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An Easy Guide to Start Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle in College

By Elizabeth Morris

The future of our earth faces a multitude of threats, such as global warming, rising sea levels, natural disasters, a loss of biodiversity, and the list goes on. However, our greatest enemy to date exists right in our own homes, single-use plastics. They have become so deeply embedded into our daily routines, we rarely ever stop to think about the havoc they wreak after they end up in our trash cans. However, when we begin to understand the rippling impacts they have on the environment, they become impossible to ignore. 

Here are some inconvenient truths – enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times, and only 25% of that is recycled here in the U.S. That leaves landfills brimming with non-biodegradable trash for years to come, continuing to pollute the atmosphere and waterways. In fact, more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans and over 90% of seabirds have some amount of plastic in their stomachs. Don’t panic, though! We still have the power to change this story.

The zero-waste movement is one way individuals can lessen their own environmental footprint by reducing plastic consumption as much as possible. This is manifested in beauty routines, food preparation, and even clothing choices. Taking on a zero-waste lifestyle might seem like an unattainable goal, especially for a college student living on a tight budget. However, businesses today are making it increasingly easier to choose sustainable products that don’t require tons of water, use toxic chemicals, dyes, or even worse, single-use plastics. 

Here is an easy, step by step guide towards a plastic-free (and guilt-free) lifestyle!

Simplify your beauty routine: Our bathrooms are imploding with unnecessary plastics that can easily be reduced. Instead of going through dozens of bottles of that beauty cleanser you can’t get enough of, try opting for a facial soap bar next time. They don’t create any excess waste and are often cheaper than the ones in our skincare drawers. Another key player in the zero waste beauty movement are reusable makeup wipes. You can use them with just about anything such as toner, micellar water, cleansing oil, you name it. Once they’re dirty, just throw them in the wash at the end of the week – our landfills will thank you later! Another frequent landfill inhabitant and enemy of the zero waste movement are plastic razors. Next time you go to shave, reach for one that has a steel or metal handle with replaceable blades. The brand “Billie” delivers new cartridges of blades when you need them, they cost considerably less, and work just as well, if not better. It’s important to study which beauty brands use clean ingredients in their products and minimize their waste at every step of production. It might just save the planet!

Keep the plastic out of the kitchen: Take a good long look at those coffee cups piling up in your trash. Or the plastic bottles lining the edge of your nightstand. Do you really need all that for a few iced coffees? Next time you get that afternoon pick me up at Starbucks, bring along a reusable coffee cup to reduce your footprint and look good doing it! To really greenify your kitchen, and even the dining halls on campus, start carrying around your own cutlery. This bamboo one costs just $8 and includes a fork, spoon, knife, chopsticks, a reusable straw, and even a little straw cleaner! It’s a simple, surefire way to cut down on the plastic cutlery you throw out every day. If you want to take your eco-warrior journey one step further, gather up your food scraps, coffee grounds, toothpicks, printer paper and used cardboard and add them to a nearby compost bin (or even create your own). These little environmental heroes are cropping up all over college campuses, and help to alleviate the tons of trash we empty into landfills.

Green is the new black: Speaking of your eco-warrior journey, a perfect place to start is your own wardrobe! Here are some more inconvenient truths – the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter (next to oil) and it takes 5,000 gallons of water just to produce a single pair of jeans and t-shirt. Sounds crazy right? Well, we can easily stop this process with the swipe of our credit cards. Before you look to Urban Outfitters or H&M to stock up on the newest trends, take a look at the secondhand options out there – you might be surprised at what you can find. Websites like Depop, Poshmark or Etsy, that sell used clothing are often cheaper than fast fashion and considerably more authentic than the vintage-inspired pieces filling window displays today. If the idea of wearing someone else’s closet scares you, brands like Everlane, Reformation or Girlfriend Collective have clear policies on reducing their environmental impacts that you can trust! Whenever you ever find yourself lost in which brands are eco-friendly and which are not, try using Good On You’s brand directory. They have clear ratings on a company’s ethics, animal uses, and the environmental goals. Going completely green with your wardrobe might feel impossible. Try incorporating just one secondhand or sustainable piece into your outfit each day. It’s worth a shot!

Zero waste can feel like a far-fetched vision with no base in reality, but it’s happening all around us and you can easily become a part of it! Do your research, give power to the brands that align with your values, and stick with them. When we pay attention to sustainable, value-based companies and ignore the ones piling up unnecessary waste in landfills, real changes can be made. Who knows, it could even change the world!


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