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Simple ways college students can minimize their waste

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

College is not an easy place to be waste free. From dorm specific appliances that you’ll most likely only use for a year to all of the plastic packaging in on-the-go dining options, it’s no wonder that looking in New North’s trash room my freshman year made me feel like it was the Monday after the weekender.

When you’re rushing between classes, work, and extracurriculars, ease and convenience often (understandably!) take priority over sustainability in the food we eat, products we buy, and habits we develop. Furthermore, there is the assumption that shopping sustainably is more expensive, a luxury most college students can’t afford. But this isn’t always the case! Minimizing your waste can be cheaper and more fun. Waste reduction is not about going from 0 to 100 — it’s unrealistic to assume you’d wake up tomorrow and start being completely waste free. But over time, we all can develop changes to our habits that minimize our waste.

Here are some simple ways all college students can create less wasteful habits:

1. Buy dorm/apartment furniture and appliances second hand

If Facebook Marketplace hasn’t become your best friend yet, you’re doing college wrong. No need to spend $150+ on a new Ikea bed when graduating seniors are selling theirs online for much cheaper, maybe even for free. Ever see the stacks of Brita filters for sale at Target? I’m sure there’s one somewhere on the USC Free or for Sale Facebook group. In dorms or even apartment settings, there’s so much you “need” but may only use during your time at school (Twin XL sheets! Adjustable bed risers!). Buying second hand is a great and cheap way to avoid the lines at Target AND lower your carbon footprint.

2. Shampoo bars

I’ll admit it, shampoo bars would be a bit of a challenge in a community bathroom setting due to storage, but for those of you not living in residence halls, this has been one of my favorite changes that I’ve made to try and create less plastic waste. There are options out there for all hair types. There could definitely be more, but the steps companies are taking to make sustainable shopping an option for everyone is really exciting. For example, Superzero makes Shampoo bars for people with dandruff, thinning hair, coily/kinky hair, blondes…you name it. Brands like HiBar are available at Target and Whole Foods, locations easily accessible to USC students. While shampoo bars are currently a bit more expensive than bottled liquid shampoo, I have found them to be a worthwhile change.

3. Vintage game day apparel

There’s a lot of fun gameday apparel out there, and the pull to buy a ton of new clothes your freshman (…or senior) year can be quite strong. College football is exciting, after all. However, sites like DePop, Poshmark, and even Facebook Marketplace make finding vintage game day apparel easy and accessible. You can even find sellers using recyclable packaging, or reach out to them about implementing that. We all feel the urge to buy a cheerleading skirt from the bookstore when we first get to campus…but those red pants you thrifted will be so much more unique. And the most cost effective idea? Ask an upperclassmen friend if you can borrow some of their old game day outfits. 

4. Keep reusable grocery bags in your backpack

As a busy college student, you never know when you’re going to be stopping at Ralphs or Trader Joe’s in between class. If you throw a reusable bag or two in the bottom of your backpack, you’ll always be prepared and won’t have to use single-use plastic grocery bags ever again.

Minimizing your waste on a college campus takes a little bit of planning ahead, but implementing small, step by step changes can have a much bigger impact than you think.

Katie Muschalik is a film student at the University of Southern California. Everything she ever needed to know she learned from a Judy Blume book.