Amongst all the weirdness of heading off to college this year, you might also be relieved to have the opportunity to wield a little more control over your life than you may have felt over the last few months (or maybe even the last 18 or so years). Whether you’re a freshman getting your first taste of campus life or just kicking off a new year, here are some fresh opportunities to keep your waste to a minimum:
1. Eating & Drinking On-the-Go
From staying hydrated and caffeinated between classes to grabbing lunch at the cafeteria and (safely) hanging with your crew in the quad, one easy way to cut down on waste from single-use plastic and non-recyclables is to be prepared to eat and drink on-the-go. Here are a few essentials to keep stashed in your backpack:
- Reusable Water Bottle - this one is 100% plastic-free and reps your favorite low waste shop!
- Reusable Stainless Steel Tumbler or Glass Tumbler - perfect for both hot and cold beverages
- Eat/Drink Tool Kit - Complete with bamboo eating utensils, straw, and straw cleaner
- Cloth Napkins - A great and surprisingly multipurpose tool to clean up messes, wrap a burrito or sandwich, and more!
- Or just keep it simple with a pre-assembled On-the-Go Kit
2. Adopt a lower waste diet.
Living away from home and having total control over the food you buy can be a great opportunity to adopt a new diet that aligns with your values. If you care about reducing the impacts of climate change, one of the most powerful things you can do is to minimize your consumption of meat and animal products. Maybe you’ve been itching to go full-on vegan or vegetarian or you just want to dabble in flexitarianism by choosing to eat less meat -- opting for dairy-free alternatives, observing meatless Mondays, being vegan before dinnertime, or even just saving meat for special occasions. And did we mention eating less meat is also almost always cheaper??
3. Refuse unnecessary stuff.
From the moment you step on campus, it’s very likely people will start handing you free stuff left and right -- flyers, t-shirts, pens, and miscellany with your mascot and the name of every campus resource all over it. And who doesn’t love free stuff? Especially stuff you can actually use. Somebody giving out something you need? Great! Take it and run! Not gonna use it? Refuse it. Nicely, of course. You’re not doing anybody, including our planet, any favors by getting something only to put it directly in the trash (or relegating it to a deep, forgotten corner of your desk).
4. Grocery Shopping
For many of us, freshman year of college is the first time we do all our own grocery shopping, and the experience can be overwhelming. It’s cold. It’s mysterious. (Why is the pesto so far away from the other pasta sauce?) Everything is surprisingly expensive. (Now you know why your mom was always stressed out about fruit going bad!) And there are so many options! (Which peanut butter is the best peanut butter, and should I still eat peanut butter?) You only have about $20 to spend for the week and that’s barely gonna cover the chocolate covered almonds you deluded yourself into thinking you could afford. Am I a club member? No, but Grandma is. What’s her number again? If you’re anything like us, you may be tempted to blow your whole budget on as many fruit snacks and Doritos you can carry. Do what you have to do to get it out of your system, then keep these tips in mind to keep your grocery waste to a minimum:
- BYOB - Bring your own reusable bags. Depending on the store, you should still be able to use your own grocery bags instead of choosing between the paper or plastic they offer you, even if that means you have to bag your own groceries. (If you do, remember heavy/hard stuff on the bottom like cans and jars and light/fragile stuff on top like bread and soft fruit.)
- Start at the edges of the store. That’s where they keep the good stuff. The mostly unwrapped produce. The prepared foods section. The bulk section. That’s where you’ll find the food with the least packaging and the least troublesome ingredients. If your grocery store allows, bring your own produce bags and jars to stock up on produce and bulk section goodies without the packaging waste! If they don’t, skip the bags for produce and opt for paper bags in the bulk section and paper cartons in the prepared foods section. (Note: many stores have paused their BYO container policies and even shut down their bulk sections due to COVID, so do what you can with what you have available!) Shopping these sections is also a great way to get exactly what you need, avoid food waste, and keep your grocery bill low -- just don’t get carried away with the chocolate covered almonds! Only have a microwave? Try to skip the frozen meals if you can. The boxes are non-recyclable, and they tend to come with bulky packaging.
- Say no to plastic. Avoid items in plastic packaging as much as possible. It’s made from fossil fuels. It contains harmful toxins that are bad for our bodies and ecosystems. It never biodegrades. It’s polluting our planet. It’s a no. Get the pasta in the paper boxes instead of the plastic bags. Get drinks in cans or glass bottles instead of plastic bottles. Just say no.
- Skip the individually packaged stuff. We know it can be so tempting to stock up on granola bars, tea bags, and other single-serving snacks that are easy to grab when you’re running to class or refueling for an all-nighter. Get your favorites in bulk to avoid the unnecessary packaging waste, and we won’t even judge you if you end up finishing all of it in one sitting.
5. Keep energy consumption to a minimum.
Look around you. How many things do you see plugged into a wall? How many tabs are open on the device you're using? How about that other one over there? All of that uses energy, and that energy is most likely to be coming from fossil fuels. Turn the lights off when you leave the room, keep your window closed when the AC is on, and check out all the ways you can minimize your digital carbon footprint here.
Ah laundry. We all have mixed feelings about it. The piling up and lugging around of dirty clothes? Unpleasant. Folding. Not so fun, but much more so post-Marie Kondo. Putting on your freshly washed favorite shirt? Bliss. You know what makes it so much more satisfying is knowing you’re doing it in a way that keeps your clothes lasting longer, conserves energy, and prevents gross chemicals and microplastics from entering our waterways. Here are some ways to do so:
- Treat stains with a plastic-free Stain Remover Bar.
- Use the cold and/or delicate cycle to minimize the energy used to heat up the water and protect your garments from damage. Use a Laundry Bag for delicates.
- Use a gentle, nontoxic detergent like one of these:
- Laundry Pills - the easiest to take to the laundry room and pop in the wash
- Laundry Powder - the same formula but more bang for your buck (Alex’s favorite)
- Laundry Paste - for those who like liquid and great value (Lindsay’s favorite)
- Wash garments with synthetic fabrics in a Microplastic Washing Bag to keep microplastics from shedding into the water.
- Use a Clothes Drying Rack to hang dry your delicates or your whole load of laundry! Think of all the quarters you’ll save down the road…
- Whatever you do throw in the dryer, keep the heat low and toss in Wool Dryer Balls as an alternative to fabric softener or dryer sheets to reduce drying time, fluffen up, and soften your clothes without damaging them. You can even add a couple of drops of essential oil to add a light scent.
7. Get around by foot, bike, scooter, or public transit!
Avoid driving when you can, and get around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods without the extra carbon emissions of driving, not to mention money spent on gas and parking fees.
8. Dorm Essentials
Living in the dorms is the perfect chance to practice living with just the essentials -- since you don’t have space for much more. Take what you can from home, try to thrift what you don’t already have, or opt for natural materials and multipurpose, reusable items as much as possible. Look for organic cotton, linen, or hemp bedding and notebooks and planners made from FSC Certified or 100% post-consumer paper. Here are a few things we can help with:
- UNpaper Towels
- Counter Caddy
- Waste Bin
- Stainless Steel Mugs
- Stainless Steel Cups
- Stainless Steel Plates - Don’t microwave!
- Stainless Steel Bowls -
- Bamboo Charcoal Water Filter Sticks
- Sandwich Bag
- Also these bowls and divided plates are kind of for kids, but they would be cute for you too!
9. Personal Care
This is another great area of opportunity to minimize waste by switching to reusable and plastic-free alternatives. Learn to apply some one-ingredient wonders to your personal care routine and up your DIY game to find simple, multipurpose, and affordable solutions like coconut and tea tree oil or DIY deodorant, lip balm, or body butter. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Bamboo Toothbrush
- Toothpaste: Choose between Liquid Tooth Cleanse or Toothpaste Tabs
- Lip Salve
- Anti-Acne Facial Oil
- Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
- Reusable Facial Rounds
- Deodorant Stick
- Face, Hand & Body Soap
- Safety Razor
- Hair Ties
10. Advocate for low waste policies on campus and at nearby businesses!
Does your school have adequate recycling and composting options? Do you have enough vegan options in the cafeteria? Does your college power itself with renewable energy? If the answer to any of those is no, then you’ve got some work to do. Yes? You probably have the activism of past students to thank!
Let us know what your biggest on-campus challenges are when it comes to reducing waste! We’d love to help with some solutions!