Sustainability at Hope: How you can help

Do you ever wonder what you can do for the environment as a student? Or how to easily recycle on campus? The co-presidents of Hope Advocates for Sustainability (HAS), Jacob and Zoe, and the co-president of Green Hope, Sarah Pelyhes, have a lot of answers for you, as well as some really great advice for living a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Jacob and Zoe work as interns who initiate awareness for environmental issues and organize events to give students the resources and knowledge to make sustainable choices for themselves. Not only do they work on campus, but they extend their reach with events in the greater Holland community as well. Jacob said this unique organization takes a holistic approach to make “ecologically friendly initiatives on campus, whether it is structural change within the college or personal change within ourselves.” I spoke with them to learn about what they do and how students as individuals can work to lessen the waste they produce. 

Although Zoe felt that COVID has decreased many environmental initiatives, she focused on the positive aspects of this pandemic and said that “students are becoming more aware of the waste that they are producing.” This semester has also generated a lot of interest in their organization; just last week, they had more events than they normally would in a whole semester. They receive tons of emails with concerns about sustainability from fellow students. Although this semester has been more wasteful than most, this isn’t an issue that students are unaware of. 

When I posed the topic of the dining halls, they had only positive things to say. Jacob had previously worked closely with Dining Services while forming the Meatless Monday initiative in the past and said they are “very receptive to feedback from students, and they really listen to students’ ideas.” They both noted the many changes that Dining Services has already implemented this semester, even though both of them live off campus. Zoe added that “Phelps is doing their best right now to accommodate everything going on with COVID restrictions as well as sustainability.” Jacob also mentioned that although it is easy to point fingers when you see plastic bags, Dining Services has had to adapt to a lot with the nature of this semester and are truly doing as much as they can.

Besides the organizations and administration, there is a lot students can do to combat the amount of waste they produce. Recycling is the obvious one. Zoe said that “in a lot of academic buildings there are trash and recycling places.” She added that in Lubbers Hall and the library there is TerraCycling (almost any plastic that normal recycling centers won’t take), and the Bultman Student Center also has several different options. Most residence halls have places to recycle in the building, and if they don’t, the ones around campus aren’t far. For students living off campus it is even easier: you put it all in the yellow bag and the city does the rest. So with the increased amount of plastics this semester, it is more important than ever to recycle, and doing so as a Hope student doesn’t take too much effort. 

Beyond simply recycling on campus, there are lots of things students can incorporate into their routines to become more sustainable people. Zoe suggests lessening meat consumption and shopping local as much as possible. Decreasing single use plastics is a big one, and buying from thrift stores is a great way to find quality and inexpensive clothes while supporting the community (and it’s a lot of fun). Both of them agree on the importance of simply spending time outside. Jacob said that, “It just makes you more aware of your surroundings, and it lessens the disconnect between you and the outdoors.” Zoe added that “people who spend time outside live much more fulfilling lives.” She went on to say that living a sustainable life is a lot about enjoyment, simply enjoying the practice of doing things that take a little more time, like walking to class or taking a trip to the farmers market. That extra time is both for yourself and for giving back to those around you. The more we enjoy our planet, the more effort we will take to preserve it. 

Although adapting these might seem hard at first, Jacob reminded that “sometimes the idea of doing something seems a lot harder than actually doing it.” That rings true with having a sustainable lifestyle. He added that it’s the small things that are not hard at all once they are a part of your daily routine. He suggested starting by not having meat in one meal every day, making a habit of going to the farmers market and/or bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and taking shorter showers. And even though it is getting increasingly cooler, he still stresses the importance of continuing to walk or bike to class if you are able. Jacob had a really interesting way to help reduce waste in your routine: “Put a sheet of paper on your fridge and mark down what you throw away.” By doing this you’ll become more cognizant of what you throw away and you will pick up on your patterns. It can be too easy to just put things in the garbage, since they might seem to go away, but they never really do. So writing those things down is a good way to become more aware of the waste you are producing and ways that changing your routine can help. Awareness is the first step, and once you make the initial effort to put sustainability into your routine, it gets easier from there. 

I also spoke with Sarah Pelyhes, the co-president of another sustainable organization on campus: Green Hope. The difference between this club and Hope Advocates for Sustainability is that Green Hope is fully run by students who put on smaller events like the Break Day plant-a-thon a few weeks ago. They are even trying to get an indoor campus garden! She agrees with Zoe and Jacob that the surplus in the amount of waste this semester is obvious, and that there is a lot that students can do to help. 

“I think there are students who have always been really actively engaged,” said Sarah. However, she added, “I also think there are a lot of students who like the simplicity of throwing things away.” She remarked that there aren’t a lot of students who rinse out plastics or make the extended effort before putting them in the recycle bin, and like Jacob said, people think that it is a longer process than it is. There are a lot of places around campus to recycle and compost, but her go-to is the student center. It is a central location, and it’s easily accessible. She also said that she remembers recycling in residence halls being really easy. She suggested having open conversations with your roommate about how you can be conscious of not only waste, but things like leaving lights on or windows open during colder months. Those things can dramatically lessen the waste students produce. 

Even with implementing sustainable practices, there are still plenty of other things that students can do to help. One of the most important? According to Sarah: “Vote.” Sarah stressed that climate change is no longer a looming threat but is in our faces, and she argues that it is up to us to choose who we think will be able to handle this in the most constructive way. This obviously goes for federal decisions, but she also brought up the importance of wisely choosing candidates on a local level, too, and that “it is important to see who is actually doing the work in your community.”

Sometimes as a college student it can be daunting to try and make these changes, especially when most of your money is going to tuition. But with research and planning, she has found that choosing sustainability costs the same, if not less. It requires what Sarah called “mindset shift.” She realized her freshman year that she had to be really actively aware of her habits and be flexible enough to change them. The main thing she wanted her fellow students to know about attempting a sustainable lifestyle is that you don’t have to do it perfectly: “Give yourself some grace, and give yourself some patience… it’s going to take time.”  She added that everyone has their one personal way of going about their environmental practice, but once you settle on a routine it gets easier.  

Zoe from HAS says that she is very excited for the future of the organization and sustainability at Hope. “The voices of sustainability are really coming out of the student body right now, and it’s amazing to see.” There are lots of upcoming events and opportunities for involvement. On Thursday, October 22, there is a Michigan campus Earth Day virtual event. It teaches students different sustainable practices, environmental justice for college students and different career opportunities for those interested in helping the earth.

As a student, it is good to be aware that there is still a lot we can do to help the environment that can actually make a difference. A good start is bringing your own bag to the dining hall. Zoe, Jacob and Sarah gave us a lot of good advice and places to start having sustainable habits that can eventually form a more sustainable lifestyle. Even with this challenging semester, it is important to remember that we can control the change we want to see with our everyday thoughts, actions and habits. 

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