How to Be Zero Waste in College

September 27, 2021 4 min read

How to Be Zero Waste in College

Being zero waste in college should be easy, right? After all, many colleges and universities have recently stepped up their sustainability game with programs that aim to reduce their environmental footprint. But between ongoing events, all-you-can-eat meal plans and the mountain of trash that accompanies move-out day, keeping your personal waste to a minimum is often easier said than done. 

To help you live a greener lifestyle, we’re dishing out our best tips on how to be zero waste in college. Whether it’s picking up thrifted goods at second-hand stores, buying in bulk or stocking your shower caddy with plastic-free shampoo bars, there are tons of little steps you can take to adopt a zero waste lifestyle. Let’s get started!

Shop Our Plastic-Free Shampoo Bars

1. Opt for Reusables

If you want to ease yourself into a zero waste lifestyle, start by replacing single-use items with reusable alternatives. Making simple changes — like ditching disposable cotton balls for reusable cotton rounds — can significantly reduce your waste while helping you save money in the long-term. 
Here are a few more reusable products to help you cut back on waste in college:

  • Carry a reusable water bottle with you to class.
  • Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
  • Make your own coffee in a travel mug.
  • Pack your leftovers in collapsible silicone food containers.


2. Pack for College Thoughtfully

One of the guiding principles behind zero waste living is to consume less. As a college student, keep in mind that your living space will be temporary. Buying less stuff for college will not only save you money, but it will also make move-out day less stressful! Before you make a Target run, take stock of what you already have and consider asking your dormmates what they're bringing so you don't buy duplicates.

3. Raise the ‘Bar’ on Your Shower Caddy 

A portable shower caddy is a must-have for any dorm-dwelling college student — but who says it needs to be stocked with plastic bottles? To cut down on plastic waste, swap out liquid products for solid beauty bars.
For example:

  • Replace bottled shampoo with a shampoo bar.
  • Replace bottled conditioner with a conditioner bar.
  • Replace body wash with solid soap bars.
  • Solid beauty bars are kinder to your body, wallet and the planet, making them a no-brainer for budget-conscious college students. Tip: If you want to stretch your dollar even further, use our soap saver bag to extend the lifespan of your bars.
Shop Our Plastic-Free Conditioner Bars

stack of conditioner bars

4. Shop Second-Hand

Every fashion-savvy student knows that thrift shopping is a great way to score vintage threads at low prices. But why stop at just clothing? Second-hand stores are a goldmine of gently-used furniture, dishware, dorm decor and other must-have essentials for college living. And don’t forget about textbooks! Textbooks are outrageously expensive, so consider looking into options like Chegg or Abebooks. You can also find used college textbooks by joining buy/sell/trade groups on your college’s Facebook page.

5. Say No to Unnecessary Promotional Items 

As a broke college student, the allure of free swag at university fairs can be irresistible. But more often than not, these promotional items are poorly disguised pieces of junk that will probably end up in the trash. Think about it do you really need another keychain or drink koozie? Rather than mindlessly accepting free swag from people, get in the habit of saying, “No, thank you.” If you end up changing your mind, you can always circle back to the booth!

6. Shop the Bulk Aisle at Grocery Stores

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging make up nearly 30 percent of the trash we dispose of annually. One way to reduce your packaging waste is by shopping the bulk aisle at your local grocery store. Simply get out your container (simple cotton produce bagswork great for pasta, grains and nuts), fill it with the desired food and jot down the bin number in your phone. Remember to take note of the tare weight somewhere so you’re only paying for the price of your food.

7. Find Your Community 

Figuring out how to be zero waste in college is so much easier when you can connect with other students who share your interests and goals. Start building your community by getting involved in student clubs and organizations that focus on sustainability. If you don’t find a club or organization that supports your goal of being zero waste, consider starting your own. Creating a zero waste club is an amazing way to bring like-minded people together and do your part to help the planet!

8. Eliminating Waste on Campus and Beyond 

In reality, there is no such thing as going perfectly “zero waste,” but we can all make a difference by reducing our personal waste where we can and demanding low-waste products from businesses. And following a zero waste/low waste lifestyle while in college doesn’t need to be a daunting task! With the right products, a little know-how and a strong support system, you can make your college years less wasteful and a lot more fun. 

If you’re looking for practical products to help you go zero waste in college, The Earthling Co. is here to help! Check out our entire collection of zero waste products that can help you save green while going green.

 100 percent plastic free packaging

Daily Body Lotion
Add free gift