When we first learned about the zero-waste, we were living in a college dorm. The lifestyle at a glance seemed unattainable, especially with our living situation, but we were committed to making small changes in our daily routines until we could fully transition once we moved back home. Here are some of the things we experienced and learned from going zero-waste in a college dorm.
THE "WHAT TO GET" DORM LIST
Moving into a college dorm usually comes with those long lists of everyting you'll need to buy, but it's likely you won't need half of those things. I recommend you bring what you can from home or find it second hand if you're out of state and flew to get there. Unfortunately for us, we flew and weren't zerowaste at the time so we bought a bunch of cheap junk that we didn't need and ended up selling or donating.
You can also look to sustainable companies with ethical values for some of the things you'll need. Always look for quality over quantity. But the less you have in the room the better- a clear room equals a clear mind. And, it will make moving out a whole lot easier.
The new school year can amount to a lot of waste with new pens and notebooks, as well as unnecessary spending. We weren't aware of this at the time so we always got new and fresh supplies for each semester. But there's a pretty easy way to get around the waste. Thift stores and art supply stores usually have second-hand notebooks and writing utensils for cheap. You can also bring whatever you have from home instead of buying, take notes on your laptop when possible, or invest in a refillable fountain pen if you don't already have pens or pencils lying around.
Composting is one of the main things someone ought to do when trying to reduce the amount of waste they create, but our school (or city of Savannah, Georgia) didn't have a composting system. So we didn't have a choice but to throw food in the garbage. However, it did open up our eyes as to how much of the garbage we created was organics, so we make a huge effort to reduce that.
It wasn't until a few months later that we finally found a compost bin!! The school's garden had a compost bin behind it (pretty well hidden, actually) so we began freezing our scraps in the minifridge freezer inside paper bags and took them out to the once a week.
At the dining halls we would bring a container for left-over and/or scraps and took them back to our dorm. You can find any kind of tin or bucket to freeze scraps, and if you have a mealplan, it's likely you won't fill it fast.
This one was a tough one, but considering we still had a lot of store bought products to go through, we stuck it out for a while. Toothpaste and laundry powder were easy to make since they don't require a stove top, but body butter, lip balm, deodorant, etc, all require a double-boiler so we took advantage of our time at home over the holidays to make those things.
Soap was also easy because there was a soap shop with dozens of bars of soap of differnet colors, scents, and other products like biodegrable wash cloths (which we replaced for plastic luffas).
I recommed to keep it simple. If you can find single-ingredient self-care solutions, such as olive or coconut oil for a moisturizer, that's great. You can also decide to buy your products from sustainable companies.
We were lucky enough to be near the only bulk store near enough to walk to (about two miles), but we made a day of it on Saturday's and it quickly became the highlight of our week walking through the historic city of Savannah. We took advantage of our free student Amazon Prime membership and ordered cloth bags, and also got a couple glass jars at Target. We didn't need to buy much food considering we ate at the dining halls, but whenever we bought anything else it would be in cardboard or glass, or in the biggest container available.
I'd see some of my friends at school have over ten differnet spray cleaners under thier sink and two or three swiffer jets. This is a waste of money and obviously too much plastic, but also toxic. All you need is baking soda and vinger. The combination works for all surfaces and most cleaning products already have vinger in them anyway. Buy the vinegar in glass if you can, but if you can't, find it in the biggest container (what we did). Ditch the paper towls and use rags- you can buy some, get some at a thrift store, make them from old clothes, or use old towels. Sprinkle baking soda over surfaces and spray with vinegar to clean. Vinegar on its own works great on windows, too!
For toilet paper, you can order a big box of plastic-free rolls from online supply store, which are normally dicounted for buying in bulk. You'll save money, waste, and time from not having to run to the store for more, since they'll likely last you half of the semester. Who Gives A Crap is a good, sustainable company that provides boxes of toilet paper made from 100% recycled content, and also offer bamboo toilet paper. Plus, they offer 10% off your first order!
Some other things shouldn't be as difficult when taking your living situation into consideration, such as getting a reusable water bottle, reusable bags, coffee cup, bamboo toothbrush, etc. Remember that online shopping is your friend, but remember to ask for plastic-free shipping, if possible.
Most students get those giant plastic packs of water bottles. If you can't drink from tap, consider getting a Brita filter.
Keep in mind to buy things for your dorm that have use outside of it.
For more tips, Paris To Go (anther zero-waste blogger) offers a zero-waste college dorm list and other helpful advice when moving off to college and how to live sustainably while being a student.