I grabbed my carton of orange juice from the fridge, poured it into a glass and took the empty over to the bins. Glancing over, the recycling bin was full and over-flowing. The non-recycling bin, however, was looking terrifically bare. There was plenty of space left in it so, not thinking, I threw the empty juice box in and went back to my room.
Was I encountering some serious green fatigue? Well whatever the reason, it seems I wasn't alone. Recycling rates have been consistently falling throughout the UK and with no signs of regaining speed; it could spell disaster for Britain if it misses the targets imposed by the EU to recycle half of all household waste by 2020. During my time at university, most of us tried to avoid the weekly game of bin-jenga by finding the most convenient holder for our waste, regardless of whether it was actually right or not. In fact, up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in our bins could be recycled.
Similarly, I did a lot of things at university that weren't very green. And not just with food excess. My lights were left on all day and night, I had a mountain of plastic bags hidden in wardrobes, under beds, in cupboards and in drawers ... I'm quite sure I had some in the bathroom at one point. Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose and actually the use of plastic is growing throughout Europe at a rate of around 4% each year. During my first year, I lived in the university halls which looked out onto a homeless shelter. By the time it came to leave, I didn't donate anything to them. Instead, I reached for the bin.
Going green seemed to be a conscious effort and over recent years there's been so many people jumping onto the proverbial bandwagon that being eco-friendly seems to have been inexplicably distorted from something significant and thought-provoking into a trivial fad-like buzzword.
Money worries at university are common and living on minimal amounts of cash mean that student food choices are influenced by this. Weighing up the benefits between buying fresh produce that lasts a few days or some pretty grim frozen chicken to last a few weeks; the chicken will most likely win.
But then came my day of clarity. It came during final year; one of my housemates suggested we set the timer on the heating to go off at 9 a.m. I was shocked. Why would she say such a thing at the end of September, just as we were about to be greeted by the cold kiss of winter? We, begrudgingly, agreed to try it. We had the heating on for a small amount of time each day and when we got cold, we'd simply layer up.
Once we'd mastered keeping warm, we didn't leave anything plugged in and even turned sockets off after using the kettle, toaster or oven. When we could, a few of us would wash our clothes in one load to save on bills. Likewise, we'd sometimes cook one whole meal as opposed to five individual ones.
Was I doing this to save the environment? To raise awareness about ecology and the importance of living more sustainably? At first, no. Once I started noticing a positive difference in my cash flow, I then began to research what foods I could eat that were cheap and healthy. From there, I started to buy fresh produce from a local fruit and veg shop once a week and then went on to swap the light bulbs for long-lasting LED's. I did actually start caring about the world, through no fault of my own. I realised that it's OK to be green for selfish reasons.
The biggest change I made was swapping the countless bottles of cleaning stuffs for a much simpler combination of soda and white vinegar. It's much more effective at cleaning, loads cheaper and can be used on a range of things from driveways to laundry. Non-toxic cleaning products eliminate the volatile organic compounds (VOC'S) we get from other cleaners. In fact, VOC's are found in many of our household items from vinyl shower curtains to air fresheners and have been linked to asthma, irritations and even cancer.
Everybody knows the reasons to go green and nobody wants to hear them drilled into us yet another time but there really is no better time to be environmentally aware - whether it be for money, health or selflessness. I'm most certainly not an eco-warrior but maybe, just maybe my experience in being a colossal eco-villain helped me to understand the damage I was causing to my pocket... and the planet.
To read more on how to go green as a student, please visit my blog at www.bestecoshop.com