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Sustainability: a guide for international students

April 5, 2023
Lisa Shesterneva

Guest post by Lisa, a volunteer with our Sustainable Accommodation work.

Moving to another country can be stressful. You need to leave your home, your family, your friends, and, - last, but not least – sustainability habits you’ve already acquired while you were living in your previous country of residence. Chances are, you’d need to start all over again once you find yourself on foreign soil, and that’s okay!

Step 1. Take a deep breath

You unpacked your suitcase, and you’ve realized there’s still stuff you need to buy – bedsheets, pillows, kitchen utensils – more likely than not, you weren’t able to pack them all up with you. With extra purchases come extra concerns – not only in terms of budget restrictions, but in terms of the environment.

The trick is to avoid unnecessary purchases – the articles on “how to decorate your room” are often trying to sell you things! It’s also useful to shop offline instead of opting for online delivery to avoid additional packaging waste, and transportation. And, of course, you can always ask your fellow students – perhaps, some of them are moving out while you’re moving it, and they’d be happy to leave some of their utensils with you, this way you’re avoiding buying new altogether!

If there are no such options available, there’s no need to worry – just take a deep breath and continue with a shopping list, just try to make it as eco-friendly as possible by shopping second-hand (charity shops, ebay, and vinted are great places to start!), and avoiding unethical companies.

Step 2. Figure out recycling

After you’ve unpacked and acquired some new items, you’re likely to have some waste. Don’t throw them in the “general waste” bin all at once! Take a look at whether something in that pile is recyclable – cardboard, paper, certain types of plastic, etc. Your new home should already have recycling bins – ask someone in reception to be sure what should go where.

Recycling in the UK is a bit tricky as different local councils will use different colours, plus, when you search the information on your own, you’re likely to get acquainted with the term “garden waste”, which is not relevant to the majority of international students.

For this reason, let’s focus on general recycling – this category includes paper, cardboard, cereal boxes, egg boxes,drink and food cans, some plastics, glass, and more. Do not spend too much time looking for markings like “PTE 1” and the triangle as you don’t need to separate plastics into different sections, and if your particular item is recyclable, it’ll likely say so on the cover. Check with reception if you’re not sure!

If you want to recycle some rarer items, you can try searching for huge supermarkets or centers in your area.

For more information, watch SOS-UK’s webinar on reimagining waste, and thirsty fashion: how the textile industry is bleeding us dry.

Step 3. Get to cooking

Chances are, you’re pretty hungry after unpacking and all this talk about supermarkets. Time to go to the food store! It’s a simple thing, but when you’re in a new country, even the food aisles may look different, so it’s important not to get distracted. Remember the basic rules – avoid extra packaging, and try buying food packed in recyclable materials. Consider buying locally sourced and seasonal food.

Find out more about SOS-UK’s work on sustainable food and farming.

You can also go a local zero-waste shop where you can buy rice, lentils, and other grains in the containers you’ve brought with you. You can also use this opportunity to shop for some soaps, shower gel, and cleaning products as they’re likely to be sold in the majority of zero-waste shops.

Are you moving into private rented accommodation?

If so, SOS-UK has an international students’ guide to UK energy bills to help you understand how they work, how to budget and save money on your bills.