How you can make a difference to the planet and the people around you

09 Jan 2020
By Rob Slade, Writer at Unite Students

A new year has dawned, and with it, you’ll probably have a long list of resolutions that will be forgotten about by the weekend.

While that might be so, and you might turn your nose up to new year’s resolutions just as much as I do, that’s not to say you can’t start this bright, new decade with a positive outlook.

Good things are happening all around you every single day, and you can be a part of it. Rather than setting new year’s resolutions, why not set yourself a life resolution: to help the planet and those that live on it whenever you can. Need some inspiration? Here are a few ideas.

Give a little, often

There are a lot of different ways to help charities out, and it doesn’t always have to be a cash donation. One of the easiest ways to lend a helping hand is to donate food.

Most supermarkets have food bank collection points near the checkouts, so why not buy an extra tin of soup, box of cereal, or pack of pasta each time you go shopping? It’ll hardly touch your shopping bill, but it’ll help stave off hunger for people in need.

Take recycling seriously

Recycling is nothing new. It’s something that has been in the public’s mind for years now, but we can still all get better at it. Did you know that if your recycling isn’t clean, it could mean the entire collection could be sent to landfill?

That’s why it’s so important to wash out any tins, bottles or plastic packaging before you pop it in the recycling. Similarly, make sure you’re putting things into the right bin, or you could be to blame for batches of rubbish being dumped rather than recycled.

Remember too that most supermarkets will recycle plastic bags and batteries - items that are often just thrown straight into the main rubbish bin.

Buy smarter

Recycling is great, but do you know what’s even better? Not buying single-use products in the first place. Rather than buying veg that’s wrapped in plastic, why not grab your carrots or broccoli from the loose produce section. Don’t bother with a bag for it, just pop it straight in the basket.

You can also get smart with the food you’re buying. Opt for veg that is in season to save money and lessen the impact on the environment. Buying only what you need will also help reduce how much waste you produce, while remembering your trusty reusable bag (or a backpack) means you won’t have to buy another plastic carrier bag.

If you’re a big tea/coffee drinker, make sure you invest in a reusable cup, rather than relying on takeaway ones from your favourite cafe. It’ll save you money and reduce your footprint at the same time.

Help those less fortunate

If you live in any of the UK’s major cities, chances are you’ve walked past someone living on the streets. Homelessness is a complex issue, with many different causes and no clear one-size-fits-all solution. One thing that is simple enough is how you can help.

Next time you see someone living rough on the streets, think about offering them a hot drink, a sandwich or a pack of cereal bars. You don’t have to hand over money, buying food is just as useful and the likelihood is that they’ll really appreciate it.

While you’re there, have a chat with them, introduce yourself and ask their name. A conversation can be just as important as a couple of quid.

Say thank you more

It might seem simple, but these two little words can actually have a big impact on someone's day. Whether it’s the bus driver, a housemate that has made you dinner, or a lecturer that’s just delivered a seminar for two hours, saying thank you can make someone feel like it was all worth it.

Spend quality time with people

Chances are, you probably do a lot of this already, but dedicating quality time to people can be the greatest gift you can give. While I was at university, I’d ring my nan most weeks and update her on what I’d been up to. She’d always have loads of questions (in fact, sometimes it would feel more like an interrogation) and it would always make her day.

Similarly, carve out some one-on-one time with a few of your friends. One of the things I miss most about being at university is having some of my favourite people living close by. Take time to make the most of those friendships and have fun together - especially around deadlines and the most stressful times.

Eat less meat

I’m not saying you should go vegetarian or vegan, but there is a proven link between climate change and the meat industry. It’s a big, complicated topic when you really delve into it, but for now I’ve just taken to eating less meat than I used to.

Try having a couple of meat-free days per week and see how you get on. It’s good for the planet, may have health benefits for your body and will probably save you some money too. If you’ve got a veggie friend, ask them to help you with recipe ideas, otherwise, why not try one of these delicious vegetarian meals.

Reuse and repurpose items

One of the best things we can do to help the planet is to change how we use items. One person’s rubbish can be another person’s treasure. Before throwing clothes, books or household items out, think about donating them to charity.

Unite Students’ partnership with the British Heart Foundation means that there’s a donation point in each of our properties. Here, you can give your old items a new life and help raise money for charity (find out more here).

You can also benefit from pre-loved items yourself. Charity shops and vintage pop-ups normally have a few incredible bargains, while websites like Gumtree and eBay are great for picking up cheap furniture, household goods or textbooks.

Live more sustainably

This is a broad topic, and there are plenty of things you can do to be more sustainable. Wasting less energy is a fantastic way to help the planet. This means switching lights or electronics off when you’re not using them, using public transport rather than driving your own car and using your heating responsibly (here’s how to stay extra cosy in your flat this winter).

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Rob is a writer at Unite Students.