Living Zero Waste in College


I was interested to see how difficult it would be to stay primarily plastic-free in college when I started this past fall. I’ve now been at university for half a year and have a pretty good idea of what is and isn’t possible (in terms of reducing waste) while here. So, here’s the break down.

I don’t think anything is necessarily easier at college, but some things are as easy as living at home. For example, the hygiene products I use are the same as what I’d use at home and are therefore primarily plastic-free. One general upside is that I buy less in general which reduces the amount of waste I produce. I’m also lucky that the college I attend is trying to go zero-waste by 2030 and therefore have many compost and recycling bins around campus.

There are a few things I use more of in college, like paper for classes or tissues when I get sick. Either I use these items because I more or less have to (if the professor asks for a paper version of an essay, for example, I’ll print it) or because it’s inconvenient not to. For example, I use honey in a plastic squeeze container for tea when I’m sick because to use a jar would be too messy in my room. It’s a bit frustrating because I know there are alternatives, but for the sake of time I occasionally opt for plastic options.

Another area I’d say I produce more waste in college is food. I have a pretty unusual living situation where I’m in a large house and a chef cooks ten meals a week for us (Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner). For the provided meals, I personally am very low waste. However, that doesn’t account for the packaging that wrapped the ingredients that the cooks bought. More complicatedly, for the other meals on the weekends or for breakfast, I use the ingredients provided for us. For example, I eat yogurt from a large plastic container or pasta that’s packaged in plastic. I try to avoid very single waste foods like health bars wrapped in plastic or ramen, but I’m still helping to produce plastic waste.

Besides that, I’d say I probably produce more shipping waste. It’s often more convenient to have things shipped to campus so I don’t have to spend the time driving to a store, and this often results in a lot of plastic waste. When possible, I try to purchase from stores who ship in recyclable materials or physically go to a store.

Overall, I try to be as low-waste as possible and at the end of the day, trying my best is the most important thing. That being said, I will continue to try to lower my impact!