- Grab low hanging fruit. Start with easy things. College is a very stressful time. You have exams, labs, papers, friends, activities, and sports all competing for your time. Take a deep breath, and repeat this: I do not need to be completely zero waste at this time in my journey. Being confined to a dorm room without a kitchen and having an extremely limited budget is tough as it is, and choosing this time to cut out all waste might not be possible for you. Start small- say no to freebies handed out on campus, straws, and bring a reusable bag.
- Shop smarter. This is the time of your life where you start owning your own cooking utensils, appliances, and furniture. When shopping for your dorm, remember that you’re only in this space for a few years. Choose sturdier, more durable materials: grab glass, metal, and wood when choosing items. You’ll also by default give your room an instant sophisticated look.. When in doubt, think to yourself, is this something I would want in my apartment or house when I’m 30? Choose a neutral color palette where you can alternate an accent color: you probably won’t want to have bright pink furry pillows in your home when you’re older. Shop second hand, and see what decorations, furniture, and supplies older siblings or relatives have. Instead of a plastic salt and pepper shaker, choose a glass one you can picture on your table for years to come. Choose wooden or metal storage solutions that will last longer and be more appealing than the plastic versions.
- Plastic-free shower caddy. Simplify your grooming routine. Invest in a metal safety razor- your wallet will thank you when you purchase cheap metal razor blades instead of expensive Venus cartridges. Switch to a shampoo bar and conditioner bar, and use bar soap for body wash and shaving cream. When I first went zero waste, my shower caddy became 10x lighter. Use a bamboo toothbrush, and use baking soda to brush your teeth. Find refillable makeup or makeup that comes in bamboo, glass, or aluminum.
- BYOC. Bring your own cup! Plastic water bottles and coffee cups are incredibly wasteful. Note that red solo cups are plastic #6, which are not recyclable. Bring your own cup wherever you go, and use a reusable mug and water bottle.
- Compost. Food waste does not break down in landfill. If your city or college composts, save compostable materials in a bin in a paper bag or compostable bag and bring it to the compost bin at the end of the week. You can freeze compost in a bowl or container.
- De-trash your dining. Remember your health comes first. I probably went too long not eating because I had difficulty finding package free food on campus that wasn’t my gross dining hall. But remember, wasting the money you spent on your meal plan is still a waste. Buy a french press instead of a Keurig. It’s wildly less expensive, and less wasteful. Stuff caf cookies into a mason jar, and choose food in steel, aluminum, or glass instead of plastic packaging. Find a grocery store near you that sells bulk snacks, or buy produce, bread, and pastries package free. Ask for your bagel or sandwich without any wrapping and for then to hand it to you directly. Bring your own container and utensils wherever you go- keep them in your backpack!
- Get involved on campus. Zero waste is not just about metal straws and mason jars. In order to see real change on a macro level, you have to take action. Surprisingly, I’m not an environmental science or studies major. I’m a neuroscience major. You don’t have to major in sustainability to make a difference. Talk with your school’s sustainability department, dining department, or environmental studies programs to start Terracycle programs and composting programs. Educate others on how to properly recycle in your new place: it’s different everywhere and you’ll be surprised how many students try to recycle food. I once dug a whole lemon out of the bin. Don’t be afraid to talk and write to upper level faculty with sustainability suggestions: it’s their job to serve you, the student. Use your voice for good, and join or start clubs to advocate for the environment.
How do you stay sustainable in tight living quarters? Comment down below!