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Sustainable College Living

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

Being a college student is hard. Being sustainable is hard. Being a sustainable college student is terrifying. How can college students live a green life without breaking the bank??? The impact you desire to leave will affect the level of difficulty and investment needed to start your sustainable journey. We’ll go over some easy, less intimidating lifestyle changes and end with the scary ones.


This is probably the most simple change you can make in your daily life to live more sustainably, especially if you tend to buy drinks out. There are collapsible straws that come with a cute keychain case, making metal straws fashionable and travel-friendly. Plastic straws cannot be recycled, and in my professional opinion, metal is the superior alternative. Paper and silicone aren’t terrible, but paper cannot be reused. Depending on your daily habits, pick the straw best for you, and then you’ll be all set.


This one is pretty self-explanatory, and if you don’t know how to recycle, that’s pretty sad. Wherever you live during college, I’m sure you can recycle and guess what, it’s free. Read the packaging on how to dispose of it correctly or if you need to take the label off. For example, coffee creamers are recyclable, but you need to peel off the label first! If you eat peanut butter or yogurt, rinse out the containers before recycling them. If there’s food still in a jar, it usually gets sent to the landfill along with any other items in the batch. Plastic bags can be dropped off at most supermarkets now to be recycled, but make sure they’re dry and clean. Lastly, TerraCycle offers a ton of free recycling programs for traditionally unrecyclable products. And when you participate, you earn points that turn into monetary donations. This is a great program to implement in your local school to earn them money and teach kids about recycling! Recycling isn’t a solution, but its a step in the right direction.


Please get a reusable water bottle!!! There are hundreds of options when it comes to reusable bottles and cups. You can find one at every price point to fit your budget, and you can choose whatever material suits your lifestyle best. Brita water bottles are great if you’re concerned about the quality of your water an not necessarily the temperature. Looking for one that keeps drinks hot and cold for 24 hours? Check out hydra peak bottles at Marshall’s; they’re $10, and ice will still be ice a day later. They come with a lifetime guarantee, and stainless steel is bound to last you for years, if not you’re whole life. Want a budget-friendly, modern reusable coffee cup that’s also easy to store? Stojo cups are the way to go.


Rid yourself of single-use plastic and get a reusable shopping bag. Even college students need to grocery shop, meaning go prepared. Not only will you need bags for your groceries, but you’ll also want mesh bags for your produce (or be like me and skip the bag altogether). Although, college life isn’t cleanest, so maybe you want to keep your fruits and veggies from touching the fridge. When it comes to choosing reusable bags, you’ll want to do your research; there are pros and cons for every type of material. Whatever you pick, make sure to use it as often as possible and take good care of it to minimize the environmental impact. I got my friend reusable bags from Amazon, and they fold up into themselves, making them great for dorm life.


You have two options when it comes to avoiding plastic utensils: DIY or buy. You can save some cash and DIY a utensil set for when you’re out. All you need are nonplastic utensils, fabric, elastic, and sewing materials. As a college student, I would suggest taking silverware you already own and sewing it into a kit. Click here to watch a simple tutorial on how to accomplish this. Keep in mind this only one method of making your own, and there are other techniques that you can use to have pockets for each item, closures, and more. Or if you’re short on time, feel free to buy one! Places like Package Free Shop sell kits, and they sell a stainless folding spork - pretty cool and convenient!


So now you might be thinking, “uhhhh what? Is she going to tell me to stop washing my clothes?” Well, the answer is kind of. TBH you do not need to wash jeans, shirts, bras, or sweaters after every use. Everything is relative to your lifestyle and activity level. But, for example, if you only go to class or work, chances are you didn’t sweat, and you do not need to wash your clothes. If you’re concerned about the smell, for real sniff your clothes to decide. Along with cleaning your clothes less, considering drying them for less time or air-drying them. If you have the funds, you can invest in a rack meant for drying clothes. This may seem like a significant (or odd) change to make, but I feel it’s worth it.


First, evaluate your morning, night, and shower routines by how much water you use, what comes in plastic, and what products do you not need? Daily habits are the hardest to change, and it’s perfectly fine to adjust your hygiene habits gradually. Start by using less water. Cut down your shower time and turn off the sink when you don’t need the water. After you’ve mastered that, start using less conventional products. This can be intimidating because you have no idea how the new products will compare to what you’re using now. First, finish what you have, and use that time to research and reflect on what you’re willing to change. Remember, some action is better than none! Sustainable swaps include: refilling products, using bars, or bamboo brushes, and if you don’t like a product, don’t give up, try a different brand next time. A well-known and quality brand is Meow Meow Tweet, they’re sustainable and have unique, appealing packaging! Lastly, what products can you go without, especially for the ladies, a twelve-step skincare routine IS NOT necessary or better for your skin. One of the best ways to live more sustainably is to simply eliminate, not to mention the extra benefit of saving money. While doing this, remember going green is a process and only get what you can afford! Sustainable products can be expensive, and as a college student, it can be challenging to afford. Do what you can and be proud of the difference you’re making.


One of the best ways to live a more sustainable life is to audit your waste; this is also one of the more difficult ways to live sustainably. Once you determine what your trash consists of, this will give you a better idea of the crucial things you need to change and probably some of the harder things to change. For example, if you have a lot of food waste, start composting! Composting is a great way to prevent items from going into landfills. Google your location and see if your town offers any composting services. Make sure you check with your school, Rutgers has a composting club that offers drop-offs once a week or you can drop off yourself. Consider starting a composting club; not only will this benefit the planet, but it will also stand out on your resume. If this doesn’t sound great, check out your local Starbucks (yes, I have seen some with composting) or food market to see if they have a collection. I worked at Shoprite for years, and we composted our product, so they might be willing to accept shoppers compost too. If you notice a lot of clothing tags or packaging, think about what you can stop buying on a routine basis. If a lot of it is plastic food packaging, check out non-packaged options or other materials. I find that a lot of unhealthy foods tend to be in plastic, meaning if you stop buying them, you’ll end up eating healthier. A lot of takeout containers signal you should start cooking your meals at home (oh and recycle those in most cases). It’s hard for me to predict what your trash will look like, but these are examples from my own experiences and things I’m continually trying to avoid.


Changing your commuting method is scary, especially if you have to be at work or class at a particular time. Being a young college student, I don’t expect you to be taking strangers to work, but it’s worth mentioning that Waze offers a carpool option. Luckily, there are a plethora of ways to make your commute more sustainable: public transportation, biking, walking, take a friend or have someone take you. Adjust your commute to whatever your most comfortable with and try to do it as often as possible!


Thrift shopping is excellent and accessible, ceasing to purchase new items is the problematic part. Trust me, when I first started working, I was regularly buying new clothes online, and I loved it. Thankfully, I had a revelation and stopped doing this. I instantly started saving money and stopped contributing to the tons of textiles thrown out every year. Thrift shopping is cheaper and sustainable, not mention it’s trendy. If you have the time, you could make a profit reselling DIYed clothes on Instagram or another platform. I love thrift shopping because you can find unique pieces that no one else has. There’s no excuse to be a basic bitch now.


Lastly and most importantly, if you desire to save the planet - change your diet! Eating animal products is one of (if not the worst) the most significant contributors to global warming. I won’t go into detail here, but seriously do your research to see how your dietary habits affect our planet. Hopefully, the facts will compel you enough to change. Start slow, begin by starting meatless Mondays or only cutting out one animal product. Even going vegan for a day makes a measurable impact. I know diet is the most challenging thing to change as a college student, but it is the best thing to do for the Earth.

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