I started down the zero waste path in February 2017, long after I completed my studies in undergrad and graduate school. Throughout this journey, I have been contacted by lots of college students with questions about low waste or zero waste living while being a student. I understand the challenge of being a monetarily-challenged college student with limited resources, but also wanting to live as eco-friendly as possible. Where is the balance?

I am lucky enough to have a community on Instagram that ranges in age, education, geography, etc. I asked this community about their best zero waste tips and tricks for college-age kids. Here are the best answers (and there are many!)

  1. Pack your own lunch and snacks. This will save you money while also helping you avoid packaged food in the cafeteria or vending machines. 
  2. Reuse boxes for move-in day and swap the bubble wrap for paper.  
  3. Pack your own coffee mug.  Lots of student cafes and coffee shops offer a discount for people who bring their own reusable mug – a definite win for your wallet.
  4. Don’t have a large bag to pack numerous reusables? Bring a glass jar to serve as a coffee mug, water glass, or to-go container.
  5. Go paperless and use a laptop to take notes. If you prefer paper, chose recycled paper and use both sides.
  6. Download your books as E-texts instead of purchasing a printed book. These are often cheaper as well.
  7. Choose zero waste snack options in the school cafeteria, like carrots, apples, bananas, cucumbers, etc.
  8. Shop for school supplies at thrift stores. Binders, pens, notepads, etc. can often be found heavily discounted secondhand.
  9. Pack your own reusables, such as a water bottle, cloth napkin, silverware, plate, and to-go container. That way if you need to grab anything on the go, you can use your zero waste tools to stay waste-free. Check out your local thrift store for secondhand reusables to keep you on budget. 
  10. If your school doesn’t compost on-site, store your organic waste  in a freezer and bring it to a local compost drop-off spot, such as a local co-ops or coffee shop.
  11. Encourage your school dinning hall to offer reusable plates/cups/mugs and cutlery.
  12. Ask your school facilities to develop a long term sustainability plan that includes a commitment to being a zero waste school.
  13. Furnish your room/apartment/house with minimal decor and secondhand items. Most college students move frequently and don’t have a great outlet to swap perfectly good items, so be choosy in the first place to avoid waste. 
  14. Use a DIY cleaner that is good for you and the environment to clean your space. 

Looking for more resources? I highly recommend checking out the Post Landfill Action Network, a fantastic resource just for students. And one of my favorite YouTubers, the Girl Gone Green, has a video about going zero waste in your dorm.

I hope these tips help you live more sustainably. Please share with others to spread the word about zero waste living.

Amber H., Tare Market Founder

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