Back To School: Low Waste Edition

It’s back to school season, and college campuses are filled with the chaos of busy class schedules, move-in days, and new habits and routines. Although the idea of “low waste living” might sound overwhelming to college students, it can actually be just the opposite. Living sustainably doesn’t mean spending more money or making drastic changes. Reducing your waste and carbon footprint may save you money and time!

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Tip #1: Save a dime and use what you have!

Going “green” and “low waste” is often associated with expensive sustainable gear and products, which isn’t usually in a college student’s budget. But student or not, one of our favorite tips for low waste living is to use what you have! Reuse notebooks, folders, and school supplies each semester; use that backpack as long as you can; don’t stress about getting the latest computer model. The most sustainable option is reusing what you already have – don’t let greenwashing or new gear trick you into buying something you don’t need!

Tip #2: Buy secondhand supplies, clothes, and furniture!

Used bookstores (like McKay’s and Southland Books!), Facebook Marketplace, summer yard sales, local thrift stores, and clothing resale shops around town have TONS of secondhand options. It will save you money and prevent something from going to the landfill.

Check to see if your school has a Free Store for students, like the UTK Free Store or the ESTU Free Store! Below is UTK's Free Store on 22nd Street, plus they have popups around campus.

UTK's free storeUTK's Free Store at 915 22nd Street

Tip #3: Carry reusables around campus!

One of the easiest ways to reduce plastic waste is by carrying a reusable water bottle – most campuses have water bottle refill stations, so you don’t have to worry about running out. The University of Tennessee’s Mug Project offers a discount on fountain drinks and drip coffee at several locations when you bring your own mug (24 oz or less)!

Need to pack a lunch for class? Try a reusable tiffin or reusable silicone bags. One of our favorite on-the-go tools is a set of reusable cutlery. You never know when you might need it, and it’ll save single-use plastic cutlery from the trash.

Tip #4: Recycle on campus!

Many colleges have recycling programs and plenty of recycling bins around campus. Get familiar with the campus recycling program, available recycling sites in your area, and set up your own recycling bin in your home.

This year for move in week (Aug 21 - 25), ETSU has extra cardboard recycling dumpsters set up on campus to capture the surplus of cardboard moving boxes. 

Check out recycling programs at a few Tennessee colleges below:

ETSU's cardboard recycling binsETSU's additional cardboard recycling dumpsters for move-in week

Tip #5: Compost food scraps whenever possible!

Composting is becoming more popular on college campuses, making it really simple for students and staff to compost their food scraps. The University of Tennessee’s Compost Facility makes a huge impact on the University’s food waste. If you’re living off campus in Knoxville, try using Knoxville’s public compost dropoff area

If your college campus doesn’t have a composting program currently, look into composting companies in your area (and ask if they have a student discount!). Check out ShareWaste to find someone nearby who composts and would allow you to drop off your compostables.

compostFresh garden compost from UT's Compost Facility

Tip #6: Walk, bike, or bus to class.

One of the best things about many college campuses is their walkability and bikeability. Walking or biking to class is typically how students get around campus – but what about off-campus students getting to campus? If you live along a bus route, consider taking public transportation to and from campus. If you’re in a safe biking area and not too far from campus, try biking! It’ll save you from any parking chaos at your school.

For on campus transportation at the University of Tennessee, consider riding the T, the University’s on-campus bus system. Knoxville also has a great public transportation system via KAT buses which you could ride to and from campus depending on where you live.

Tip #7: Try meatless Mondays.

Beef is the top carbon dioxide-emitting food (by far!). Other meats and dairy products follow behind. Looking for some new vegetarian recipes to make? Check out the Meatless Monday website!

Tip #8: Join a sustainable or outdoor program at your school.

Make a difference on your campus by getting involved in a sustainable organization. Your school doesn’t have one? Take the initiative to start one! College outdoor programs are another great way to get involved and learn more about nearby state parks, recreational areas, and outdoor activities.

Tip #9: Refill your home goods and try zero waste swaps.

You all know we love refilling… and we think you would, too! Refilling helps you reduce the single-use plastic bottles that hold home essentials like dish soap, shampoo, and cleaners at most grocery stores. Instead, you can BYO container, purchase one of ours, or use a donated container at our shop to refill your essentials (including personal care).

We’re just a 10 minute drive (or a 25 minute bike ride!) away from UT’s campus and not too far from other local colleges! We carry an assortment of refills, bulk foods, zero waste swaps, and locally made goods – find more info on our website. We recommend starting small with refillable hand soap or one of our liquid or powder laundry detergents!

PS: We’re offering 10% off to students through August! Our discount is valid in store with your Student ID. 

refillingKnoxFill, located at 3211 South Haven Rd in South Knox

Tip #10: Just do your best!

Don’t let the fear of imperfection stop you from trying to live more sustainably! Progress is the goal, not perfection – even the smallest changes make a difference. Maybe that looks like starting with one or two of these tips and adding more over time. Sustainability looks different for everyone.

When in doubt, remember one of our favorite quotes from Anne Marie Bonneau:

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions doing it imperfectly.”

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