Low Waste, Sustainable Living

10 Sustainable Swaps for Common College Items

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Now that the school year is rapidly approaching, it’s time to gear up your school shopping if you’re going back to campus this year. Although staying conscious about your habits is important every year, coronavirus safety policies at many schools mean more waste than normal. Fordham plans on making most dining options individually wrapped for grab-and-go, and the cafeteria is eliminating reusable plates and utensils. These are all great measures to help protect the students from coronavirus, but definitely means that single use plastic waste will be way up. Which brings us to today’s topic of conversation: sustainable swaps for college items!

Many of these swaps are great to take into your home life as well, but I included these specific items because I know that they are used more frequently at college. All images are linked to the page where you can purchase!

1. Reusable K-Pods

A Keurig is one of the most essential items for a college student because 1) you need that caffeine, and 2) it saves you money. Unfortunately, the little individually packed pods with the coffee grounds in them can really add up to a massive waste pile, especially if your a two cups a day gal like me. The best sustainable swap for this very common college item that I’ve found are reusable K-pods! You just buy a bag of coffee grounds (many brands sell them in compostable paper packaging), and fill up the reusable pod when it’s time to make a cup. When you’re finished, you can just dump the grounds in the trash and rinse the pod out in the sink and you’re good to go!

2. Reusable “plastic” bags

Maybe you have 3 classes in a row, a long night class, or a hefty shift at work and you know you’ll need a snack at some point. Reusable “plastic” bags that are actually made from silicon are perfect for taking snacks with you around campus. And they help you save those swipes instead of rolling into the campus convenience store twice a day. They’re also pretty easy to clean and can be thrown into the dishwasher if you have one.

3. Reusable Utensils

You can bring these from home or get a new bamboo set (I recommend bringing from home :)). Because many schools will only have individually wrapped plastic utensils available at dining locations, these will come in super clutch for reducing your plastic waste. You can even keep them in a reusable plastic bag to keep them from dirtying your backpack after you use them. Because you’ll likely use these very frequently, I recommend bringing 2-3 sets so that you’re not constantly washing them throughout the day.

4. Microfiber cloths + natural cleaner

Disinfecting your dorm room is more important now than ever before, but your bi-weekly wipe downs are sure to produce some significant waste. Think about it: at least 2-3 paper towels or Clorox wipes per cleaning sesh plus all that cleaning solution that definitely isn’t great for you or the planet. Opting for microfiber cloths and a natural home cleaner are great alternatives (and probably more widely available right now) to traditional paper towels and bleach cleaners.

5. Reusable Water Bottle

definitely will be your most used sustainable swap for college items

I mean, duh. I also know you probably already have one too. My personal favorite is my 32oz Hydro Flask. You will bring it everywhere like it is you’re child. I know that sounds weird, but I saw a tweet that said something like:

“In college, it’s really just you, your laptop, and your water bottle trying to make it in this world.”

And that is so true. Also, I see people hauling in massive cases of plastic water bottles every year on move in day and it truly befuddles me. I’m sorry, but you aren’t too good for tap water. Get. Over. It.

A photo from the trash room in my freshman dorm. Not even in the recycling bin!!!!! Gross.

6. Reusable Coffee Thermos

This goes hand in hand with a reusable water bottle and reusable K-pods. They’re perfect for on the go because they keep your drink hot all morning, and you don’t need to get those weird paper-styrofoam disposable cups for your morning joe. They’re also cute and you can buy one in your school colors that make it perfect for tailgates when sports hopefully start up again in 2021.

7. Shampoo bar

This item isn’t necessarily specific to college, but they’re definitely helpful. If you’re living in a dorm with a communal bathroom, carrying everything you need back and forth can get annoying and bulky even with a shower caddy. Shampoo bars save space, money, and plastic!

8. Sticky Tac

Command Hooks are definitely an essential in college for more bulky items like bags or bulletin boards, but not everything that you think needs one actually needs one. While sticky tac isn’t necessarily sustainable, it’s a significant reduction in the waste that Command Hooks produce. Use sticky tac for things like photos, posters, lightweight decor, etc. Plus, it doesn’t peel off paint like Command Hooks sometimes do. I’m also willing to bet that you get way more bang for your buck.

9. Dryer Balls

I personally have never tried these because I don’t use dryer sheets in the first place, but I’m strongly considering it since my clothes are static-y af after taking them out of the dryer. These balls are ethically made, reusable for up to 1,000 washes, biodegradable, and non-toxic. Regular dryer sheets can’t check even one of those boxes. Sounds like a 10/10 for me.

10. Bring It From Home

A lot of the items I’m listing here you probably already have at home. Instead of buying everything new, try to only buy what you don’t have. While you probably don’t have Twin XL bedding, you probably do have pillows. While you might not have reusable K-pods, you probably already have a reusable coffee thermos. And like I mentioned earlier, just snag a few forks/knives/spoons from your utensil drawer at home.

While this last “item” isn’t actually a specific item, it’s an important reminder that you probably have most things that you need for your dorm already. I know that when I was shopping for my freshman year, for some reason I thought I needed to buy everything new. It didn’t cross my mind that I could just bring my pillows from home or the lamp that was already on my desk. It’s often said that the most sustainable things are the one’s you already have, so keep that in mind when school shopping this year.


And that’s it for sustainable swaps for college items! I’m sure there’s a ton more, so feel free to drop them in the comments. Like I said earlier, these aren’t necessarily specific for college dorms, so if you’re staying home this semester, these are great items to implement into home life as well!

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