat the Microbead website lists products containing microbeads and those which are 100% free.

You can take a step further by petitioning your government to phase out microbeads. In the UK, this is proving effective in influencing the industry. More and more manufacturers are now making the commitment to ban microbeads from their products. At the moment, 91 NG0s from 38 countries support this campaign for the Beat the Microbead campaign.

The University of London is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and encourages students to do likewise. Since 2010, the university has achieved a 32% carbon reduction and a recycling rate of 74%. Earlier this year we were awarded a ‘Carbon Champion’ by Camden Climate Change Alliance.

We even recycle food waste. Food recycling reuse schemes are a more recent development. Instead of ending up in a landfill where it rots and releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, food is taken to a processing plant where it goes into anaerobic digestion to generate electricity to power homes and the local community. Another by-product is fertiliser used in farming. This can make a difference to the seven million tonnes of food wasted every year in the UK.

If you don’t have a food waste collection you can compost vegetable peels, fruit waste, tea bags, plant prunings, grass cuttings and also cardboard egg boxes.

The Eden project lists 10 top tips to make a compost heap.

Our resident students in London do their bit with Reduce the Juice, the University’s sustainability competition to reduce energy use, water use and encourage recycling. Last year, the four Halls of Residence donated 872 bags of unwanted stuff raising an estimated £12,208 for charity.

Recycle your goods or use the Freecycle network in your area to find or give away stuff for free. There are now organisations which recycle laptops and mobile phones. The University of London has a recycling scheme which refurbishes old laptops which are given to homeless people.

Other simple ways to be more mindful is to stop using plastic bags. I have a colourful collection of canvas numbers with my current favourite from the School of Life. In bold lettering it has ‘Emotional baggage’ on the front which I like to think is an elegant way to carry my assorted burdens.

If you are a daily coffee drinker you may not know that many disposable coffee cups are often not recyclable due to the plastic coating to make them waterproof. Cups from Planet Harmony are made from plants not oil, are 100% compostable and biodegradable.

To avoid disposable cups altogether, consider a Keepcup, a reusable cup available in a vibrant range of colours made from Bisphenol a (BPA) free and non-toxic plastic.

Here are some more quick eco wins below:

  • The three Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
  • Give up bottled water or buy a nice reusable bottle.
  • Turn off all your gadgets, computer - items on standby use electricity.
  • Wash your clothes at 30 degrees or less.
  • Buy local and support small shops or farmers markets.
  • Use a car pool or find out if you have a Zipcar in your city.
  • Do double sided copying.
  • Stop using disposable items such as plastic cutlery, cups and bring your own bags to the grocery store.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs, more expensive but last up to five times longer.

There are many more ways to be sustainable. To get you off to a start use the footprint calculator on WWF. It has a quick quiz to calculate and establish how your living habits impact on the world’s environment. It gives you an ecological footprint and practical tips on how to reduce it by making changes in four areas of food, home, travel and stuff.

More information

If you want ot peruse a career in in providing solutions to policies which effect environmental issues and climate change consider studying the MSc Global Energy and Climate Policy.