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10 easy ways to go zero waste at uni

A laptop and earphones on a cafe table

I recently saw an article that said about 1.6 billion disposable pens are thrown away in the US alone each year (and that was in 2013, you can find the article here). It’s just such an unimaginable amount, and as I’m starting back at uni this week, it really got me thinking about how damaging student life can be. As a returning postgrad, I thought I’d share some ways students can live a little more zero waste, so here are my top 10 tips!



Freebies, freebies everywhere! Freshers fairs are particularly bad for this, and your recycling bin is not going to thank you for the wodge of leaflets you’re going to instantly throw away when you get home. Don’t weigh yourself down with 10 free pens that have your careers office logo on – get a gorgeous fountain pen instead and you’ll never need to awkwardly borrow a pen in class again.



Whether it’s a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, or produce bags for your loose veggies, every time you use it you’re stopping pointless plastic going to landfill. And they look cooler. And they save you money in the long-run. It’s a no-brainer really.



This is a big one for students, especially in freshers, and I’ve definitely been guilty of this. Spot the bartender reaching for a plastic straw? Refuse it. Only plastic cups available? Get a bottle or can instead (or if you’re at a party, grab a glass from the kitchen).



Buying new requires more resources and more money. Head to a charity shop or your parents’ kitchen – poaching that casserole dish that never gets used anyway not only stops it from gathering dust, but will make your new place feel just like home! Likewise, get your books secondhand instead of paying over the odds – course textbooks are almost always pretty expensive, and hey, you might get lucky and get one with notes in it…



Despite what your liver may think, the main reason you’ve headed to uni is to study, and you’re probably going to be there for at least the next three years or so. That’s a lot of notes! Maybe you can’t part with your lovely (recycled paper) diary for the calendar on your phone, but typing your class notes has other advantages too – put them on the cloud where you can’t lose them, can easily share work for group projects, and colour coordinate to your heart’s content.



With a bit of thought, not only can you minimise your food waste, but you can eat lots of really good food for cheap and get plenty of brain fuel. Planning and preparing batch meals in advance not only saves valuable time and money (which let’s be honest, students don’t usually have enough of either), but can help you to eat healthier *and* be kind to the planet. Also, ditch the processed, plastic-packaged snacks in the library and take your own instead! For more info, check out our post on meal prepping here.



Speaking of food, buying food loose and in bulk is often cheaper and means you can get the quantity you actually want. This is particularly great if, like me, you have a serious tea/coffee/general hot drink addiction as buying loose means I don’t get the plastic or the guilt! This also works great for products like safety razor blades too (check out our post on that here for the low-down) and deli counters/bakeries, saving you money and drastically reducing unnecessary plastic packaging.



We all know the chemicals in cleaning products and beauty products aren’t so great for our health or the environment, but they often come in single-use plastic too! Instead, opt for simpler, more natural products. Despite what marketing tells us, you really don’t need 20 cleaning products taking up all that space in your cupboard. Switch to shampoo and soap bars too to avoid any cheeky housemates using all of your products in the shower (you’re welcome).



Most unis have a sustainability department or society of some sort that are already trying to make things better in your city, so go and get involved! Every person makes a difference, but you can magnify your impact by being open about your journey and encouraging people to take their own steps to living more consciously. Our generation is already making waves when it comes to tackling these kinds of issues, so every little helps.



We’ve all experienced it. You start uni, you buy every type of utensil and candle you need to make your new space home and you’re set. You finally finish your exams for the year, move into a new shared house, and you’ve somehow collectively ended up with 66 plates and 101 mugs between the five of you. Before you consign them to the kitchen bin, think: everything you own used to be money. All of the time, energy and hard-earned cash that went into getting that product gets wasted if you just throw it away. Give your things a new life, whether that’s by donating, selling, or passing on the stuff you don’t need anymore.


Having already spent four years as a student, I know the struggle is real! The best piece of advice I can give is to not try and do everything all at once. Don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy every beautiful canvas bag or keepcup that you see on Instagram (though I’d say that’s a great way to start on that student loan), you probably already have loads of things stashed away that will work just fine. Just educate yourself as best you can, that’s the reason you’re at uni after all, and don’t be afraid to be different or talk about what you’re doing – you’ll probably meet loads of like minded people in the process. Good luck!

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