As a school with a student body of over 40,000, the UW-Madison community has a huge opportunity to contribute to positive environmental change. The university has gone so far to raise awareness about the importance of living sustainably to even create an Office of Sustainability. Although resources through the Office of Sustainability are available to all students, not all students take advantage of them or are even aware of the office’s existence. As a large school with a proportionally large environmental impact, it is vital that students are aware of ways to live a more environmentally-friendly life. Not all commitments to sustainability need to be drastic. Some students think that they lack the time to create a more sustainable routine, or that it can be too expensive for students to buy products that are better for the environment, for example. But simple changes such as turning off lights, recycling, composting and using the bus can make a difference, and are easy to implement.
A recent study conducted at UW-Madison showed that turning off a light can save a life. Saving electricity limits air pollution making the air cleaner and limiting respiratory issues that are exacerbated by polluted air such as asthma. Not only does turning off lights limit air pollution, but reducing electricity use also has financial benefits. Utilities costs can run over one hundred dollars per month and limiting electricity use helps to keep that cost down. Turning off lights when leaving a room is an easy way to start living more sustainably.
Recycling bins line the walls in most campus buildings with different slots for cans/plastic, paper and trash. Even if a student does not have recycling available through their current housing, recycling on campus still helps to decrease the amount of waste that is created every day. Recycling ranging from paper to small electronics services are available on campus. However, materials such as used paper products and food are not recyclable. Composting is available on campus in addition to recycling.
One of the reasons UW-Madison is so popular with students is because of its extensive transportation system. Taking the 80 may be free and convenient for students, but it also reduces the amount of cars on the road, which helps slow the greenhouse effect. Think about this the next time you hop in an Uber instead of walking home from class - not only is this unhealthy for you, it also hurts the environment. If you’re too tired to walk back (which we all are, sometimes!) consider waiting a few minutes for the bus instead.
The amount of environmental messaging that goes out today is good for the cause, but also overwhelming. It is understandable to be freaked out by advertisements that implore you to go vegan or sell your car. However, the first step is the hardest. The longer you avoid buying a metal straw for your weekly Starbucks habit because you’re forgetful, the less you can practice bringing it with you. The planet depends on each of us to do our part, and to hold each other accountable as well. There is no better place to get started than here on campus, where there are many resources to help students be more conscious of their ecological impact.