5 tips for living a low-waste student life
photo by Siora
Author: Eva Grace
When I started my low-waste/zero-waste journey, I started to look at where I could improve habits in my life easily. Being an undergraduate university student, most of my time is spent studying, researching and basically living on campus. It made sense that I’d start my journey with the most important area of my life - school.
I want to share some of my tips that I developed as a university student as I think they can be helpful not only for students, but also for anyone who wants to think about waste in a different way. I also follow the REFUSE – REDUCE – REUSE – RECYCLE – ROT strategy to make better choices. I hope this will encourage you to think more creatively about how to make low-waste changes in your life.
photo by Eva Grace
Not all university students want to be caffeinated, but late night study sessions often mean reaching for the caffeine first thing in the morning. Coffee is therefore an easy first entry point to the low-waste lifestyle. Most coffee shops around or on campus allow students to bring their own reusable mugs. Some even give you a discount for doing so, which is a great incentive when you’re on a budget.
If I have time before I leave for class in the morning, I make my own and bring it in my reusable mug. This helps to keep my waste low, doesn’t contribute to more plastic coffee cups and make it more affordable.
As a student I don’t always have time to ‘meal prep’ before going to class, but I have found ways to cut waste when I can’t bring my own lunch.
If I have to buy something to eat, I first try to find a place that will prepare the food on site, without packaging and that I can eat off a real plate. I also refuse single-use cutlery since I always carry my own. At home, when I have time, I try to cook in bulk items that I can freeze and eat when I don’t have time to cook. Things like beans, soups and even rice. This helps me to avoid ordering pricey, over-packaged food through a delivery service.
photo by Eva Grace
I choose to do most of my readings online, but when there aren’t copies available, I turn to secondhand books. Most students have read the book I am looking for somewhere, so it can be easily found online. A great resource to check are Facebook groups for your class or year. My local university bookstore also allows students to ‘rent’ books for a year. After the semester is over, we can return the book and it can be used by another student for the next year. Doing it this way instead of buying a new textbook for every subject is way more affordable, and the books get a second life.
I love to write on real paper and have nice pens, but I’ve grown fond of having a smaller amount of amazing pens. I realized I don’t need heaps of highlighters and pens of different colors, and I try to reuse those I have accumulated over the years instead of purchasing more each semester.
Eventually, I would like to invest in a fountain pen that can be refilled with ink and used for years. As for paper and loose-leaf sheets, I try to reuse everything I have written on: if it is not filled on both sides, it is still useable. Then, I can recycle the paper and limit the amount of new paper I buy.
Finally, to stay very low-budget and low-waste, I use the Bunz app. Bunz connects communities in Toronto (and beyond) to share items they would like to exchange. I have found many items on Bunz to exchange with others, for example a nice reusable water bottle and I exchanged an old sweater of mine for homemade beeswax wraps. I have also traded a small houseplant for some fresh mint, and some Btz (Bunz currency) to buy chocolate from a local bean-to-bar trader. These small trades have helped me reduce some of the unwanted items that I would have discarded otherwise.
These are just a few ideas about how to reduce your waste as a student. Moving towards a low-waste life doesn’t have to be difficult, it’s about small habits that overtime will make bigger changes.