How to eat sustainably as a student

Read Time:   |  19th October 2020

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Eating sustainably and eating cheaply can go hand in hand; here are some ways to eat sustainably as a student.


It is universally agreed that our current food system is not sustainable if we continue with ‘business as usual’. Unchanged, the global food system is forecast to generate enough greenhouse gas emissions to heat our climate above 1.5°C.

If food waste were a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.

Halving food waste in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 will make a huge difference to reducing this impact, and as students have been identified as one of the five priority areas in UNESCO’s roadmap for implementing the global action programme on sustainable development, they have an important role to play in tackling climate change and striving to eat more sustainably.

In the UK alone, UCAS manages three million applications, from around 700,000 people, each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK. This gives a clearer picture of how many students could be potentially wasting food and eating in unsustainable ways.

However, eating sustainably whilst on a student on a budget can seem like a daunting task. The myth that we need to buy expensive, organic produce, or shop in ‘foodie’ delis to be doing our bit for the planet needs busting.

Waste not, want not

Minimising food waste helps the environment as it saves the resources and energy that go into producing unneeded food – from farming to packaging to shipping. The average person wastes about 30% of the food they buy, and so cutting down on food waste will also make the student budget stretch further.

Try and cut down on food waste by planning meals in advance, eating leftovers for lunch, sharing meals with friends and flatmates and even rearranging the stuff in your fridge/cupboard so the perishable items are at the front and are less likely to be forgotten and eaten within their use-by date.

how to eat sustainably

Plan meals ahead

By planning out the recipes you’re going to cook for the week and the ingredients you need to buy. Do this whilst looking at what you already have in the cupboard or fridge.

Planning meals with ingredients already available in your pantry will help you reduce your weekly shop cost and cut down on food waste. A double whammy for sustainability on a budget.

Opt for plant-powered protein  

Cutting out meat and dairy is the single biggest thing you can do to eat more sustainably. Reducing your meat and dairy intake isn’t just a win for the planet, it’s a win for your wallet.

Meat and dairy are often the most expensive things in a weekly shop. Therefore, switching to plant-based sources of protein is a cheaper way to get your nutrition, and keeps you fuller for longer.

Plenteous Veg recently conducted a price comparison of different plant-based sources of protein and came out with a list of the five cheapest sources of plant-protein:

  • Rolled Oats: 0.7p per gram/protein
  • Dry Beans: 1.1p per gram/protein
  • Dry Chickpeas: 1.1p per gram/protein
  • Dry Lentils: 1.6p per gram/protein
  • Brown Rice: 1.9p per gram/protein

Eat seasonal, locally produced foods

Seasonal produce is not only the healthiest and most sustainable but also the cheapest.

Eating seasonally and locally can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production, as well as CO₂ emissions resulting from transportation of food (food miles).

It can support the local economy and fair trade practices and teach people the value of both food and farming by bringing us back to the basics of food production.

Batch make and freeze meals

Buying food in bulk is cheaper than buying smaller amounts on a more regular basis, so you can save a lot of money by buying the ingredients all in one go and using them straight away to cook several meals.

Having a ready-prepared meal means you won’t be tempted to order in when you’re tight for time or feeling lazy and don’t want to cook. Also, you’ll use less energy than you would if you cooked multiple meals.

When freezing meals, try to avoid disposable freezer bags and instead use reusable Tupperware which you can use over and over again.

Bring in a packed lunch

Sometimes amid a full day of lectures, a grab and go lunch option is the most convenient option for students. But meals deals are not only expensive, but also are adorned with single-use packaging that isn’t environmentally friendly.

Bringing in a packed lunch and reusable water bottle saves money and avoids around the plastic waste that comes with a meal deal.


Pass on plastic

Plastic has infiltrated our natural world and even our diets. Bring a reusable bag on your next shopping trip, and you’ve already helped out the planet and reduced your carbon footprint.

Also, opt for foods with minimal packaging such as loose fruits and vegetables, as the plastic coverings are manufactured through an energy-intensive process that creates hazardous waste and greenhouse gases.

how to eat sustainably

Use zero-waste food apps

The chances are that restaurants nearby your university have food leftover at the end of the day. By downloading a few zero-waste food apps, which allow you to buy food at the end of the day at cheaper prices, you can ‘rescue’ food that would otherwise go to waste.

For example, Too Good to Go, a certified B Corporation, has “prevented 75,135 tonnes of CO₂” by saving food from being wasted and features student favourites such as Nandos, Wagamama and Starbucks.

Find advice on navigating university life as a vegan student here

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