When I was in college, I ate ramen noodles in a Styrofoam cup with plastic utensils at least twice a week. Yeah, not the most zero waste habit in the world. But this was before I even knew the movement existed. While I was a commuter, I often stood at school for long periods of time due to my extra curricular activities (hey, being editor-in-chief of the school newspaper was no light task). That cup of noodles wasn’t healthy, but it typically was the only thing I’d eat all day (which also wasn’t healthy). Looking back now, there are several things I’d change about how I handled my college years – and then there are some things I did I’m proud of. But I hope my experience can help you. If you’re going back to school, here are 8 ways to have a zero waste college experience.
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8 Ways to Go Zero Waste in College
How can I be zero waste in college?
Glad you asked! There are so many ways to be zero waste in college, and I’m going to guide you through 8 of them in a moment. But first, I recommend doing one simple thing: Get to know your campus, and the town you’ll be in.
This is important because this is will help you find sustainable shops, like farmers markets, bulk food stores, and thrift shops. I also recommend seeing if there are any local refilleries near you, as these often sell eco products in bulk like laundry detergent, lotion, soap, and so much more.
It’s a good idea to also find some local composting options near you, like community gardens or farmers markets that accept food scraps.
You may be surprised at what your campus and town are already doing to be sustainable. So make sure to look into it! Now without further ado, here’s how to have a zero waste college experience.
1. Rent or buy used books
One of the best things you can do for your wallet (and the planet) is renting or buying used books! Buying new books is such a scam and waste of money. As an English major, I was constantly buying books, and while I did actually read most of them, it would’ve cost me a fortune to purchase them all new. Amazon sells a lot of used books in great condition worth checking out. This also helps reduce resources and at the end of the year, you can even give them away or sell them!
2. Shop secondhand
Before buying new items, consider using use hand me downs, hitting up thrift stores, garage sales, Facebook marketplace or your local buy nothing Facebook group. You can apply this to clothes, but also dorm room essentials and even some class items like books and binders. You might be surprised at what you’ll find and it’ll typically be for cheap – sometimes even free!
3. Invest in some reusables
There’s going to be a lot of waste on campus, but you can help cut down on it by carrying around some handy reusables. The ones I’d recommend most would be stasher bags, a water bottle, utensils, and a reusable coffee cup.
Stasher bags can be used for so many things, like packing snacks + lunches, as well as holding the odds + ends of produce (like banana peels) until you can compost it. A reusable water bottle is great if you have access to refill stations around campus, and a reusable coffee cup is ideal for coffee/tea lovers. You can just bring it to your campus’ coffee shop. Reusable cutlery is also handy for eating on the go.
I recommend checking out this list of zero waste shops and consider buying your reusables from one of them!
4. Utilize public transport
Whether you’re dorming or commuting, it’s a good idea to utilize any public transportation you can. While this isn’t necessarily tied in to waste, it will help reduce carbon emissions. This helps fight climate change. See if you can use the bus, train, ferry, or shuttle services over cars. Carpooling is also a great idea and fun to do with friends. If you have the option, consider biking to school or using a Citi Bike.
5. Choose Ecosia
When you’re googling and doing research for your classes or papers, try using Ecosia instead. Ecosia is a search engine that literally plants trees as you search the web, which is such a passive, easy way to make a difference. Plus it’s free, so why not, right?
6. Get outside
When you have some downtime, make sure you spend some of it outdoors. Even better if you bring your friends with you! When I was in college, I used to love sitting outside on my campus because of how beautiful it was. I mean, have you ever seen Wagner College? The Oval was my favorite place to relax. I’d sit right under a tree and just read a book.
Obviously, spending time outdoors doesn’t have to mean simply sitting on the bench, or on campus. You can explore and see what’s around your campus too – any national parks, or local parks? Rivers, streams, or woods? Find some hiking trails and go for it! Have a picnic with friends, or organize a beach day.
I find getting outside is a low cost, healthy activity where I produce little to no waste. And it helps us remember why we’re protecting the planet in the first place. So why not enjoy it, right?
7. Get involved
Get involved in sustainable initiatives on campus and create some systemic change! If you notice your campus is extremely wasteful (maybe they toss out too much food, or have overflowing trash cans with no recycling), speak up. Talk to your school’s newspaper about it and maybe they’ll even write an article bringing attention to the problem.
Here are a few ways you can get involved on campus and make an impact:
- Start a zero waste club – cause talking about sustainability is the best way to get ideas and make things happen!
- Create a community garden/compost center (talk to a science professor about this one – trust me).
- Talk to the local café about accepting reusable coffee cups, giving out straws only upon request, and salvaging their coffee grounds for compost.
- Make sure your campus is recycling properly and not just wishcycling (mine was – and probably still is)…
- Setup an e-waste drive: Just speak with the facilities department for permission and put collection bins in a parking lot of the campus. Then talk to local businesses and vendors to find out which ones accept electronics and if they accept bulk deliveries.
- Start a moving season donation program – connect with local charities to find out the best way to organize this program.
- Advocate for renewable energy to be used on campus – what are they currently using now? Is there a way to offset their carbon footprint?
8. Say no to freebies
When you first arrive on campus, it can be hard to avoid someone handing out or offering you free promotional materials. Be it pamphlets, glossy-paper coupons, pens, or umbrella – unless it’s something you actually need, learn to say no. Otherwise, they’ll probably just end up in the trash, or worse – idling in your room, taking up space.
So, what do you think of these zero waste college tips? Let me know in the comments below!
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