How to Live Zero Waste In College

zero waste in college

Zero Waste In College

My interest in zero waste started a good many years after college life. Eco friendly living wasn’t even on my radar at the time. Ten years later, I’ve had a lot of future college students asking me if I have any tips for trying to reduce waste in college, and I definitely think it’s possible! I know sometimes it can feel like the idea of zero waste is overwhelming when living in a dorm with a tiny budget. But remember, one of the principles of zero waste is to reduce what you use. You can make a bigger impact than you think by not falling in to the mindset that you need to buy brand new things for your zero waste lifestyle. I’m excited to share with y’all a few tips for living a more eco friendly and waste free life while living in a university dorm!

College girl Jessie in my dorm room, pre zero waste days 🙂

Bring your own cup

The most simple but influential piece of advice I can give you is to bring your own cup. When you leave your dorm make it a daily habit to bring along a reusable water bottle and if you plan to get your caffeine fix on campus, don’t forget a travel coffee cup. You don’t need a fancy bottle. I have seen all sorts of reusable water bottles at thrift shops in my town. I even found a Klean Kanteen bottle while thrifting once, major score!! You could even ask a friend if they have an extra cup they could share. You do not need to spend a lot of money on this one, promise.

When I was in college, disposable coffee cups were my biggest non zero waste habit for sure. I would even drink a coffee in a to go cup while sitting at a coffee shop! *gasp* I always had a to go cup in my hand while on campus and didn’t give it another thought, tossing it into the trash can. I’m telling you, bringing your own cup whether that be for coffee or water is simple yet it will save heaps of single use cups from going the landfill!

Another thought, if you forget your water bottle at home, most college campuses have water fountains throughout the campus. You should be able to get by with using those rather than purchasing a single use plastic bottle. And if you don’t have your travel mug with you, opt to drink your coffee “for here” instead of taking it in a disposable cup.

You don’t need all the STUFF

I know a lot of you are starting college in the next few weeks, and your university has sent you a massive list of the things you “need” to bring for dorm life. Let me be the first to tell you that you do not need all the STUFF. Take a good look at your list and think:

“Is this something I will honestly use?”

“Is this something I already use regularly at home?”

“Can I contact my roommate to see if they are bringing one so we can share?”

“Do I have some things on the list that could serve a dual purpose?”

Here’s the thing, once you get to school, if you decide after the first few weeks that you really did wish you had something on the dorm list that you didn’t bring, go get one!! It’s easy to add things as you need them rather than wasting money on unnecessary items.

Shop secondhand

When you do start organizing that list of dorm essentials, please remember to shop secondhand first! I currently live in a college town and at the end of each semester it is shocking to see all the stuff left behind by college students. Your brother or cousin or best friend’s cousin has probably been to college already and has the supplies you will need. Before buying new, see if you can find that mini coffee maker or shower caddy secondhand. Not only is it zero waste, but it is cheaper y’all!! Do your wallet the favor and shop your friends’ closets and thrift shops before buying new.

As far as textbooks go, it seems like most textbooks are digital these days. But if not, see if you can also find your textbooks secondhand. That was one eco move I did make in college. I was the queen of used textbooks. Brand new school books are not cheap at all, so shopping the used book stores is key!

Zero Waste School Supplies

This goes along with shopping secondhand, but did you know you can even shop secondhand for most of your school supplies?? The key is visiting estate sales! I have been to so many estate sales in my town and there’s always an office in every home full of unused notebooks, pens, pencils, etc. You can find a treasure trove of supplies at estate sales or even consider checking local yard sales on the weekends. You will be surprised by what you can find “used” that hasn’t actually been used at all.

Stock up on reusables

I mentioned having a reusable water bottle and/or coffee cup on hand, but don’t forget other useful reusables. I like to keep a set of eating utensils and cloth napkin in my bag too. Listen, you don’t have to buy a brand new set of bamboo utensils for zero waste on the go. A metal fork, spoon, and knife you snag from your mom’s kitchen will work just fine wrapped in a bandana. Zero waste doesn’t have to mean all new zero waste supplies. Try to use what you already have! Also, be sure to stock up on containers for to go food. Again, you don’t have to buy brand new glass to go ware containers; ask your mom if you can borrow some Tupperwares from her or you can simply use a mason jar. The mason jar for leftovers is a personal fave, because it seconds as a reusable cup/coffee mug.


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Zero waste bathroom essentials

I know trying to be zero waste when surrounded by others that aren’t mindful of their own waste can be a struggle, but one place you can shine during dorm life is with your zero waste bathroom essentials. Impress your dorm mates with your shower caddy full of plastic free bathroom essentials. You can find just about everything you need in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow shop. Here are a few of the essentials:

zero waste deodorant
Zero Waste Deodorant


single bamboo toothbrush
Bamboo Toothbrush


Agave Nectar Aloe
Shampoo Bar


Japanese Citrus Chamomile
Soap Bar for Body & Face


Long Handled Double Edge Safety Razor
Safety Razor

There are lots of other zero waste swaps you can make but let’s remember we are on a college budget. Stick to the necessities and try some DIY recipes for the rest. There are tons of zero waste tooth paste and body butter recipes out there you could try out.


This tip is my favorite, because it doesn’t require any thrifting, purchasing, organizing, etc… just say no. That’s it. When you’re on campus and organizations are passing out freebies and flyers, just kindly refuse. You don’t need that trash! It’s just going to eventually end up in the garbage can any way because most of those on-campus freebies are cheaply made and not worth keeping to be honest.

Composting on campus

Usually students that live in campus dorms are on the university’s meal plan. You probably won’t have a lot of packaging waste since you won’t be doing much cooking. If you are in need of some dorm room snackage, shoot for healthy snacks like fresh fruit which you can find packaging free. There’s a good chance you’ll have some fruit peels and coffee grounds that need composting. Check and see if your campus has a composting facility. You might have to do a little hunting but ask around at your school’s sustainability office, school of ag, or meal services office to see what options your campus has. Does your school have a campus greenhouse? That might be a good place to start. If your campus doesn’t have a composting facility, start one!! That’s right, see if you can get your campus to start a composting program. You really just need a place where students can drop off their organic waste.

I think the best way to compost when you don’t have a compost bin is to share your scraps with a friend! Ask around to see if you have any off campus friends, maybe someone from your church, who has a compost system at home. Ask if they’d mind if you dropped off your compost at their place weekly. This is what my little sister does with her compost. She fills up her bucket throughout the week, keeps it in the freezer, and each week brings her scraps to my house to use my compost tumbler.

You can even check with your local farmer’s market and see if someone there will take your scraps. Most farmers would love some fresh scraps to add to their compost pile. See if someone at the market would let you bring your scraps by weekly.

You CAN make a difference!

Sometimes it feels like you can’t make a huge impact when you’re a student and you don’t have a lot of money. But look, it’s not about the money. You can definitely make a difference by telling others why you aren’t buying unnecessary junk and why you’re choosing to live intentionally. You have access to a huge student body in your dormitory and all around campus. Start a conversation and introduce someone else to the idea of sustainability, zero waste, and eco friendly living. Every small change you make is one helpful change for the environment. Keep up the good work!

Going zero waste in college IS possible! What has your experience been with zero waste in college?? Do you have any tips to share??

You might also enjoy these blog posts from Tiny Yellow Bungalow!

composting for rookies

beginner’s guide to zero waste


zero waste in college

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