Tips for a zero-waste student life

A+student+throws+away+a+bottle+on+campus.

Image: Mary Helene Hall

A student throws away a bottle on campus.

As our beautiful Earth becomes more polluted every day with unimaginable amounts of trash, a zero-waste lifestyle can be crucial in helping save it. But what exactly is the zero-waste lifestyle? 

The main goal of this revolutionary way of life is not to just recycle, but to reduce the need to even do so by thinking ahead. The main goal is to avoid sending any products into landfills in the first place. When remembering the “three Rs” we all learned in elementary school reduce, reuse and recycle we tend to pay most attention to recycling. Recycling is useful and contributes to eventual reuse, but reducing our use of single-use items and re-using items we already have makes a much larger, positive difference for the Earth. 

Here are several tips to incorporate reducing and reusing into your lifestyle as a college student. 

Reduce by using what you have first

Use up what you already have first! Always look out for ways to DIY, especially with cleaning products. Reduce tissue waste by using makeshift handkerchiefs. Switch from single-use fabric softener sheets to wool ball fabric softeners. If you have a kitchen, cook your own meals to reduce single-use plastic waste. Opt to dine-in at restaurants to avoid disposable container waste (unless the area is becoming too crowded for safe distancing during the pandemic).

Use saved plastic shopping bags as waste bin liners. Subscription package boxes can be used as plastic bag storage for easy access. Plain package boxes can be used as storage containers for hair accessories, jewelry, electric cords, recyclable items and other miscellaneous items. When you run out of products in glass containers, clean and reuse them to store pantry items.

Be mindful as you shop for new items

Buy only what you need instead of buying everything you want. Use tote or produce bags when shopping to reduce use of plastic bags. Avoid plastic container products by opting for paper packaging, glass containers, metal containers or no packaging if not truly necessary. Opt for glass or stainless-steel food containers over plastic tupperware. Buy beeswax wrap over plastic wrap for leftovers. Consider wooden kitchen utensils over plastic utensils. 

Pay attention to what’s in your hygiene products

Buy skin and hair hygiene products with minimal and recyclable packaging, or refill aluminum containers. Consider bamboo brushes and combs over plastic ones. Switch from disposable razor bodies to a durable one with only disposable blades. Think about getting bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. Buy toothpaste and mouthwash tablets in glass jars instead of plastic tubes and bottle containers. Consider floss in glass containers instead of plastic ones. Switch from paper towels to hand towels. Think about getting cloth napkins instead of single-use napkins.

Think ethically while clothes shopping

Stick to thrift shops and second-hand stores, then move on to local and ethical brands for items you cannot find otherwise. Donate your clothes to second-hand stores when you can. 

Find food and drink with less packaging waste

Buy locally-grown, locally-raised and naturally-fed food products from farmers’ markets and organic grocery stores. Buy in bulk by refilling your own containers. Limit or cut out the consumption of vending machine foods to reduce single-use waste. Invest in a stainless steel water bottle to reduce plastic bottle waste. Switch from a Keurig coffee machine to a french press for coffee to reduce K-cup waste.

Invest in sustainable cosmetics

Reduce use of cosmetics by only purchasing long-term products that will accentuate your best features. Look for sustainable, cruelty-free and vegan alternatives when purchasing cosmetics.

Choose greener school supplies

Invest in a laptop or tablet with compatible e-pen for note-taking to reduce the need of paper products. Reduce the demand of sticky notes by using the calendar and reminder apps on your smart-phone or opt for dry erase boards. Ask your professors to allow electronic submissions instead of printed assignments in order to reduce the use of paper. Opt for e-books over physical books. (They are much cheaper, too!) If you can’t find textbooks you need online, visit your local library and get a membership to borrow books, or rent books from a local bookshop.