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Going green = a little preparation + some investment + some effort + the ability to say no 

Written By: Michelle Angkasa

Happy 2020 everyone! One of my main goals for this year is to reduce my personal carbon footprint, which basically boils down to reducing the amount of waste I produce. Obviously your carbon footprint also includes things like resource use (eg. energy, water), transportation emissions, and diet, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on small concrete changes you can begin to implement today that will lay the foundation for even bigger and better things!

Also quick shout out to the team at the Sustainability Office! Here’s a PDF of the excellent and practical guide they released last year:

For at least the past few years of consciously doing stuff to minimize my carbon footprint, here are some of my findings. This list is definitely a work in progress, but it’s a culmination of practical tips from a bunch of different sources: from YouTube, articles, and kick ass environmentally conscious people I’ve met. 

What Good Greening Tips SHOULD include 

  • The 5R hierarchy: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot 
  • Money saving!! They’re based on cost saving hacks!!
  • Accessible, simple, practical, effective methods 

What Good Greening Tips SHOULDN’T include 

  • Guilt tripping, judging others, buying new stuff instead of trying to use old stuff first
  • A dramatic life change: because who’s actually going to do that??

Kitchen Tips

  • Keep your own compost if you live in residence/an apartment (I keep mine in a plastic bin under my sink and line it with newspaper)
  • Buy produce in bulk (eg. opt for loose apples instead of pre-bagged ones)
  • Bring your own bags to and don’t use plastic bags at the grocery store (like the mesh bags pictured below)
  • Use leftover food scraps (eg. vegetable peels, bones/skin) for stock 
  • Save the water you use to wash produce/rice to water plants

Bathroom Tips 

  • Try replacing disposable pads/tampons with cotton ones or menstrual cups
  • DIY your own deodorant/toothpaste (there are tons of simple recipes around, like the one pictured below!)
  • Take navy showers (basically turning off the water between shampoo/soap to reduce your overall water consumption- it really wakes you up in the morning!)

Reusable Stuff to Keep In Your Bag

(Try to utilize things you already own!)

  • Travel mug (Tim’s, Starbucks, coffee shops) 
    • Home replacement: blender cups with lids, any glass jar 
    • If you’re enjoying your drink in the coffee shop, ask for it in a mug!
    • If you’re investing in one: collapsible ones are especially cool (pictured below), personally I bring my insulated 500mL water bottle with me everywhere (the size is perfect for carrying water as well as cold/hot drinks). 
  • Tupperware container (takeout food/leftovers/lunch)
    • Home replacement: sturdy Chinese takeout containers (these are the true life savers- pictured below), butter/margarine containers, basically any lightweight container with a tight lid
    • If you’re investing in one: I have one that has two parts – it’s a metal container that fits snugly inside a plastic one (for insulation). Stackable bento boxes with compartments are also cool.
  • Set of metal/wooden utensils (+ optional metal straw)
    • If you’re investing in one: don’t! 
    • Home replacement: grab a bag (cloth, plastic, or even a shallow/thin pencil case) and put a set of utensils in there (take inspiration from the pretty one below). Metal/reusable straws are nice, but not necessary- just ask to not use one!
  • Tote bag (for the grocery store or an unexpected purchase!)
    • Home replacement: plastic bags from stores are quite helpful to have on hand, but for the longer term, make sure your bag can hold some weight and withstand some wear and tear!
    • If you’re investing in one: I like to keep a foldable reusable bag that fits inside a pouch in my bag. Otherwise, you can buy a sturdy plastic or canvas bag at any grocery store (keep it in your car or by your front door to remind yourself to bring it!). 

Small Lifestyle Changes that Make a Substantial Difference 

  • Check out thrift stores
    • Reduce the amount of clothes that get produced (thus saving resources, cutting down on unethical labour, and diverting waste from landfills) while also scoring funky and unique clothes for much cheaper. I also find that buying secondhand forces me to think a lot more about my purchasing decisions, which has led me to buy less overall and invest in better quality pieces (ones I really love) that I’ll wear for longer. 
  • Brush up on your local recycling rules 
    • You can divert a lot more of your garbage than you think if you review your local recycling rules (did you know that microwave popcorn bags are compostable??). Plus, you’ll reduce the amount of contaminants in your blue and green bins, which means a more successful system in general! The Sustainability Office has a super easy to navigate guide online. Also keep in mind that the campus has different rules for certain products than the City of Waterloo. 
  • Say no to free stuff if you’re not going to use it 
    • This one was hard for me, because I was told practically from birth to always look for free stuff. But looking at my untouched horde of pencils, pins, stickers, brochures, and assorted knick knacks made me realize that I could have done without a lot of it. Next time, I’m saying no to stuff I know I’m not going to use in the near future.


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