20 Tips for Living Sustainably at College

20 Tips for Living Sustainably at College

Watch out college - the next cohort of Generation Z are on their way! These young adults are passionate about the environment and consciously make meaningful decisions about sustainably living. 

After all, it's their future they're saving. 


Image of several gen z young adults


Moving away to college or university is a really exiting right of passage and a first taste of independent living. Aspiring to live sustainably can be more complicated than you'd imagine - particularly when you're living on campus in laughably small quarters with tight budgets.

Luckily, many sustainable living guidelines also offer significant budget saving advantages as well. 

Here's a list of ideas on how to keep both your your environmental footprint and your bank account sustainable:

Image of Gen Z student

Dorm Decorations

College student in her dorm
  • Beg or borrow from family and community - You never know what you can get by simply asking. Chances are you know someone who has what you're looking for who would be pleased to give it to you. 
    • Pro tip: See if your community has a "Buy Nothing" group where you can ask for what you need, as well as offer items in return. 
  • Second hand - Buying used will always be a win for the environment and your bank account. Google "upcycling" for inspiration and customize second hand decor to match your personal style. 
Image of a red chair on the side of the road
  • Curb shopping - Keep an eye out for items left curbside. Many people leave unwanted items out front in order to give them away and hopefully save them from the landfill.
    • Pro Tip - there are a wealth of neighbourhood facebook groups dedicated to highlighting curb finds.

Houseplants by a window

Eating and Food Waste

Image of Eco Shark's collapsible cup
  • Reusable coffee mugs - If you haven't already been introduced to it, expect to make friends with coffee in college. Disposable coffee cups are one of the most discarded pieces of trash and are difficult and expensive to recycle...meaning they're just garbage. This collapsable coffee cup fits neatly into your backpack for spur of the moment coffee emergencies.
    • Pro Tip: Ask the barista if they have discounts for bringing travel mugs. Most coffee shops do!

    • Reusable water bottle - Another environmental catastrophe! Single use water bottles are a habit that the whole world needs to stop, and that starts with using a reusable water bottle. As a very common piece of swag, if you don't already have one, we guarantee you can get one from your local thrift store or from a friend who has too many. 

    • BYO Cutlery - With so many cities banning single use plastics, plastic cutlery is already on the way way out the door. If your community hasn't jumped on the bandwagon yet, be a trend setter and bring your own set when you go out. Keep them wrapped in your backpack for on the go.

    • BYO to go containers for leftovers - For times that you can't finish your meal (or want to save some for an easy snack later) bring along lightweight food storage when you go out. These silicone food bags are discrete and perfect for leak-free leftovers.

      College students in their dorm kitchen
      • Meal prep & Meal Sharing - Cooking for many is better than cooking for one - person and meal! Using meal plans and cooking in batches help reduce food waste (and therefore greenhouse gases), your time, and grocery costs. The internet can help you find sample weekly plans. 


      • Embrace your inner vegetarian - Have you heard of Meatless Monday? Aim to eat vegetarian at least once a week to save the cost of expensive meat as well as the greenhouse gases created by raising livestock. It'll help offset all those pub nights as well.

      • College students in cafeteria
        Cafeteria waste - Did you know that simply removing food trays reduces 32% of food waste? There's something about seeing a huge empty tray that tricks people into filling it with more food than they can eat. Buffets are similar - with the added concern of having enough selection for the last person who uses as the first person. 
      Image of a compost bin

      • Compost - Food being thrown in the trash is responsible for up to 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to make sure food is composted so that the nutrients can go back into the earth. If your school or dorm doesn't already have a composting system, start one yourself.



      Keepin' it Clean

      Confused looking college student with lots of cleaning products around her
      • In the laundry room - For when you can't bring your laundry home, always wash your clothes in cold water. Cold wash washes save xx% of energy and actually maintain your clothes longer. Keep a foldable hanging rack under your bed for air drying clothes to save money as well as a ton of energy. Make sure to use concentrated laundry detergent strips to both save storage space as well as to keep harmful chemicals out of the waste water. 

      Image of Eco Shark's Mega Kitchen Bundle
      • In the kitchen: If you look around a typical kitchen, it's full of plastic. It's also kind of ironic that the tools we use to clean are themselves polluting the plant. Try to only use biodegradable dish brushes and kitchen sponges to save microplastics from shedding into waste water, and use compostable cellulose cloths instead of paper towels. Each cloth will save up to 17 rolls of paper towel and can be washed with your laundry. 

        • In the bathroom: Most dorms have shared bathrooms, requiring students to schlep their toiletries back and forth. Keep your load light and eco friendly by using solid shampoo and conditioner bars, and bar soap in a sisal soap bag. Each of these are the equivalent to three bottles worth of their liquid counterparts, and take up a lot less space. For your dental care products makes sure to use a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush and bamboo dental floss so they don't take centuries to breakdown. Toothpaste tablets are also a great upgrade to reduce both space and plastic waste. 
        Image of Eco Shark mason spray bottle lid and concentrated cleaning tablet in All Purpose

        • In the living area: When it's time to clean, use old tshirts for dusting and wiping, washable mops, and/or bagless vacuum cleaners. For all purpose and glass cleaners, reusable a spray bottles with DIY cleaners (or use these amazing concentrated cleaning tabs) instead of purchasing new plastic bottles with chemical based ingredients. 




        School Supplies

        • Borrow/share - First and foremost, you don't need to own everything, especially in dorms. It's likely that someone on your floor has a stapler they'd be happy to lend you for 2 seconds and it helps encourage a neighbourly environment for everyone.
          • Pro Tip: If you're constantly borrowing someone's printer, be a champ and give them a couple dollars for the ink. 
        • Second hand and thrift stores - Swing by your local thrift store and check out their office supply section - you'll probably find most of your stationary requirements. 
        • Reusable and recyclable products - For any items you have to purchase new, make sure they're high quality and will last a long time.  Metal will last longer and therefore be more sustainable than plastic (think rulers, staplers, hole punchers, etc), and any product that can be reused or refilled will be a better choice than disposables (such as pens and printer ink).
        • Recycled or FSC Certified paper - For any paper product, opt for the ones using recycled paper (post consumer is best), and certified by the FSC to make sure the trees being felled are responsibly sourced.
          • Pro Tip: Instead of using fresh paper for note taking or working out equations, keep a pile of used paper instead. Newsletters, flyers, and mail are an excellent source of scrap. 
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