20 Ways to Reduce Waste on Campus

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Table of Contents for 20 Ways to Reduce Waste on Campus

  1. Bring Your Reusables
  2. Thrift, baby
  3. Keep a set of real dishes on hand
  4. Hit up a bulk store
  5. Hit up a farmers market
  6. Start a zero waste club
  7. Revisit your shower caddy
  8. Clean without the toxins
  9. Start a compost heap + community garden
  10. Say NO to freebies
  11. Have a zero waste period
  12. Green your makeup routine
  13. Create a food pantry
  14. Sign your college up for a food recovery network
  15. Start a recycling program
  16. Clean up your toiletries
  17. Plastic-free toilet paper
  18. Host a cleanup
  19. Repair and mend items that break – and teach your friends
  20. Donate whatever you can’t use

Headed to college? There’s a lot of waste that happens on campus – regardless if you’re dorming or commuting.

When I was in college, I remember seeing so much food waste and packaging waste – many students would eat a lot of packaged snacks and ramen to get by.

Not to mention all the plastic utensils and cups they’d go through at the cafes. See a similar thing occurring at your school? Here’s how to reduce waste on campus, and get others involved while you’re at it.

1. Bring your reusables

Does your campus have a café or a grab-and-go takeout option?

Come prepared with your handy reusables. Creating a little kit for yourself is super handy too – stash it with your reusable water bottle, reusable utensils, cloth napkins, travel mug, and reusable bag.

Those items should help you cut back on waste no matter where you find yourself wandering on campus. If it helps you remember, always keep these items in your backpack so you won’t forget – just be sure to wash them after use.

2. Thrift, baby

You can find so many affordable furniture and clothing options while thrift shopping. This is super helpful when you’re just moving into your new dorm, or are on a budget.

Thrifting keeps items out of the landfill and gives them a second life. If you’re looking for a desk, table light and computer chair for your dorm, definitely hit up the thrift store for some budget-friendly finds.

If you’re on the hunt for some stylish clothing pieces for your next semester, you can find some unique (sometimes designer) stuff at thrift shops and vintage stores. Some things you should always buy new (and not thrifted) though, like underwear, bathing suits, shoes, mattresses and bed sheets. Just an FYI!

3. Keep a set of real dishes on hand

In case you want to eat in your dorm, even if it’s just a snack, having some real plates and mugs handy will help cut down on waste.

Did you know most paper plates and coffee mugs are coated with plastic to make them waterproof? This makes them unrecyclable.

Uncoated paper plates come wrapped in plastic film and, once soiled, can’t be recycled either – but they can be composted. This is only beneficial if you have access to composting of course. You’re definitely better sticking with real plates and mugs whenever possible.

4. Hit up a bulk store

Research the area you’re dorming in and see what bulk food stores are available near you. Litterless has a great resource that covers nearly every bulk food store in individual states throughout the US.

Definitely check it out to see where you might find one near you. When you find one, bring some mason jars, silicone stasher bags, or produce bags and start filling up on some dry goods you can use for snacks!

My local bulk bins have raisins, peanuts, cashews, popcorn, dried fruit and even some candy – so you’re bound to find a lot of amazing stuff. Some bulk stores even sell stuff aside from food, like package-free liquid detergents, soaps, and lotion. Definitely hit those places up!

5. Visit local farmers markets

Okay so chances are you probably can’t do much cooking in a dorm – but that doesn’t mean you can’t still hit up a farmers market for some fruits to snack on. You can store them in a mini fridge inside your dorm room.

If you have a dorm kitchen you can share, maybe you can get a few veggies you don’t have to cook to eat too (like cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, etc.). Farmers markets tend to sell a lot of package free produce (with no produce stickers) so supporting them is a great idea.

Plus, it’s all locally grown (less carbon emissions, score) and pesticide free (hello regenerative farming).

6. Start a zero waste club

There are lots of clubs and extracurricular activities to be a part of in college – but sometimes, the one you’re looking for isn’t there. So, why not start it yourself? Starting a club looks great for your resume and will help raise awareness on the issue you’re looking to tackle (in this case, waste). Your club could host meetings and geek out over zero waste living.

Together, you can eventually try to do some pretty amazing things around campus – like getting on-site compost, hosting clean ups, getting refill water bottle stations installed, hosting zero waste workshops, getting package-free snacks on campus, etc. There’s so much you can accomplish as a group – just see what it is your campus is lacking + create the solutions!

7. Revisit your shower caddy

Dorm showers aren’t the most appealing, but you can seriously cut back on waste by swapping out your plastic bottles for bars. Shampoo and conditioner bars are essentially concentrated versions of their conventional counterparts, minus the packaging. You can also find some vegan body bar soap – no body wash in plastic bottles needed.

Might as well also ditch the plastic loofahs for real loofahs made from compostable materials. And, last but not least, grab a reusable safety razor over disposable razors – this will save you so much money in the long run and even give you a closer shave.

Goodbye plastic, hello savings.

8. Clean without the toxins

Freshen up your dorm room without the toxins by using simple cleaning solutions, like orange peel vinegar cleaner.

That’s an all-purpose spray you can use on any surface – desks, countertops, windows, whatever. All you need to make it is vinegar (any kind will do), orange peels (save them up from snacking throughout the week) and water. If your roommate hates the smell of vinegar, there are other all-purpose cleaners you can DIY without it – just do a quick google search.

9. Start a compost heap + community garden

Does your campus compost? They really should. Food waste is super uncool – tossing food in the trash creates methane gas, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

That’s because food doesn’t actually break down at a landfill like everyone thinks it will. The conditions at a landfill aren’t designed for decomposition – they’re designed to intomb. Oxygen is needed to compost items, but landfills are often capped, preventing natural decomposition. One of the best things you can do for your campus? Get them to start a compost heap alongside a community garden.

You can enlist the help of your fellow zero waste group and/or environmental science majors. Anyone really! The compost heap can be used to help the community garden you create flourish – and it’s okay if neither are big.

Plant native flowers, fruits, veggies – whatever you like. A 4×4 gardening plot system should work wonders with limited space. Talk to the administration about having a professional help build the garden plots and compost pile. Students will benefit from this by having a nice green space on campus, access to fresh produce, and reduce their own food waste.

10. Say no to freebies

If you attend events around campus, chances are you might be met with a couple of useless freebies like branded pens, business cards, folders, flyers, pamphlets, etc. Most of these items are just marketing tactics and will gather dust somewhere.

Eventually, they’ll just wind up as trash. Instead, get into the habit of saying “no thanks” when offered a freebie. You’ll find your room won’t be as cluttered and you won’t have a bunch of useless stuff you have no idea how to dispose of properly hanging around.

11. Have a zero waste period

If you’re a menstruating human, I cannot recommend investing in a menstrual cup, period underwear or cloth pads enough. It really depends on what you’re personally comfortable with, but these will be huge money savers in the long run.

I love Thinx, Diva Cup and GladRags. If you’re on budget, a menstrual cup might be the best investment for you, as long as you have an area you can properly sanitize your cup in (aka access to a stove, pot and a sink).

To sanitize the cup after your period is over, you’ll need to rinse it thoroughly, then boil it for a few minutes. However, some brands do sell sanitizing cups that can be filled with water, placed in the microwave with the menstrual cup inside, and boiled for 3 to 4 minutes.

You’d have to look into this and see what’s more convenient for you. I personally prefer cloth pads and period underwear, but I could imagine these would be a bit tricky to wash properly in a dorm (you have to rinse it, soak it and then wash it). If all else fails, opt for organic cotton tampons and pads whenever possible (conventional pads + tampons have a lot of questionable ingredients in them).

12. Green your makeup routine

Makeup can be seriously wasteful.

Think about it: The packaging around makeup is usually plastic and excessive.

Then, the actual makeup container itself is usually plastic too. Because makeup tends to be a small item, it’s also incredibly tricky to recycle. It easily gets lost at recycling facilities, and it’s not often made from easy to recycle plastic. Instead, try switching over to some low-budget DIY makeup options like lip and cheek stain, homemade mascara, and DIY foundation.

There are tons of articles and YouTube tutorials worth checking out. If that’s not your thing, you could always try low waste makeup brands like Kjaer Weis, Elate Cosmetics, Vapour Beauty, and Plant Makeup. These brands package their cosmetics with less plastic and use natural, organic ingredients.

13. Create a food pantry

It might be a little unsettling to think the person sitting next to you in class might be suffering from food insecurity, but this is a reality for many college students. Oftentimes, students go hungry not because they want to, but because they have no choice.

They often don’t have enough food to eat, or can’t afford to buy it. A campus food pantry could help these students greatly and provide a variety of non-perishable foods to choose from. It’ll help cut down on waste too because you can accept donations! You’ll want to start off by creating a pantry committee – basically at least five people eager to help.

You can get students, staff and administrators involved. You’ll want to get a decent amount of support from a college office or department, think about a location for the pantry, figure out the necessities, and find some volunteers.

You’ll have to decide how food will be provided and if you should partner with local pantries too. Doing this will help the overall wellbeing of the students and reduce food waste on campus through a donation system.

14. Sign your college up for Food Recovery Network

So much food goes to waste in America alone, and that includes on campus. If your school doesn’t already have a chapter, you should consider signing them up for a new chapter with Food Recovery Network.

This nonprofit fights waste and feeds people by recovering perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from their campus’ dining halls and donating it to those in need. Once you have it setup at your school, you can even help volunteer efforts by physically collecting the food for donation.

15. Start a recycling program

Does your college recycle properly? Look into it, and if they don’t, see if you can get proper recycling bins setup at your college to cut back on waste. You might want to do a trash audit for the campus as a whole to see where the waste is even coming from.

Then, you can present this information to administration and take it from there. Maybe even get a petition going or contact your college newspaper about it to drum up support.

16. Cleanup your toiletries

Your toiletries are pro-plastic. Breakup with conventional deodorant, toothpaste and mouthwash: Make your own instead! It’ll save you so much money, plus help you avoid plastic + questionable ingredients.

You can make your own toothpaste simply from coconut oil, baking soda and peppermint essential oil (don’t forget to pair with a bamboo toothbrush). For mouthwash, just use water, a pinch of baking soda, and peppermint essential oil.

Here’s my favorite deodorant recipe (perfect for sensitive skin because it has no baking soda in it). You can reuse empty jars you have lying around to store them in.

17. Plastic-free toilet paper

Do you buy your own toilet paper while dorming? Go tree-free! Every day, 27,000 trees are flushed down the toilet just so we can wipe our privates. Yikes. I recommend opting for toilet paper made from bamboo or sugar cane. Better yet, finding brands that ship plastic-free.

18. Host a cleanup

Spy some litter on campus? Gather your college buddies and host a cleanup! If you started a zero waste club, congrats, you can involve them too. Ask administration about getting your club some trash picker uppers and garbage bags.

Also ask if you can have the department of sanitation come pick up the trash when you’re done collecting everything. You can announce the clean up with flyers and in the college newspaper. It doesn’t have to be on campus if you don’t want it to be either – maybe a local park or beach nearby might need it more. Either way, drum up some support and get people on board.

19. Repair and mend items that break – and teach your friends

So, if you’re dorming and your favorite jeans rip, obviously your mom can’t patch them up for you. It’s a good idea to learn how to do some simple mending work and keep some sewing equipment on hand. This won’t just save you money, it will help you reduce the likelihood of impulse buying something new to replace your “broken” or “ripped” item. Better yet, teach your college buddies how to do it too so they can learn and pass down the skill to someone else.

Cleaning out your dorm room? Don’t just toss everything away – donate it to people who can actually use it.

Thrift and antique stores will happily take good quality furniture. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are just two examples – look into local thrift stores first, always, to see if they’ll accept what you’ve got to offer. You can also ask friends or family if they’d like to have your furniture.

You never know who might! Putting it on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace isn’t a bad idea either, but that may take some time to get responses to FYI.

What are some ways you reduce waste on campus?

About the Author: 

Ariana Palmieri is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste living and sustainability. Her work has been featured on Going Zero Waste, Mother Earth Living, Green Matters and several other publications. Get her free e-book “10 Ways to Reduce Trash” by signing up to her newsletter and learn how to reduce your waste today.

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