How to be Sustainable in College: Tips for Students on a Budget
Updated: Sep 28
Written by: Isabel Thornton
Being a college student consumes both time and money, and it can be difficult to make a conscious effort towards sustainable living. Though many plastic-free, waste-free alternatives are more costly, they also last longer than the cheap items we’re so used to pulling from the shelves and adding to our carts. When deciding where to invest your money, try to look at the amount of use you will get out of each product. In the end, most sustainable alternatives are actually the cheaper option because you only need to buy them once! There are also a handful of free and easy ways to help the planet that don’t even require you to leave the house — you just have to be willing to try something new! Here is a list of some smart, efficient, and simple ways to be sustainable in college:
Browse your local thrift shops and flea markets for clothing, jewelry, dorm decor, etc.
Buying second hand has so many benefits: it’s often cheaper, and it feels great to give something a second life. People frequently dispose of items because they no longer have a personal need for them, but that doesn’t mean those items won’t spark joy for someone else! Finding a vintage piece of furniture, or thrifting a new outfit, is more meaningful than buying something brand new. Buying second hand pieces is like passing down a well-loved story from one generation to the next, and then putting your own stamp on it.
Save jars and use them as cups!
College students are known to consume copious amounts of chips and salsa, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pasta, among other meals that require little knowledge of the kitchen. Instead of recycling all of the jars that accumulate over time, wash them out and use them as cups, or even storage containers! Jars are also great for storing food, especially when buying in bulk! Bulk buying allows you to put your food directly into the jars in order to avoid unnecessary packaging.
Bring reusable utensils and water bottles with you everywhere you go.
Being in college often means eating on the go. Instead of constantly buying drinks that come in plastic bottles, invest your money in a quality water bottle! The same goes for utensils - bring your own from home or buy a travel kit! The planet, and your wallet, will thank you for cutting out the single-use plastics. According to earthday.org, the average American could save $17,290 in their lifetime with a reusable water bottle!
Takeout is not always the answer - cook a meal for yourself!
Although it can be tempting to order takeout after a long day of classes, the environment will thank you for cooking a meal at home. One trip to the grocery store requires less driving, and usually less money, than ordering sushi on a nightly basis. It’s also rare that a takeout meal will come without single-use plastics, which are a huge threat to our environment and our oceans. Simply put, cooking is better for your health, as well as the health of our planet.
Coffee is essential - K-cups are not.
Next time you wander into the kitchen to make your 10pm cup of coffee during a study break, opt for a reusable K-cup or filter. Going through several single-use K-cups each day can seriously add up and wreak havoc on the environment. Reusable pods and coffee filters are guilt-free and easy to use. It’s also more affordable to buy coffee beans or grounds as opposed to single-use coffee pods - and they taste better too!
Sustainability in college doesn’t have to be challenging or time-consuming. Though being a student means being limited financially, there are tons of creative ways to limit your environmental impact!