Reducing your carbon footprint as a college student

Sam Askew, Campus Carrier managing editor

One of the biggest threats to the global population in the years since the Industrial Revolution is climate change. However, it can be rather hard to figure out exactly what that means. Yes, Earth’s climate naturally changes on its own, but since the Industrial Revolution, it has changed at an exponential rate. According to the United Nations (UN), the biggest causes of climate change are generating power, manufacturing goods, cutting down forests, using transportation, producing food and powering buildings. With terms like these being thrown around, it can get confusing when you think about what you, as an individual, can do to prevent such large-scale issues. To start, you must consider your carbon footprint. According to The Nature Conservancy, your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by your actions. Here are actions that can be taken to reduce your personal carbon footprint and that allow for less greenhouse gasses to contribute to climate change.


            Recycling is the act of turning waste or trash into material that can be reused. Berry has lots of opportunities to recycle things, such as bins beside trashcans and entire dumpsters labelled for recycling. There are a few things to note, however, about recycling. Waste Management (WM) denotes three rules for recycling: 1.) Recycle bottles, cans, paper and cardboard; 2.) Keep food and liquid out of your recycling; 3.) No loose plastic bags and no bagged recyclables. It is important that everything you recycle is cleaned off and, as rule 2 says, without food or liquid particles. While it would seem worthwhile to recycle plastic bags, it is slightly more difficult to do so. The best way to recycle plastic bags is to just reuse them. WM’s website ( goes into much more detail about what can and cannot be recycled. 


            Composting is a form of recycling that mostly focuses on organic material. Organic waste is recycled into a fertilizer that can be used in gardening and agriculture. Organic waste naturally erodes, and composting allows this process to speed up by providing a rich environment for bacteria and fungi to grow and flourish. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (NRDC), the benefits of composting include reducing the waste stream, cutting methane emissions from landfills, improving soil health, conserving water and reducing personal food waste. Composting can be done on a small scale in your garage or backyard or in a large-scale industrial composting plant. Composting works by combining carbon-rich materials, such as dried leaves, twigs and other yard waste, with nitrogen rich materials, such as grass and food scraps. Along with occasional water and constant air exposure, an rich environment is produced where various fungi and bacteria can grow and erode the solids into a powerful fertilizer. Berry’s campus has a few opportunities for composting. The Berry College Elementary School garden on Mountain Campus has a set of compost bins.

Biking, Walking and Carpooling

            What many people do not realize is that their vehicle is a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average passenger car emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon-dioxide per year. Though the average amount of carbon-dioxide emitted per mile has gone down significantly since the 1970s according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, there is still work to be done on reducing vehicular emissions. One way is through electric vehicles. However, electric vehicles can be easily out of someone’s price range, along with the fact that the southern, more rural states have not become fully integrated with electric car charging stations. Biking, walking and carpooling are the most efficient way to reduce vehicular carbon emissions. If, for example, five people were all going to the same destination and they each carpooled in one vehicle, that would be four less vehicles on the road emitting carbon dioxide. Carpooling is the most efficient way to significantly decrease one’s carbon footprint. Alternative modes of transportation, such as biking or walking, are also ways to dampen your carbon footprint. Perhaps instead of driving from one location on campus to another location on campus, students can play a small part in a larger global movement to decrease carbon emissions by walking or biking to said location. Berry is a good campus for walking and biking, and the benefits of doing so in order to get to class outweigh the harms that may come from not doing so.

Avoiding Fast Fashion Hauls

            According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, fast fashion is defined as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” A little-known fact about the fashion industry, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), is that it is the second largest worldwide environmental polluter, accounting for 10% of all greenhouse emissions, which is higher than air travel emissions. It is a trend in fast fashion to wear an outfit a few times and then discard it, which has led, counterintuitively, to a trend of overconsumption and waste. The fast fashion industry, according to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative (PSCI), accounts for one tenth of the industrial use of water, taking 3,000 liters to produce one cotton shirt. Also, dyeing fabric contributes to a large amount of wastewater from garment factories. Not to mention the various synthetic materials that offer cheap alternatives to clothing material account for over 35% of all microplastics in the world. The fashion industry is currently responsible for more annual carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the PSCI, and is on track for a 50% increase in the next decade if left unchecked. The best way to combat fast fashion is to utilize second-hand stores and thrift shops. Also, there is the saying “wear something as much as it costs,” meaning that you should wear an article of clothing the same number of times as the price that you paid for it.When you are done with your clothes, donate them. Thrift shops and second-hand clothing stores often have many hidden treasures if one is willing to dig. 

Voting for Environmentally Conscious Candidates

            It should come as no surprise that voting is a powerful tool when it comes to environmental issues. A Yale poll in 2022 showed that about four in ten people said that a stance on climate change will be “very important” when it comes to picking their candidate. The poll also showed that 58% of registered voters would vote for a candidate who proposed climate action, while only 17% showed that they would oppose such a candidate. While these numbers are somewhat encouraging, it is important for each and every available citizen to do proper research on candidates and determine for themselves which choice is best in regard to the climate crisis. The actions listed above can only go so far without governmental assistance, which can only come from climate conscious candidates.

            Through these various methods, you can take a personal, individual stance on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce your carbon footprint. While these methods are helpful, there are also plenty of other ways to reduce your carbon footprint that are not mentioned. Of course, one of the most helpful things you can do is to simply educate yourself on climate change and the causes of climate change so you can make informed decisions and consider the climate in the choices you make every day. 

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