Compost and recycling bins are scattered throughout the UGArden South by South Milledge event in Athens, Georgia, on Thursday, April 19, 2018. (Photo/Gabriella Audi)

The University of Georgia is heralded for its beautiful campus and celebrated football team. But what many people don’t know is that we have lots of avenues to be sustainable as well. 

To be fair, I studied ecology in school, so I’ve always been an environmentally-conscious person. But even if you’ve never developed sustainable habits, UGA is a great place to do so. 

If you’re a student, you might have noticed you have to pay a small “green fee.” According to the Bursar Office, the green fee helps fund the UGA Office of Sustainability and its coordinating programs to reduce the university’s environmental impacts. These include funding the Office of Sustainability internship programs such as Campus Kitchens, which uses leftover food from the UGA dining halls to feed food insecure people in Athens, and the Chew Crew, a group that uses goats to remove invasive species on campus. Just by being a student and paying your green fee, you’re helping to make UGA more sustainable. But it doesn’t have to stop there. 

One of the easiest switches students can do to improve sustainability is to stop buying disposable plastic water bottles and instead invest in a refillable one. If you walk into almost any building on campus, you’ll see refillable water filling stations for anyone to use. The initiative started in 2011 as a partnership between the UGA Ecology Club and UGA Physical Plant, putting the first station in the Ecology building. Now they’re everywhere, helping students reduce the amount of plastic dumped into landfills each year. 

Abbie Dillon, a junior horticulture major and compost intern for the Office of Sustainability, think plastic reduction offers the best environmental impacts. 

“The simplest way to be a sustainable human is to avoid single-use items the best you can,” Dillon said. “Always carry around a bring your own mug and utensils, and bring your own bag if you need one.”

If you must recycle, clean the item you’re recycling. Food contamination is the number one reason why recycling ends up getting thrown away, contributing to about 14 tons of recyclable material getting thrown into landfills, according to the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division. Be sure to properly dispose of your recyclables and trash.  

One of the best sustainable habits to build while on campus is reducing food waste. The dining halls offer you unlimited food, so it’s tempting to bring plate upon plate back to your table only to eat a portion of it. While food waste at the dining halls get composted at the UGA Bioconversion Center, that still doesn’t stop the water and electricity waste  that comes from washing those plates. 

Carrying a food waste habit outside of college could contribute to the nearly 39 million tons of food entering our landfills each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Do what’s best for the environment and consume all the food you get. 

Many UGA programs, offices and students work to mitigate their environmental impact, and you can too. There are many easy and accessible options on campus to begin incorporating sustainability into your life — just ask one of the interns or contact the Office of Sustainability itself. If you begin now, you could be leading a much greener life upon finishing UGA.

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