Going to university comes with a lot of responsibilities. Went to class? Check. Cleaned your room? Check. Hit the gym? Check. Kept up your eco-friendly habits? Che… Wait, how do I fit that into my agenda?

The truth is, it can be tricky to stay eco-conscious as a student – living in a small space with limited finances, whilst feeling under pressure to get work done can make you feel unmotivated to keep up your green habits. Regardless of how good your intentions are, with too many things on your plate, environmentalism simply becomes another factor complicating your daily choices.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to feel this way! Making eco-conscious decisions – whether it’s regarding your daily habits or your diet – can benefit you as much as it helps the planet. The following seven eco hacks are fun and practical, and ultimately help you improve your life. Cost-effective and easy-to-follow, these tips are perfect for any students who want to better themselves whilst also helping the environment. 

© KLTV

Street markets are your best friend
When it comes to food, we all know that it’s better to buy organic, locally-sourced produce than it is to get the big supermarket stuff. One look at the prices at your nearest biological shop, however, can scare you (and your student budget) away from the idea of ethical food shopping forever. Nevertheless, while biological stores are the ones that get the most rep with regards to ethical food sourcing, they are not your only (or even primary!) source for organic food. Street markets allow local farmers and vendors to sell their produce directly to customers for a cheaper price, since none of the money has to go to a middleman (i.e. a supermarket). The result? It’s better for the environment (less transportation involved), more ethical towards the producers (they get to keep the whole price you pay), and cheaper for you. That’s what they call a win-win-win scenario!

There are many fantastic markets in Amsterdam that are worth you paying them a visit. Some of our favorites include:

  • Dappermarkt (East)
  • Albert Cuyp Markt (De Pijp)
  • Lindenmarkt (Jordaan)
  • Ten Kate Markt (West)

Opt for reusable bags, cups and cutlery
A classic piece of advice you hear with regards to zero-waste living, this one has some surprising benefits for you. Besides avoiding the use of a whole lot of unnecessary plastic, bringing your own reusables can also save you money – you no longer have to pay for a plastic bag every time you shop at the supermarket, and many big chains (like Starbucks) give you a discount for bringing in your own reusable cup.

Choose plant-based alternatives
One of the issues I have encountered since living on my own as a student has been finishing up all of the food I buy before it expires. Gone are the days of my family fridge, where any item was consumed within a day and another one came to replace it. Now that I have to eat everything that I get on my own, it often takes me a week to drink a carton of milk or finish a bucket of yoghurt. The solution I found? Plant-based alternatives. Not only do they have a lighter carbon footprint than conventional animal-derived products, but they also last longer. That way, I have enough time to finish my food without worrying it might expire (or having to eat the same thing for every meal!).

Lower the heating when you go to bed and turn it back up when you wake up
Dutch winters can be frosty, and no one likes to be cold. However, lowering your heating when you go to bed can have considerable benefits for the environment, your wallet and your health, and the residual heat (and your blanket) will likely be enough to keep you toasty until the morning. By using less electricity to keep your room warm at night, you will lessen your carbon footprint and decrease your electricity bill. In addition to that, you will likely experience better sleep, since studies show that the human body rests best at slightly lower temperatures (somewhere between 18 and 21C).

© LDNFashion

Thrift shops are a fashion goldmine
We all know that fast fashion comes at a high cost, both ethically and environmentally. Luckily, thrift stores are there to provide an alternative that is not only cheaper, but also incredibly fun. Going thrift shopping makes for the perfect Saturday afternoon with a friend, and can truly feel like a treasure hunt. Besides, with all the second-hand stores popping up around Amsterdam, there really is something out there for everyone, regardless of whether you’re after last season’s finds or are searching for authentic 90s apparel.

Some of our favorite second-hand spots in Amsterdam are:

  • IJHallen (a monthly flea market held in Amsterdam North)
  • Kringloopwinkel De Lokatie (East)
  • Leger des Hells 50/50 Budgetstore (East)

Volunteer
The most valuable thing you can dedicate to a cause are your time and your energy, and volunteering allows you to do just that. Next time you have a minute to spare, consider spending the afternoon helping a local environmental initiative. The possibilities are endless – from picking up garbage at a nearby park, to helping cook for a food waste organization (wink!) to making banners and striking against climate change. Regardless of what you choose, your time will be well spent – not only will you help the environment, but you will also (according to research) experience a powerful mood-boost from knowing you’re supporting a good cause. In addition to that, volunteering can help you develop practical skills and build up a resume that will later be useful to you after you graduate.

Being eco-friendly doesn’t have to be difficult – in fact, it can often make your life easier! Even as a busy university student, you can make better, more eco-conscious choices that help the planet – all you need is some creativity, a bit of enthusiasm and a willingness to start.

I credit environmentalism for many of the wonderful things in my life – it’s the reason why I became vegetarian, adopted a more minimalist mindset and made a bunch of awesome, eco-conscious friends. It taught me how to appreciate the amazing life I have access to, and made me become more aware of how my actions affected the world.

But there was something less wonderful that came about with my new understanding, and that was environmental guilt. It would strike me in the most random of places – at the café, whenever I bought my coffee in a paper cup; at the supermarket, when I picked up a bottle of coke; or at home, if I happened to see any food that I had to throw out. Where there had once been blissful ignorance, now lurked my guilty conscience.

In a way this was a good thing – it meant that I’d hopped off the consumerism hype train, and was now taking full responsibility for my actions. After all, with all the climate change the world is facing, we need more people to do that, right?

I wasn’t the poster child for eco-friendly living – I wasn’t vegan, or zero-waste, and I didn’t host major climate protests.

Yet environmental guilt also made me feel exasperated and sad. I questioned whether my mistakes made me a terrible person, because despite my best efforts – despite eating plant-based meals, and volunteering, and being conscious with my purchases – I still came to the same disheartening conclusion: I wasn’t (and would likely never be) the perfect environmentalist. I wasn’t the poster child for eco-friendly living – I wasn’t vegan, or zero-waste, and I didn’t host major climate protests. I was just an ordinary girl trying her best; I worked to maintain my green habits, whilst also running the rest of my life.

This was when I ran into an issue – I wasn’t just trying to excel at eco-friendly living; I was also trying to be a good student, have a social life, get some exercise in, maintain a healthy diet… oh, and remember to call my mom at least twice a week. In short, I was trying to do it all. And (lo and behold) that meant that I couldn’t do it all perfectly all of the time.

Even when I did try my hardest, priorities would have to take place. I’d grab a ready-made dinner because I had been at the library until late. Or I’d eat out with friends and completely forget about whatever food I needed to use up at home, therefore letting it go bad. Eighty percent of the time, I still observed my eco-friendly principles. But it was those twenty percent of slip-ups that gnawed at me.

Why is it that with environmentalism, we all feel like either sinners or saints?

I couldn’t help but wonder if other people had experienced that same sense of pressure related to environmentalism. I raised the question with some of my more eco-conscious friends, and found out that many of them felt the same.  Rosa, a friend of mine who studies Environmental Sciences at uni, said that she often felt guilty for “not doing enough” because she couldn’t single-handedly elicit climate policy change.

At TBYW, many of my team members also shared that they felt bad for making mistakes and compromising their green habits. “Last week I went on a trip to Spain and had to travel by plane,” our team coordinator, Izzie, said. “And I was like ‘Urghh, I feel so guilty about this!’”

A quick Google search showed me that my friends and I weren’t alone in our struggles. There were numerous articles, both academic and personal, dealing with the topic of environmental guilt. In fact, the phenomenon had become so popular that official terms like “green guilt” and “Environmental Guilt Syndrome” had been coined to describe it.

But why is it that with environmentalism, we all feel like either sinners or saints?

You used a plastic straw? That’s it, you’re an eco terrorist now.

Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the near- authoritarian tone that can sometimes surround environmental discourse. Especially online, we often hear people throwing the blame around, or read articles that leave us crippled with guilt. Such media often makes us feel like every error we make is fatal, like anything short of perfection is not enough.

You put some honey in your tea? You should be ashamed for not being vegan. You used a plastic straw? That’s it, you’re an eco terrorist now.

Such abusive environmentalism often justifies itself by referring to the dire state of the planet. “The Earth is dying,” they scream. “There’s no room for mistakes!”

our guilt won’t save the planet

Yes, the Earth is dying, but these people are forgetting a vital thing – mistakes happen, whether we like it or not. For most of us, perfect green living is an unfeasibly high bar – one that serves to demotivate us more than anything. Our lives and, yes – human imperfection – get in the way, and we don’t always manage to act in the most eco-friendly of ways.

However, lynching ourselves over that isn’t going to fix it; our guilt won’t save the planet. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we all become complacent, and never try to improve our harmful habits. I’m simply saying that eco-responsibility shouldn’t (and doesn’t have to!) equal feeling burdened with environmental guilt.

Perfectionism can elicit a sense of desperation that can makes us give up – what’s the point of persevering if we’re never going to be good enough? Having a guilty conscience paralizes us and prevents us from learning from our errors. By learning to accept our mistakes instead, we can see environmentally-friendly living as a learning curve – the longer we do it, the better we’ll become at it. We can understand that we’ll never be perfect, and that’s ok. If we keep putting in our best effort most of the time, the impact of our positive action will outweigh the damage done by our mistakes.

Another issue with environmental guilt is that it (over)burdens a few, whilst allowing many others to go unaccountable. “Individual changes make a difference, but we also shouldn’t forget to hold leaders and big companies accountable for their actions,” our TBYW general coordinator, Lara, said. “We shouldn’t get stuck in blaming ourselves and others for not doing enough – as we seen in the UN report, a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global CO2 emissions.”

If we can deal away with our guilty consciences, we can instead focus our energy on the positives of environmentalism, and turn eco-friendly living into something we really enjoy.

Research shows that while guilt is effective in eliciting action from those who already care about an issue, it does little for the ones who don’t. This means that if we want more people to improve their habits, guilt-tripping them into environmentalism isn’t the way to go – something you already know if you’ve tried convincing your parents to have a meat-free day.

By keeping shame at the forefront of environmental discourse, we keep increasing the pressure on those who are already doing their best, whilst simultaneously not addressing (or potentially even scaring away!) any potential newcomers. Instead, we should strive to create a positive conversation where everyone feels welcomed to give eco-friendly living a shot.

Guilt is a terrible motivator to do anything, and environmentalism is no different. When we’re triggered by guilt, we act from a place of obligation – we’re doing things because we think that we have to, not because we want to. Consequently, we miss everything that’s so wonderful about green living – the comfort of cooking from scratch, the fun of exploring thrift shops and flea markets, the joy of finding like-minded eco-conscious individuals. If we can deal away with our guilty consciences, we can instead focus our energy on the positives of environmentalism, and turn eco-friendly living into something we really enjoy.

Leaving shame behind can be the best thing you do for your environmental journey. Without environmental guilt, you can focus on what’s truly good about green living, and enjoy the experience. On top of that, you will also be better able to look at your slip-ups with objectivity and compassion – in fact, you’ll probably be excited to learn from them and do better next time!

If going zero waste is your ambition, you need to take a look not only at our own lifestyles, but your pet’s lifestyle as well. My experiences with my cat and other animals I’ve been pet sitting for over four years now) taught me that everything from food to litter and poo bags has serious effects on the environment. I’m far from perfect, but here are some small but impactful steps you can take to raise your pet more consciously.

  1. Cook food when possible

Cats and dogs can thrive on a cooked food diet. I buy cheap meat parts at the butcher for my cat, (like chicken hearts or livers) and cook them with grains or small portions of vegetables[1]. This way I keep him happy, make sure he has a variety of meats in his diet, and I use animal parts that are not as popular as chicken breasts or steaks.

Photo by Hollie Post on Unsplash

Cats need more meat in their diets than dogs do, so for a dog you can increase the ratio of cooked vegetables to meat. If you have leftover food that you won’t be able to eat yourself, you can always cook no-waste meals for your pet (just avoid garlic, onion, salt, and spices). Rabbits are also great pets to help with preventing food waste – they eat any vegetables and some fruit that go bad quite quickly (think lettuce, celery, spinach, etc).

Whenever I eat fish, I buy one with the head still attached and give it to my cat after cooking. It might not be the prettiest or most elegant food, but it’s what cats eat in nature. They can also eat raw or cooked eggs (since they eat raw meat, fish, and eggs in nature, their digestive track is adapted to deal with salmonella or other parasites better than humans).

2. Buy food in bulk

It’s not completely realistic to cook for your pet every day, so whenever possible, buy food in bulk. Websites like Zooplus.nl offer discounts when (the bigger the package, the higher the discount) so you can minimize the amount of packaging that ends up in the trash. As for wet food, I try to buy big cans and keep them in the fridge for a few days after opening instead of buying small, plastic sachets and using one every day. Ecological pooping

3. Ecological pooping

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

If I walk a dog twice a day, that’s at least two plastic poop bags that go to the trash daily. With 1.5mln dogs living in the Netherlands[2], it adds up to 3mln plastic bags every day, and 1 billion per year (and that’s only in the Netherlands!). These numbers are shocking, but they can be easily reduced as most of mainstream supermarkets (Action, Ekoplaza, some Alert Heijn shops) already sell biodegradable bags.

For Cats, most of the commercially made litter is made of bentonite clay or silicon crystals, none of which are biodegradable. A more natural choice would be litter made of wood shavings, sawdust, or paper. Make sure you also discard used litter in biodegradable bags (and not in plastic bags).

4. Ditch the cosmetics

Photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

I’ve never been a fan of dry shampoos for cats or washing the dogs with perfumed soaps, but now more than even I’m more conscious of what goes down the drain. I myself stopped using cosmetics with chemicals harmful to the environment, and that goes for pets, too. If needed, washing your pet with warm water is more than enough.

5. Use natural toys

Photo by Jonathan Wiemers on Unsplash

Opt for toys made of natural materials like hemp, string, and wood. They’re safer for your pet and for the environment. Dogs also love chewing on beef or pork bones, dried pig ears or chicken legs. It might seem gruesome, but that’s yet another way to make use of animal parts that would otherwise go to waste.

If you’ve ever had a cat, you know that they prefer to play with a cardboard box rather than the expensive toy you bought for them. They rarely need complex, plastic toys or toys running on batteries. See what your cat plays with the most and use that instead. For example, my cat loves to chase around cloves of garlic (because of the rustling peel) and fruit pits. The only downside is that I keep finding them under my couch while cleaning the apartment, but my cat is happy, so I let that slide.


[1] For a list of human foods safe for cats, visit this website.

[2] An estimate number for 2018, according to Statista.