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How to Shop Sustainably in College for Less

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at C of C chapter.

I am almost positive that every sustainable shopper has heard of Package Free shop by now, but if you haven’t, you need to. Package Free is an NYC-based store and online shop that sells all the necessities for a low-waste lifestyle, all packaged in biodegradable, plastic-free materials. The store was founded by Lauren Singer, my personal environmentally-conscious role model and one of the prominent figures of the Zero-Waste Movement

What is there not to love about a brand with minimal packaging and a neutral aesthetic? It’s a millennial’s dream come true! However, for college students like myself who care deeply about sustainability but cannot afford to break the bank, it may not be the most realistic option. That is why I am bringing my lovely readers 5 sustainable swaps that lower the cost, but certainly not the style, of living a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle while in college.


Bamboo Straws/ Utensils 

We all watched as stainless steel straws became the beginning (and seemingly the end) of the media’s attempt to promote sustainable shopping. Of course, metal straws are definitely an improvement from single-use plastic, but even stainless steel has a limited life. In the long run, a bamboo straw and set of utensils are even better options because after you have gotten all of the use you can get from them, you can compost them!

Package Free sells bamboo straws on their own for $2 each and a bamboo utensil set for $14.95. However, I found a bamboo set on Amazon that includes a bamboo straw and cleaning brush, bamboo utensils AND a bamboo toothbrush all in a cute and convenient cloth case for only $11.97! That is an investment that I think all of us can justify. Adding to the cart!

Biodegradable Srunchies

Okay, I will be the first to admit that this swap is more so an homage to my personal Package Free wishlist than a necessity, however, I DID say that we wouldn’t be sacrificing style for these swaps. I am a firm believer that you do not have to compromise fashion to shop sustainably! That is why I fell in love with Package Free’s Biodegradable Scrunchie set…but I did not fall in love with the price. $20 for 2 scrunchies is unfortunately not something I can justify. 
I bet you can imagine my excitement when I found an almost identical set on Etsy! This Basic Scrunchie Set is made out of 100% cotton, meaning at the end of its useful life, you can throw the material into your compost bin! That’s not even the best part– this set is almost a quarter of the cost of Package Free’s AND it comes with one extra scrunchie. I’m sold. Of course, I am a big fan of the neutrals, but this seller and the Etsy site have hundreds of other colors to choose from. Just make sure that the material is 100% cotton.

Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

Once I run out of the stockpile of beauty products that I currently have sitting in my dorm, waste-free personal hygiene items are what I am most excited to switch to and try in my journey towards living zero-waste. Lauren Singer even says that the first place you should look to eliminate your waste is your bathroom! Just think of all the lotions, body washes, hair products, and face creams we use each year, most of them coming from excessive plastic packaging. 
Package Free sells a variety of Shampoo Bars and Conditioner Bars for $14 dollars each. However, that comes out to over $28 just to wash your hair, and while that may be less than your normal bottles of hair products, you do have to keep in mind that these bars do not last as long as large bottles. I found this Ethique Hair and Skin Bar Trial Pack on Amazon for the same price as 1 of Package Free’s bars. This set includes a mini shampoo bar, conditioner bar, face wash bar, and lotion bar all shaped like cute little eco-friendly hearts. This set is a perfect way to dip your toes into waste-free personal hygiene products and find what products work for you without breaking the bank. 

Lip Balm

Who doesn’t LOVE a good balm? I’ll be the first to admit, I have far too many lying around. Package Free has the cutest natural lip balm that comes packaged in glass and bamboo. I know what you’re thinking — I NEED IT. However, I’ll bring you back down to earth with its price, a whopping $24. You’d be better off just buying another $2 chapstick at the drugstore, right? Wrong. 
I will start off by saying that there are a dozen natural ingredients that will eliminate your need for lip balm entirely such as coconut oil, olive oil, aloe, avocado oil, etc. There are a ton of natural ingredients with a variety of beauty uses. However, if you’re anything like me, you just need a cute balm in every one of your bags. I have a solution: check out these Eco-Friendly Vegan Lip Balms I found on Etsy in completely biodegradable packaging. I mean, come on, they’re completely natural and come in 22 flavors and they’re oh so mini and adorable. At only $8.50 a balm, I’ll take 5. Again, there are so many eco-friendly lip balm options on Etsy so you aren’t limited to this seller, just make sure you read the product descriptions for packaging materials and ingredients!

Reusable Makeup Removing Rounds

I think the beauty item that people most overlook when considering the amount of waste that they produce is makeup wipes. I mean, think about how many you use in a week, for me it’s at least one a day that goes straight into the trash can once I’m done. But they’re cotton, right? They’ll definitely decompose. Surprisingly, that’s wrong. According to Allure, most makeup wipes take up to 100 years to break down in a landfill. That’s a statistic that’ll make you sweat. 

Fortunately, Package Free has a sustainable solution for that too! Their Organic Cotton Facial Rounds and Wooden Facial Rounds Storage Container would make the perfect pair to add to your minimalistic bathroom decor. However, at $20 for a 20 pack of rounds and an extra $30 for the storage container, they’re just another pair of items that will be staying in my wishlist. Luckily for you, I have yet another swap. 
This Cotton Facial Rounds and Bamboo Storage Box Set from Amazon is, in my opinion, just as cute as Package Free’s set, if not more. It even comes with a little laundry bag to wash them in! The best part, as usual, is the price. This set is less than half of Package Free’s at only $17.99 with Prime free shipping. Pull out the trusty coconut oil and take your nighttime routine to the next level, all while lessening your impact on our Earth. 

Before you go out and click “purchase” on all your online shopping carts, remember that the MOST sustainable option will always be to use what you already have on hand! Don’t go and throw away the plastic packaged products that you’re currently using because you’ll only be going backward. Instead, use up everything you already own and properly dispose of it, whether by recycling or by using the Terracycle service BEFORE purchasing new products. 

It can be exciting to make a new transition and eagerness is so great, but remember going waste-free is a journey and a learning process! Take your time and always make use of the resources in front of you. 

Finally, you can make sure that the items you do order are packaged with materials that will produce the least amount of waste by simply reaching out to the seller! Most companies and individual sellers will be happy to make arrangements, and if you are using Amazon, you can ask that all of your future orders be shipped without plastic packaging by simply contacting customer service. 

Good luck on your waste-free journey and happy sustainable shopping!

Double major in English and Communication. Enneagram type 2. Writer of all things self-help, mental health, and sustainability.