• Cut The Crap

Going Back to School- Sustainably!

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

Oh, yes. It’s back to school time already. As I have seen back-to-school supplies filling every Target, I’ve been thinking about how to share how we can go back to school in a -sustainable- way. Here are the top products, tips, or practices I’ve done or that I have researched! I hope this helps you make this transition a little less daunting. 

1. Notebooks

Did you know you will consume a whole tree in your lifetime if you use traditional notebooks? The average tree produces 10,000 sheets of paper, which is about 100 standard 1-subject notebooks. YIKES. And, 8 college semesters with 5 subjects will use 40 notebooks. Another big yikes. 

An alternative a friend recommended to me was Rocketbook- a notebook made from recyclable plastic and it doesn’t leave a paper trail. It uses technology such as cloud services to capture images of your notes, drawings, etc. and save them- without using paper! Once the notebook is full, you erase the pages with a microfiber cloth and start again!

  • If you would still prefer a paper notebook, opt for a recycled one. The Decomposition Notebook brand has cute designs and is widely available at stores.

2. Textbooks

Buy USED! One thing I’ve learned throughout college is that used textbooks are the way to go. Not only are they cheaper, but they are better for the environment, as they reduce the amount of books being created (and trees being cut down). Likewise, you can get online versions of many books! There was no worse feeling that spending around $200 on a textbook that I pulled out of my backpack and used… ONCE. These small switches to used or online books really does make a difference. 

3. Pack Your Lunches!

Since I started college, I have brought my lunches (and sometimes breakfasts) with me to class. It is such a great way to save money, reduce plastic, and form good habits! For breakfast, I love to bring overnight oats (usually in a used nut butter jar) and for lunch I bring salads or leftovers in my tupperware. I feel so much better having food with me on hand, avoiding the plastic that comes with most to-go food options. A friend once told me that they felt weird bringing a lunch box to and from class in college. Don’t be! I’ve seen countless classmates with lunch boxes who are also saving money and eliminating plastic from their practices. In the midst of a difficult lecture, I promise that your classmates aren’t thinking about the fact that you have a lunchbox!

-Check out our previous post on plastic-free July for more ideas on plastic-free solutions


*Here's a photo of my go-to overnight oats with chia seeds

4. Unplug!

After living in an apartment my sophomore and junior year, my roommates and I became very conscious about all the things we had plugged in 24/7. Once I started paying my own electric bill (sorry mom and dad) I became much more eager to save money and energy. I began practicing unplugging items such as chargers and small appliances like coffee makers when I wasn’t using them. This is such an easy way to save money and electricity, overall reducing your footprint in college.

5. Be Thrifty

As I mentioned, moving into an apartment comes with a lot of responsibilities and stressors- especially furnishing your new home. My roommates and I did not want to spend a lot of money on new furniture, so we searched for our items on sites like “Nextdoor” and “Facebook Marketplace.” This saved us SO much money and it felt good to reuse some furniture that was gently worn or used. Another good way to save money is asking friends and family if they’re looking to get rid of furniture. Many families have garage sales in the summer, which provides a great opportunity to snag some good deals before you go back to school.

The same goes for clothes shopping. I recommend buying thrifted or second-hand items rather than buying from companies that often have a very large environmental impact. If you do have to buy new pieces, research the company beforehand to make sure that they are a sustainable option.

-See our post on sustainable fashion for more information and brand recommendations!

6. Get planting!

Instead of plugging in an air freshener or using an aerosol freshener, opt for some indoor plants. Not only do they bring life to any space (especially a small college dorm) but they also naturally improve air quality and remove odors. I love all my plant babies and truly can’t imagine my room without them- they can make even the least appealing dorm rooms feel like home. 

7. When You’re Done, Donate

Whether you’re getting rid of clothes, computers, phones, or furniture, opt for donating them rather than throwing them away. There are several nonprofits in most cities that are in need of the items mentioned above and it would be a great way to do some cleaning out of your space at the end of the year. 

8. Use Reusable Water Bottles & Bags

I keep a water bottle filled up for my long days at class, and I opt for a reusable one ALWAYS. It is such an easy way to eliminate plastic and waste. My absolute favorite is the brand Kleen Kanteen; they have many colors and styles and keep your beverages cold (or hot) for hours. For when I study at coffee shops, I always ask for a reusable cup (if I’m staying there) or I bring my reusable mug for a to-go option. For when I grocery shop, I bring reusable bags (both large bags and produce bags) to prevent the use of excess bags and the buildup of those bags in our apartment. Is it just me or does every home have a bag of bags? Let’s make those bags reusable!

  • I also have a previous post on making a reusable bag from an old t-shirt, so definitely check that out for more info.

9. Compost

You really don’t need a fancy compost bin for your dorm or college apartment. In the past, my roommates and I have simply put food scraps in a compostable bag in the fridge until its full. Then, you can simply take the compost to a compost center or transfer to a larger bin (if you have access to one!). I love composting to reduce the amount of food waste that gets sent to landfills. 

10. Use bar soap and bars of shampoo/conditioner

Using bar soap for your dishes, hand soap, shampoo or conditioner is perfect for eliminating plastic waste. The pumps that are common in many soaps and shampoos are very difficult to recycle. This swap has been an easy one in my own life and it has helped me be more aware of the plastic used for personal hygiene items.

I hope these tips help you when you're back at school!

Always remember that the little swaps add up.

We hope you have a great start to your semester!


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