Moving to college is a daunting task. For starters, you’re in an entirely new environment surrounded by hordes of almost adults just as clueless and nervous as you are. You’ve traded the easiness of high school and parental guidance for a bit more freedom and mountains of grueling, albeit rewarding work. And you couldn’t be more excited! 

But every new experience has its challenges. College campuses are a hotbed of waste and litter. Dump and Run, a national waste recycling nonprofit, estimates that the average college student produces 640 pounds of trash a year—considering that the average college enrolls thousands of students, that’s a lot of trash! Before you jump into a life of dorms, dining halls, and diplomas (oh my!), here are some tips to help make your college life a cleaner and healthier one (for you and the planet).  

Greening your dorm

assorted books on brown wooden table

Your dorm can make or break your college years. A clean and spacious room means better sleep, an easier time studying, and an overall comfier environment for you to live, work, and play in. Deciding what to bring to make your tiny space as homey as possible can be very overwhelming, so here are a few pointers to make the packing process a little easier (and greener, too!):

Plastic-Free Packing

When packing, avoid disposable plastic bags and opt for suitcases or reusable crates and bins instead. These can be used for years to come and eliminate plastic waste from the moving process. For those looking to save a bit of dorm or wallet space, services like Rent A Green Box or Bungo Box allow you to rent durable moving supplies for low prices. To avoid plastic waste from bubble wrap and packing peanuts, wrap delicate items in towels, bedsheets, or clothes.

Go reusable! 

Choosing reusable dish and silverware (like water bottles, plates, spoons, and cups) is not only better for the environment, but saves money on disposable items in the future. When choosing dorm furniture and decor, preowned is always best! You can save money and the planet by looking for cheaper and unique items on websites like Tiger ReTail and eBay. 

Try renting instead of buying dorm furniture. 

Being another frugal option, it also allows more freedom when decorating, as you can choose new designs each school year. Websites like fernish are a good place to start looking for unique and fun pieces. 

Be mindful in choosing which clothes to bring. 

An overflowing closet makes the move-out process all the more confusing, so it’s always a good idea to pack light. If you’re on the lookout for new outfits to wear this school year, it’s better for your wallet and the environment to go thrifting for clothes instead of buying them. This is also the perfect opportunity to make space for new clothes, so make sure to donate or resell any old items.

Get in the know. 

Research your school’s waste-management policies to familiarize yourself with what happens to your waste after you throw it away. Some campuses separate recyclable waste from garbage while others don’t, so invest in garbage and recycling bins to help simplify the sorting process.

four assorted-color trash bins beside gray wall

Invest in quality supplies.

Invest in good supplies and electronics you plan to use in the long term. This helps reduce waste and save money on repairs and replacements in the future. 

Fill your dorm with green!

To really “green your dorm”, decorate your room with plants to help filter indoor air pollutants. This list contains common house plants that have proven to be effective in cleaning indoor air. 

Developing greener habits

College is the perfect place to start thinking about how your habits affect the world around you. Being more mindful of not only what you own but how you live, eat, and move while choosing to develop greener habits is the perfect way to start improving the environment through your everyday actions. But with tons already on your plate, there isn’t much room to make drastic changes like growing your own food or getting solar panels. To make your life greener and easier, here are some wonderful eco-friendly habits that are so simple, they fit right into your busy class schedule: 

Conserve water and electricity.

When you get to campus, be mindful of your electricity and water usage. Take shorter showers and remember to turn faucets and lights off when they’re not in use.

Take advantage of natural sunlight. 

Choosing to work with the sun does wonders for both the planet and your mental health! Make sure to find a cozy well-lit spot to complete assignments in during the day, or if you’re feeling spontaneous, grab a couple of friends for a productive and fun outdoor study session.

Walk, walk, walk! 

Reduce your carbon footprint and improve your health by choosing to walk instead of drive to places on or around campus. To make longer trips more eco-friendly, opt for public transportation to get where you need to go. 

woman walking on forest trail

Avoid toxic products.

Avoid cleaning and hygiene products with toxic ingredients and microplastics. Just like at home, the runoff from these products often find their way to local bodies of water and contribute to pollution. To avoid this while still keeping yourself and your surfaces clean, be on the lookout for products made with all-natural ingredients.

Only wash full loads of laundry to conserve water. 

This tip can also save you money on detergents and other laundry supplies because you’ll ultimately be using them less. To save even more water and electricity, wash your clothes in cold water when you can. This saves energy as machines won’t have to do the work of heating the water up before each wash. 

Go Zero-Waste (or, at least try to)

While nothing is perfect, it’s safe to say that the on-campus waste situation is less than ideal. Oddly enough, managing the garbage we produce has never been more important, and campaigns like the Zero Waste Movement have been gaining traction among young people because of their promise to eliminate waste. While its name makes a huge claim, all the movement really aims to do is inspire people to make changes that will ultimately keep items from ending up in landfills. To that effect, here are some tips to help you start going zero waste in college:

Go paperless. 

While most paper is recyclable, the most eco-friendly note-taking option is to go digital. Desktop apps like Notion and OneNote are great recommendations for students who like to take quick and well-organized notes. For those who learn better by handwriting, investing in a tablet or iPad and using apps like Notability to jot down notes is a great option to help the environment while staying on top of lectures.

black and gray laptop computer beside opened sketch book

Get a tote.

To avoid getting stuck with an endless collection of plastic bags, take a reusable tote bag with you when you go shopping. 

Buy in bulk. 

Whether it be snacks, cleaning, or hygiene products, buying items in bulk and refilling reusable containers is great for both the environment and your wallet. It not only reduces packaging waste but saves time and money you could be spending studying or hanging out with friends. 

Use washable towels and cloths.

Instead of buying paper towels and disposable cleaning pads, try using a washable cleaning cloth or pad. 

Opt for refillable K-cups.

Keurigs are a college staple, but using boxes upon boxes of disposable K-cups every day can really add up. Instead, buy a reusable K-cup to refill with your favorite coffee and save yourself and the planet the hassle. 

Avoid buying new textbooks. 

Textbooks aren’t just expensive—they’re wasteful too. Instead of spending hundreds on books you’ll likely only need for one semester, rent them from your campus bookstore, buy them pre-owned from fellow students, or try your best to find them online.

assorted books on wooden table

Navigate dining halls mindfully. 

To avoid contributing to the mountains of food waste college campuses dump out every week, take some time to really think about the food you’re picking up and only take what you can eat. 

Compost leftovers. 

While this requires a little more work, composting is the perfect way to eliminate food waste while starting a new eco-friendly hobby. Most colleges already have designated bins for food scraps—but if yours doesn’t, you could look into starting a compost or gardening club to help put leftover food to good use. 

Last but not least, get involved!

The work of making your campus a greener place isn’t yours alone. Getting involved with like-minded people through clubs and organizations is the perfect way to make friends and positive changes. Joining a recycling club or environmental advocacy group can help amplify the impact of your individual actions and inspire others to do the same. 

Although it may seem like we can’t individually change the world, the changes you make have an impact on your life, your community, and the planet. No action is too small! The most important thing is that you do what you can and have a fun and planet-friendly semester.