Being conscious of your waste is completely possible whilst you’re in school y’all, and I am living proof! Here are a few of the things that I try very hard to do whenever the opportunity presents itself, and are things you can implement into your lifestyle as well.
Get some at a thrift store for $1-2 or reuse some old sauce/peanut butter/salsa jars and let them change your life. Take them with you when you bulk grocery shop, pack food to go in them, use them for water and smoothies and coffee (the handled ones with a cuppow lid do wonderfully for this!). Seriously, go find/buy some jars. Wash them. Use them. Again and again and again.
I bring my mason jar (outfitted for coffee), water bottle, cloth bags, and utensil kit with me everywhere. During the week I carry them in my backpack and if I go out exploring off campus I make sure to transfer it to whatever bag I am using. I accumulated my set by the way of gifts and thrifty finds, but if you want a brand new everything this is a good place to start.
Find your nearest thrift store and always check it first before buying something brand new. For me, this is a Goodwill that is about a mile up the road. It is where I bought pots and pans, some room furnishings, mason jars, and where I went when I splurged on a new dress for the holidays. Speaking of clothes (also outdoor gear, if you’re outdoorsy by nature like me), buy second hand! If you can’t get yourself to do that, then do some research into the clothes/gear you buy and make sure they are ethical and sustainable brands.
College Dining Halls
One good thing (look at me, finding a silver lining and all) about dining halls is that the food is sold to you without packaging (I try not to think about all of the plastic waste that results from the kitchens) for the main courses. I try really hard to not buy any of the ‘grab-n-go’ items that are packaged in plastic. Sometimes I will grab a drink in a glass bottle or a Clif bar (see below) and I’ve yet to rid my usage of paper napkins.
So as much as I hate to admit this, books do have quite an eco impact and they can add to the general clutter of your living space (although, do they really count as clutter if you love them like children?). This semester, I have been using the local library to borrow books--for leisure and school. It has saved me tons of money on school books and for my leisure books it allows me to know if I like a book enough to purchase it to have and to hold. Plus, the fleeting time you have with a book makes you appreciate all the more with the time you have. Ignore that sentence, I am just rambling and don’t even really know what is going on.
One of the reasons that I call my lifestyle low waste and not zero waste is because Clif bars are my weakness. They are DELICIOUS and VEGAN and CONVENIENT and just overall add to Things That Are Good In LifeTM. It is actually a bit ridiculous how many clif bars I consume now that I am reflecting upon this... ANYHOW, the point IS is that you can actually recycle the wrappers over at Terracycle, as well as a myriad of other packaging that no one really knows what to do with, besides contributing it to the massive piles of garbage from this consumerism-driven-society-that-ruins-every-green-place-in-this-world.
I am lucky to live in a place that has city-wide composting (go you, Portland!), but if you don’t have this privilege, then make your own compost bins and smile because you are making a difference for this wonderful planet!
Bulk Grocery Shopping
Bring your containers/bags/jars and get to your nearest store with a bulk section. Even more and more ‘regular’ grocery stores are starting to have bulk sections. Bonus: going into a grocery store and refusing to buy anything with packaging forces you to be healthy. Although, I’ve still managed to find bulk chocolate chips…and we all know how that goes.
As I am a first-year student, I live in a dorm. Among many other things (kitchen cleanliness anyone?) the paper towel waste in the bathroom is something that really bothers me. My environmental club, Greenboard, is trying to get campus-wide paper towel composting and/or switch to real towels, but in the meantime I either use my clothes as a towel or make sure I take the paper towels I use to the compost bin nearby in the kitchen. Portland allows for paper towels to be composted, but definitely check with whatever system you are using to be sure that this is okay. Or just use a regular towel--bonus points: this might help with making your dorm seem less like a prison and more like a home as well.
That’s all I have for now folks. Sometimes it’s hard to live a low waste life and you have to make some compromises, but let’s just remember that by implementing earth-friendly habits we do make a difference, no matter how small it may outwardly seem! We are keeping plastic out of the oceans and coffee cups out of the landfills and helping the animals and the wild places and I suppose the human race by default. If we stick together, together we can do something big!
Mahalia is a college student living in Portland, OR and enjoys eating vegan food, wandering the wild and petting ALL the animals. She is going to save the oceans.