Zero Waste Swaps for Students

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

So you care about the environment. Not only do you care, you're wanting to make some changes. The only problem is you're a student and you have no money. Well I have great news for you- there are many Zero Waste steps you can take that cost little to no money.

I started living sustainably my senior year of college. I was a part-time waitress and had no access to bulk stores or sustainable products in my town. I was able to reduce so much of my waste without bulk and without spending a lot of money. So here are the things YOU can do to reduce your waste as a student.

1. Reusable bags

Did you know that every second 160,000 plastic bags are used around the world? Every. Second. You can help be the change by using a reusable bag when you're grocery shopping, roaming the aisles of target, etc.

There are cute canvas bags you can purchase, or there are reusable bags made of recycled plastic at Target, Wal-Mart, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and Whole Foods for under $5.

2. Produce bags

Yes, plastic produce bags are just as bad. If you're ready to skip plastic bags, skip them all together and get reusable produce bags as well! I have my produce bags shoved in my reusable bags at all times so I never have to get plastic when buying my produce.

3. Reusable Water Bottle

Plastic water bottles take anywhere from 400 to 1,000 years to decompose and only 1 in every 5 plastic water bottles gets recycled. So carry a reusable water bottle! You're a poor student anyway, so why are you paying for water when it's free?? Odds are you already have a reusable water bottle, but if you don't I recommend a Hydroflask or Kleateen.

4. Reusable Coffee Cup

Someone asked me the question: "What's the switch you have made that has saved you the most waste?" And this is it! My reusable coffee cup. I drank so much coffee in college and simply having my cup in my backpack helped me avoid so much waste. Plus many coffee shops give you a discount for using your own cup!

In this picture I'm using a Keep Cup, but I used to bring a mason jar and a straw from home to avoid the plastic.


For high school students who are reading this, maybe it would be beneficial to ask your parents if there is curbside recycling and if you can recycle at your household. Curbside recycling doesn't cost money and it's a great place to start when trying to live sustainably.

There are also many recycling programs at corporations (Target recycles glass, Wal-Mart recycles some plastic, etc.) Find your options! For college students, there are a lot of universities that recycle. Learn your options for recycling and use them when you can.

6. Thrift school supplies or buy natural options

I was at Goodwill 2 days ago and there were over 10 packages of unused mechanical pencils for sale at a cheap price. There are also usually unused notebooks you can buy as well! This is a way to save money and to support the second hand industry.

If you can't find school supplies at your local thrift store, try to buy biodegradable school supplies. My last year of college I bought Decomposition Notebooks which are made of recycled paper and are 100% biodegradable. After the semester, I shredded all my schoolwork and put it in my compost. Package Free Shop has a great selection of all things school for students.

7. Pack your lunch!

This would have saved me so much waste in college. I think I went to the student center and got fast food almost everyday- which did not help with trying to fight the freshmen 15. Try packing your lunch or go back to your dorm / apartment to eat before your next class.

For lunches there's a chance you already have reusable packaging that you wouldn't think of. Simple items like silverware, your water bottle, and plastic tupperware will go a long way in reducing your lunch waste.


Students, admit it. You get a lot of things you don't need- or want. Start saying no thank you to useless fliers, university key chains, free T shirts (unless you actually want it), or any other free, cheap item that high schools and universities give to you.

This not only reduces your household waste, but it avoids clutter in your room and places a vote to your school that you do not need these items. "If we keep buying (or accepting) crap, companies will keep making crap."

9. Bamboo toothbrushes

Every toothbrush you have ever used still exists on this planet. horrifying, right? Switching to bamboo is cost effective, simple, and is a great solution to help fight plastic waste.

The bamboo brushes available on my site are $12.20 for four brushes ($3.05 a brush). Once your bamboo toothbrush has reached the end of its life, you take out the recyclable bristles and compost the bamboo handle.

10. Use bars of soap

Some facts I got off of Ethique's website are:

1. 80 BILLION plastic bottles are disposed of annually from shampoo / conditioner bottles alone

2. Only 9% of plastic worldwide is recycled

3. 9/10 fish have ingested plastic according to global studies

4. by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea

So yeah, plastic bottles are a huge problem. But the good news is you can #giveupthebottle to help fight this issue! I like this step because it not only eliminates plastic in the shower, it also makes your shower a whole lot prettier. I never realized all the plastic bottles in my shower stressed me out. Now with all of my bars of soap there's less clutter, and I know I'm not harming the earth with my shower routine.

My favorite shampoo/conditioner bars are from Ethique and I swear by My Wild Muse's body bar and shaving bar. Shampoo bars are a little pricey ($15.50), but they last longer than liquid soap because bars are condensed. Ethique states that bars last about 2-5 times longer than the liquid soap you are using currently.

11. DIY Everything!!!

There's nothing more cost effective than a good DIY recipe. This one is so fun for high school and college students because you can do it with your friends! Learn to make cleaning supplies or lotion or deodorant or oat milk. Making your own is so fun, cheap, and it such an efficient way to avoid plastic in many different areas of your life. I recommend or @thebotanicalblendco for recipes.

That's it for now! Thanks for reading :)


Impact for Good


Impact For Good