Here’s How You Can Go Zero Waste In College


So, you’re looking to go zero waste in college? First of all – well done! Not many people become environmentally conscious until much later in their lives. Second of all – it’s easier than you think!

“Really?” I can hear you asking. The short answer is yes, the long answer is that the zero in zero waste isn’t as fixed as you might think. You see, it’s impossible to live a completely waste-free life.


Yes, you’ve probably heard the stories of experienced waste-haters only producing a single mason jar of waste in 5 years but let’s just focus on baby steps for now. You can become a professional ‘zero waster’ later.

eco aware

It’s especially hard to achieve zero waste in college with long and unpredictable days. One minute you’re biting into an apple in class and the next minute you’re in a friend’s dorm room eating from a bag of chips. It happens! That’s college.

But even just making an effort to be more eco-friendly goes a long way. Similarly, your friends will be curious about your zero waste lifestyle and might pick up on a habit or two. There’s no better place to spread opinions and choices than on the college scene after all.

You can become zero waste at any stage on your college life – but we’ll start here from, well … the start!

But first! If you want to gain a good base knowledge on how to be zero waste in general – a comprehensive guide might help.

So, let’s begin our journey.

Moving in

Ahhh, the first day. We all remember it. Whether it included crying parents, meeting your new bestie roommate, or realizing you forgot your favorite jumper – you can be sure of one thing – it was full of boxes.

And it’s very likely that they were cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes that were ripped open, emptied out, and never used again. We probably didn’t give much a thought to it, but you can.

A good alternative to cardboard boxes is reusable plastic containers. And yes, I know, plastic is the enemy but not this time! Especially not when it’s made from reusable material and sturdy. Better yet, almost all plastic containers are composed 100% from thermoplastics  – a type of plastic that can be melted down and repurposed. And that’s exactly what we want!


So, have a look around the house for any old containers that could be useful to you along the way and if you must, buy new ones – it’s worth it and completely sustainable if you’ll use them throughout your time in college (or after!)

Now that’s sorted, and you’ve got all of your stuff unpacked – it’s time to take a proper look at your dorm room! Most dorm rooms are fine but some leave much to be desired. Maybe you’ve noticed a few cracks in the furniture, perhaps there isn’t even enough furniture I in the first place!

Either way, you’re going to have to do something about it if you’ll be living and learning here.

Consider buying second-hand dorm furniture or taking things from home before buying new. Even consider doing some repairs yourself if you must! And the real cherry on top is getting to do or make all of your own decorations!

However, don’t feel bad for buying a set of fairy lights or a candle or two. Of course, there’s always a more organic and natural version of almost everything so be sure to keep an eye out for waste-free alternatives.

Plus, you’re in luck. The minimalist looks is in style right now and it has more in common with zero waste than you might think! So, why not create your dream minimalist-zero waste room!?


Food is a tricky subject for almost every student. The “freshman 15” exists solely due to how hard it is to regulate food intake when starting off in college. Suddenly you’re thrown into the mix with a bunch of other people your age and there seems to be junk food everywhere! Nevermind that there doesn’t seem to be time to plan a proper meal anymore.

At that’s what you need to change. By planning out your meals and buying just enough ingredients, you can not only cut down on waste but also on waist size! Not to mention that you’ll save a buck or two which is essential for students. So, zero waste meals are clearly the way!

Zero Waste In College


Look up some college meal prep ideas online. Meal preparation is popular among many communities who either need to watch their weight, finances, and time – so there’s a shortage of yummy recipes to pick from!

But this still includes a lot of packaging right? Right, and here’s how to minimize that also:

Reusable containers

The good old lunch box. If it worked in school, why wouldn’t it work in college? After prepping your meals, you can easily just divide them up into reusable containers to take with you on the go. Most campuses will have microwaves or other cooking facilities so that you can have it just as you like it!

Even better is that if you were pushed for time the night before or got out of bed late (a common occurrence in college) you can bring your container with you and have takeaway food prepared in it. Don’t worry, most chefs, cooks, or cafeteria workers won’t think twice before filling it up for you. And just think about all the paper plates, takeaway bags, and single-use utensils that you’ll save from going into the landfill!

Plastic bottles

Zero Waste In College

However, since you’re eating, you’re going to need something to wash it down, right? Of course! And with so many sodas and water bottles on sale in campus shops, it can be tempting to just snap one up. But you’ll have to think twice.

It’s all plastic! And we’re much more likely just to throw the empty bottles in the bin once we’re done. Also, did you know that on average a single person can use anywhere from 300 to 1,486 plastic bottles a year?

That’s insane!

So, pick up a nice reusable water container that is sturdy enough to last you a few years.

Even a simple plastic bottle will do if you just never throw it out. There are water fountains all over every campus – make use of them!

“But what about tea and coffee?” you might be asking.

Zero Waste In College

Of course, coffee, you can’t forget coffee. It’s the life-source of most students!

Fortunately, there are eco-friendly ways to enjoy hot, soothing drinks without any of the waste and it’s easy as pie to boot.

All you have to do is carry a reusable and sealable coffee cup alongside your reusable water bottle. Imagine! Not only will you be able to bring coffee from home, but you’ll also probably even get a discount if you ask the barista to make it in your sustainable cup! It’s like making a well-deserved profit off saving the world – amazing.


Zero Waste In College

Now here’s for the biggest mystery of them all. Most campuses have communal gardens where they compost waste. Where are these green havens?! No one really knows – apart from the campus gardeners of course.

So, you’re going to have to do a little bit of research to find your college’s secret garden, maybe even ask around a bit. Your best bet would be a green society or compost program.

Speaking of societies and groups – it’s likely that your college won’t yet have any student-led organization concerning the environment. And that’s not great, considering that there’s a wave of concern for the environment spreading across the world.

So, why not throw your hat in the ring and get one started? Usually, all you need is 10 signatures and members before you can start negotiating a budget with the college. Just think of all the things you could change, the awareness you could raise, and the benefits you could reap for the world – and all from your college.

But to get back to composting – once you’ve found it, you can throw all of your college compostables into it (if you have access.) And that’s not possible, you can carry around a composting jar where you can put all of your organic waste until you can dispose of it.

And if you’re worried about anyone seeing your mini portable compost bin, you can decorate the outsides of it using left-over wrapping paper, fabrics, or anything you can think of really!


Snacking is a must in college – even if you bring your prep meals with you. Sometimes those nibbles just kick in after a particularly long lecture or a whole lab spent on your feet. It happens and you should be ready for it!

Fortunately for you, most zero-waste college snacks also tend to be quite nutritious. Pick up a piece of fruit from the canteen/shop or ask for some ready-made deli food to simply be delivered into your hands without any wrapping needed.

Sustainable school supplies

We all get excited about college shopping. There’s so much to choose from and we always have high hopes for it all! The truth is, however, that you’re going to see and just about a million pens, pencils, folders, and pencil cases before you leave college – and that’s not ideal.

Even rubbers, rulers, and calculators can come and go – most ending up lost or in the bin. And the biggest culprit by far is copybooks. Who among us has left half of one copybook empty before starting a new one? All of us?! I thought so.

Zero Waste In College

It’s just so tempting to make a fresh start but we need to get out of that mindset. The more copies we buy, the larger the landfill grows.

Fortunately, many zero waste shops and eco-friendly businesses have our backs. They’re making zero waste college shopping possible.

And not to be forgotten – the classic backpack. Despite what you think, your backpack is going to be your most reliable friend throughout college. You depend on it every day to carry whatever you need around – and it goes absolutely everywhere with you.

Zero Waste In College

So, it’s best to use one you can trust to hold up under pressure. This could simply be a backpack you have lying around the house (recommended) or a borrowed backpack. But you could always treat yourself to a new sustainable college backpack!

Keeping clean

It may be at the back of your mind right now or perhaps you’re crazy about cleanliness – either way – it has to be done.

Instead of buying cleaning or disinfectant wipes to wipe away any grime or spills in your dorm room, why not buy a set of high-quality clothes or take some from home? Even a rag or old piece of clothing could do.

Zero Waste In College

You see, most cleaning wipes are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning that they’re sure to end up in a landfill or worse yet – piled up in your drain (never flush wipes!)

So, why not buy an organic low-waste cleaning agent and spray it on your cloth whenever anything’s in need of a good scrub? Or stock up on biodegradable cleaning wipes? Whatever works for you.


And of course, you’re going to need to scrub up as well from time to time! Truly, what’s better after a long day of studying and rushing around campus that a soothing bubble bath or steaming hot shower?

Nothing? I’d have to agree.

You don’t have to give up those little pleasures in life for the sake of being eco-friendly, nor do you have to skip on being squeaky clean and pampered. You can have it all!

All you have to do is look into non-toxic and zero waste cosmetics. They’re out there, readily-available, and just as good as their synthetic alternatives!

Cloths/napkins & hankies

 College is a time for partying and having fun! Right? There’s plenty of fun to be had and you’re going to have it!

But wait! What’s that? There’s another purpose of college?

Oh yes, learning. And I suppose that involves hitting the book and attending lectures – even in the winter months.

Sigh …

 Sitting in lectures during flu season/winter means that you could easily catch a case of the sniffles. Your nose may run but you still need to go to your lectures! You could buy a bunch of tissues but this gets messy and they’ll all end up festering in a landfill somewhere.

Your other option is a good old-fashioned hankie. Don’t worry, you won’t look out-of-place or strange. In fact, you’ll probably be known as the guy or gal who has their life together!


I mean, who carries around a hankie? Who’s that prepared and ready for any sneeze that might sneak up on them at any time?

Only the wisest people of course!

There are plenty of cute designer eco-friendly hankies with a modern edge on the market. Most of these hankies are washing machine proof meaning that you can throw them into your washing machine at the end of a hard day alongside your laundry, and they should be ready to use again the next morning.


 As anyone who’s ever gone to college knows, it’s a haven for t-shirts, jumpers, and any other sorority/fraternity or college gear possible. Seriously, there’s not a single campus in the US that isn’t crowded with people wearing college branded clothing. It’s often the first tell-tale that you’ve entered college grounds – lots and lots of college crests and club-centred clothing.

And if you’re in college, you know why.

There’s simply what seems to be a never-ending supply of the stuff! It’s just so tempting. So “collegey” and cool. Not too expensive and usually fits well. What more could you want?!

Well … less.

 There’s a new shirt out almost every other week, if you buy it, you’ll wear it a few times before throwing it out or moving on to the next shirt.

So, why not cut it down to buying one shirt every two months? Not only will you save money but it’ll also cut your potential waste production drastically. And don’t worry, you won’t look any less cool or “college studenty.” You’ll fit right in with just one college shirt!


 Now that we’ve covered the college t-shirt conundrum, it’s time to move onto your day-to-day college wear. Money’s usually tight during college so you might have given up on wearing the latest fashion or weekly shopping trips.

This is good because it limits waste and over-consumption but as college wears on, so too, might your clothes experience wear & tear.

You’re either going to have to become a skilled clothes repairer or think about buying some new clothes. If you’re part of the latter group, second-hand, charity, and thrift stores can be a life-saver.


What’s not to like about them?

They offer quality checked clothes for an incredibly low price and usually, some of their profits are donated to good causes. Not to mention that they support the reusing and repurposing of clothing which keeps perfectly good items from ending up in the landfill.

Do, why buy new when you could get just as good from a second-hand shop? Take a peek in your local charity shops today, you’re guaranteed to find something you like.

And most importantly … free stuff!

Walking into college for the first time, you’re going to be bombarded with gimmicky free items. From keychains to hygiene packs, even all the way to umbrellas – whatever you can think of, they’re probably handing out for free.

And of course, it’s easy to get carried away and stockpile on all of these juicy, free treasures, you’re a student after all and students love free stuff (same as everyone!) So, don’t feel bad if you pick up a thing or two, just make sure you recycle them in the future! Please try not to pick up anything you don’t need.

And that’s where we finish for now. Of course, you’re going to find a zero waste method that suits you, but I hope this article has offered you valuable insights into how to mix college life with eco-friendliness. College is a time of learning, fun, and experimenting with new ideas which is why I believe there is no better time than your university years to kickstart a new zero waste lifestyle. So, why not give it a shot? You’ll be doing yourself and the earth a favor.

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