It’s Olivia, back with my recommendations on how to reduce your waste as a college student! Here, I’ll share with you the shopping and personal care zero-waste items that I have tried, and what I do (or do not) like about them.
I’m sure we have all heard about and seen reusable shopping bags promoted countless times before as an alternative to plastic bags, and this is for good reason. The average American family uses about 1,500 of these bags per year, and, of the annual total of 100 billion (that’s 100,000,000,000) bags used in the U.S. each year, only 1% of these are returned to drop-offs to be recycled. On the other hand, reusable bags are created to last years and years, and are a one-time investment that can significantly lower the amount of plastic you consume as an individual.
I bought this set of reusable bags over a year ago, and I have honestly used them countless times. This set is from Amazon, though, and if you are in the market for reusable bags, there are many other brands that have more sustainable business practices.
Each bag can hold a ridiculous amount of items, meaning that the grocery and shopping trips that would normally require dozens of plastic bags can all fit into two or three of the reusable ones. Another perk is that there are so many different companies who make these bags, each one with slightly different designs, storage options, and capacities, so there is almost certainly a bag out there that fits all of your needs.
My main suggestion with any kind of bags like these is to keep them in your car where they are visible (I keep mine in the pockets of the driver and passenger side doors), so that you don’t forget you have them whenever you are shopping! I am definitely not perfect at using them, and there have been many times when I have walked out to my car with plastic bags full of the items I just bought, before remembering that I literally had reusable bags right next to me and didn’t use them.
And this will definitely happen to you, too! But, like all parts of the zero-waste lifestyle, it is a journey and an adjustment. Nobody is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up if you forget to use them from time to time.
Metal Razor – The EPA has estimated that as many as 2 billion plastic razors (and refill blades) get thrown away every year in the U.S. alone. Metal razors are certainly an investment, but will cost much less in the long-term than continually purchasing plastic ones, and are well worth the initial cost thanks to their environmental benefits, in my opinion.
There is a bit of a learning curve to using this kind of razor— called a safety razor— due to the way they are made (although this does ensure a closer shave once you know how to use it). Some zero waste stores have created metal razors with pivoting heads, which are more similar to what most people are familiar with using, if you’d prefer that kind instead. There are even programs to recycle your used metal razor blades, ensuring that your new shaving practices are as close to zero-waste as possible.
Reusable Swabs – One personal care product that I think most people don’t realize is harmful to the environment is cotton swabs. Generic ones are made of plastic, and even though some have been created that are made of wood, these are still all single-use items.
I know the idea of reusable swabs can sound odd at first, but I absolutely love mine. They work well for any use (with different tips for whatever you need to use them for), can be rinsed and washed off between uses, and come in a nice carrying case. This is honestly one of my all-time favorite zero-waste swaps!
Reusable Makeup Removing Cloth – Before I owned this cloth, I always felt guilty about how many single-use makeup wipes I disposed of. Even if I only used one at a time, I knew that the waste added up very quickly over time. Whenever I would try to take off my makeup with a washcloth, though, my skin would get irritated because that’s not what those are intended to be used for.
Since I bought the Erase Your Face cloth about two years ago, though, I have genuinely used less than 10 disposable makeup wipes. It works incredibly with water alone, though I use micellar water as a personal preference, and I’m sure other liquid makeup removers would work as well. Once you’ve used it a handful of times, just throw it in the laundry and use it again! I know I will eventually need to purchase a new one, but the sheer amount of waste I am keeping from ending up in the landfill makes the eventual repurchasing worth it.
Reusable Cotton Rounds – I also go through a good number of cotton rounds in my everyday skincare routine, meaning I was so excited to receive reusable ones last year. For as much as I love the idea of them in theory, though, the specific set that I bought did not contain very many. Because of that, I hardly find myself reaching for them because I know I’d have to wash them more often since I have fewer of them.
However, many brands are now selling larger packs of the reusable rounds, meaning that they have become more practical for everyday use. I look forward to giving them another chance soon, and hopefully using them often!
Zero-Waste Shampoo & Conditioner Bars – Most of us go through several plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles each year, and only about 1 in 5 people recycle their recyclable bathroom items consistently. To help cut down on this waste, shampoo and conditioner bars have become much more popular in the last couple years, and are made by several different brands.
Personally, the shampoo is definitely easier to use at first than the conditioner. The shampoo lathers up like most others, but the conditioner bar is a much different experience from the conventional lotion-like conditioner that people are used to. Don’t fret, though— the end result is the same as with any other kind of conditioner.
There are dozens of varieties of these bars, meaning you will very likely find the kind of product that your hair needs. (I myself use the bars made by Zero Waste Store.) This article is a really helpful review of several different brands, so I would recommend checking it out if you don’t know where to start.
In the end…. The most important part is to not be ashamed or embarrassed to try! Cutting out waste is definitely not the default in our society, so you will sometimes feel like you stick out like a sore thumb with your reusable bags and other items. At the end of the day, though, you’ll actually be helping to normalize this kind of lifestyle, which will make others feel more comfortable joining!