How College Students (& New Adults) Can Live Without Sacrificing Sustainability

September 20, 2021

Many students have been heading back to school over the last few weeks, and many in person for the first time in about a year and a half. For those going to college, living on your own and with roommates that you do not know can be difficult to acclimate to. Therefore, living an eco-friendly life in college can be equally demanding and effortful. But, it is not impossible. Here are some simple tips to live sustainably while in college.

Introducing sustainability to college students is not particularly burdensome as several universities are located in what urban planners call walkable cities. Walkable cities refer to whether a city has “…safe, designated areas for people to walk or bike to work, dining, shopping, and entertainment venues,” per Washington Post. Subsequently, a greater sense of community is formed as it is much more likely one will see people on their daily commute. Additionally, in a 2013 report from the D.C Department of Energy & Environment, “transportation accounts for 23 percent of Washington’s greenhouse-gas emissions” and that “cars and trucks in the region regularly sit in gridlocked traffic, exacerbating the pollution caused by vehicles.” Walkable cities, in comparison, allow and encourage fewer car trips with more pedestrian-friendly walking areas and public transportation, which not only help to lower transportation pollution, but also provides areas for things such as green spaces and wildlife habitats. Finally, with copious amounts of college cities being walkable, this automatically makes students living in these college towns much more sustainable than someone living in neighborhoods affected by sprawl. According to Best Colleges, the top ten cities for students without cars are as follows:

  1. Ithaca, New York
  2. Boston, Massachusetts
  3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  4. New York, New York
  5. San Francisco, California
  6. Jersey City, New Jersey
  7. Miami, Florida
  8. Chicago, Illinois
  9. Washington D.C.
  10. Seattle, Washington

Still, as those who practice sustainability know, transportation is not the only aspect of sustainability that must be touched upon. Eating plant based is one of the most advantageously efficient ways to practice sustainability as it is relatively simple and reaps incredible rewards. As reported by Culinary Schools, if one person switched from a meat diet to a vegan diet, they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 tons per year. Furthermore, just one calorie from animal protein requires eleven times as much fossil fuel as the same amount of protein from a plant. Also, raising animals for food depends upon nearly half of all water in the United States as well as 30% of Earth’s land mass. For these reasons among many others, switching to more plant based foods is an excellent way to personally combat climate change. With that being said, cooking is infamously something that college students do not participate in since their living situations often inhibit them from the ability to use a kitchen or other necessary equipment. Nonetheless, there are several plant-based recipes that only use microwaves, air fryers, or mini fridges. These can include chia puddings, mug cakes, trail mixes, no-bake cakes, salads, dips, and many others. Many of these ingredients are found in everyday stores or markets not much more expensive than non-vegan ingredients, which is a common concern to those looking to make a switch in their diet. Even making one plant-forward meal a week can have immense effects on the planet, making it an simple and sustainable solution.

Vegan Dorm Essentials:


Finally, many products that students bring to college can be swapped out with a more eco-friendly version that will also last longer, so students can get more for their money. Let’s start in the bathroom. Shampoo and conditioner bars are a new fad in the world of sustainability, and for good reason. Shampoo and conditioner bars completely eliminate the need for plastic bottled products as they are suitable for all hair types, last over 75 washes per bar, and are entirely zero waste. These products are easy to use, easy to travel with, and now even easy to find at everyday stores such as Target. My personal favorite brand of haircare bars come from the store LUSH.


Additionally, classic bar soap is a much better alternative to plastic bottle body wash and acts like the shampoo and conditioner bars as being zero waste. Another material to consider is the loofah. Loofahs are not characteristically a product one would think is harmful to the planet, but they usually end up in landfills very often since their lifespan is short and are extremely wasteful. Luckily, there are many natural and compostable loofahs and loofah alternatives sold in many places for fair prices.


Next, metal razors, or safety razors, are an excellent way to lessen the amount of plastic in your bathroom. While some safety razors are a bit more expensive than the ones that consumers are used to, the lifespan of the product is sure to be much longer than any plastic razor. While pricey, accessibility is simple as, again, everyday stores like Target provide them.


Ecoroots Safety Razor

Several other products such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and cleaning brushes can be swapped out for bamboo alternatives that last much longer. Other small items such as cotton pads, q-tips, floss, and menstrual products can all be swapped for reusable items that provide the exact same purpose.

Reusable Cotton Rounds

Last Object Zero-waste Q Tips


Quip Refillable Floss

Outside of the bathroom there is still a great deal of products that college students can use while living in close quarters with other students. One of the especially difficult aspects of college is laundry. It can be expensive and irritating to complete with so many people using the same machines. Thankfully, there are several zero waste and sustainable laundry products that can also save money, which makes the experience just a bit more enjoyable.

Zero Waste Laundry Detergent

Lavender Stain & Odor Detergent

Public Goods Laundry Detergent Pods

In a dorm version of a kitchen, there are still sustainable products that can be used in lieu of single use plastics and other non-reusable items. There are the basic staples such as reusable water bottles and food storage, which also save a considerable amount of money, as well as substitutes like reusable bags for grocery shopping. There are several ways to sustainably store food other than the classic Tupperware such as beeswax paper and reusable baggies.

Biodegradable Food Wrap

Reusable Sandwich Wrap

Last but certainly not last, one of my personal favorite sustainable products to use in everyday life are Swedish dish cloths. Using Swedish dish cloths can save 17 rolls of paper towels and though their lifespan is long since they are washable, once one is no longer useable, it can be completely composted. Plus, they have fun designs to choose from to whatever best fits your dorm or kitchen.

wild life Swedish Sponge Cloth


Ultimately, there are a plethora of ways to live a sustainable lifestyle while still getting an education and life experiences. Living in places that are walkable with plant-based eating and reusable products sets anyone up for success. This is in no way a complete list of sustainable methods to apply in daily life, but it is a great start. Personally, I am awfully excited to see these products and practices in use by many and cannot wait to see what else will be in store in the future.

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Photo: Daria Shetsova via Unsplash

Abbey Serio
Abbey is a recent college graduate based in Southern California who is extremely passionate about sustainability and zero waste. She has been vegan for over 4 years and loves animals. In her free time Abbey can be found hiking, reading, listening to music, experimenting with new vegan recipes, gardening, and spending time with friends and family. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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