Sustainability Abroad

Emma Gatrell
Friday 19 April 2024

From accommodation to module choices, there are multiple things to organise when studying abroad, but how to be sustainable is something you can do to benefit yourself as well as the environment around you. With this in mind, here are some tips for sustainable living, with input from some Outbound students!

Before you go

Packing: When packing, consider which items are truly essential to make your packing as sustainable as possible. Try to bring seasonal clothing to avoid having to purchase new items abroad, as the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions. This doesn’t mean that shopping is off the cards, though – consider exploring vintage shops which can be found in many cities! For example, here are some of the best vintage shops in Madrid!

‘Charity shops such as Humana (in Spain) are great whilst abroad! They’re cheaper, have unique pieces, and are great for the environment!’ – Holly

In terms of toiletries, you can consider options which are more sustainable. For example, switch out your cleansing wipes (these break down into micro-plastics which pollute the ocean) for reusable cotton pads. You could also think about eco-friendly toiletries to bring abroad. Even one change, such as bringing a sustainable make-up bag, can make a difference.

When Abroad

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: When you’re abroad, consider small steps you can take to reduce waste and reuse items. For example, if you often get takeout coffee, think about purchasing a reusable coffee cup. When doing groceries, remember to bring shopping bags which you can use again.

Inter-country travel: Studying abroad in itself provides lots of travel opportunities. The way in which we travel strongly affects our carbon footprint, and so it is worth considering ways to reduce your carbon footprint while still making the most of your study abroad. Taking trains, bikes, and buses instead of planes is much better for the environment, as well as often being much cheaper ways of travelling when abroad. Providers such as FlixBus or Interrail can be helpful for longer trips. It is also worth seeing what attractions and cities are nearby and reachable by foot, bike, or bus.

‘Whilst studying in Alcalá, I had the public transport card which allowed me to travel around the community of Madrid sustainably. Rather than using a private vehicle or taking flights to other parts of Spain, I really made the most of the effective public transport system to explore local towns and cities such as Aranjuez, Segovia, Guadalajara, and Toledo. Not only did this allow me to live more sustainably whilst studying abroad, but also to attain a richer understanding of the area I was living in.’ – Ffion

‘While living and working in Sevilla, I would regularly use the train to get to work, which I felt was the most sustainable means of travel given the distance. The journey would only take around 10 minutes and was made a lot more affordable by the Renfe pass I purchased at the start of the year. When I visited other parts of Andalucia I’d often travel by train or bus, occasionally using car sharing platforms such as Blablacar if the route was less accessible. There were also lots of bikes and e-scooters available to rent in Sevilla which my friends and I used frequently when travelling around the city.’ – Finn

‘While I was in France, public transport was often the easiest way to get around the city and the whole country. As a student, I got unlimited travel around Rouen for 25 Euros a month and I was also able to rent an e-bike for only 10 Euros a month.  The trains and buses in France are pretty good and car-sharing (“covoiturage”) is really taking off through safe websites like BlaBlaCar, which my French friends recommended to me.  SNCF often have summer sales on their railcards, so keep an eye out for them!’ – Tom

Food Consumption: When it comes to food consumption, there are a few things you can do to buy and eat more sustainably, for example choosing seasonal food which has reduced air miles. Also, by buying local you’ll be supporting local farmers and hopefully trying some new and delicious foods!

Another easy yet effective change to help the environment is reducing meat consumption, as livestock production creates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. This change doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing; you could try skipping meat one day a week. According to The Monday Campaigns, skipping one serving of beef every Monday for a year can save the equivalent emissions to driving 348 miles in a car.

If you’re keen to find more plant-based restaurants when out and about, the app Happy Cow lists vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, as well as farmers markets, health food stores, and other businesses with a vegan focus.

Another tip to help the environment is to reduce the amount of food waste, which contributes to around 8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio list unsold food from various eateries, allowing you to enjoy good food and prevent it from going in the bin. Olio also allows you to give away household items – if you’re in need of kitchenware when you’re away, for example, consider going second-hand rather than buying new.

Donations: Just as you can benefit from apps such as Olio, you can also put household items on the app when you leave, to ensure that items don’t get thrown. If you have clothes you don’t want to take home with you, see if you can donate them to a charity shop or to friends. You could even host a clothes swap and encourage everyone to bring items they no longer need. It’s also worth checking if your university has any zero-waste initiatives such as St AndReuse which can allow you to donate items which will be put to good use!

When you return

Reflection: When you return from your time abroad, you will likely reflect on your experience as a whole, and you could think about sustainability as part of this. You could consider getting involved with environmental projects at St Andrews. Given that many of our students are international, you can think about what tips you might have for inbound students travelling to the UK. There are plenty more resources available for learning about sustainable travel. If you’re in Europe, check out the Green Erasmus webpage. CISaustralia also has tips on environmental sustainability in Australia.

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