What to do when zero waste isn’t an option – living smart at University

I’ve spoken a few time on this blog about how I wanted to start living more a sustainable lifestyle. From a young age I’ve been more environmentally conscious than my peers after an assemble in primary school first introduced me to recycling. In my late teens I came across the zero waste moment when I  saw the viral video about a woman who had put two years of trash in a mason jar. However, as I said in a previous post, living zero waste is only possible for a handful of people and I’m not one of them.

So what do you do when you want to change your lifestyle to a more sustainable one but zero waste isn’t possible?

The answer is you take it one step at a time.

For the past three years all I’ve really been able to change is getting a water bottle to carry with me at all times and recycle a bit more. There were many reasons that was all I could do, my main one being that I lived at home at the time so didn’t have complete control over aspects of my day to day living. But now that I’m at university I’ve been able to have more control over my day to day habits and made a few swaps.

So today I’m going to share what I’ve been doing to live more sustainably at university. Also, some of these are really good money savers so if you’re a broke student then give these a go.

Reusable water bottles and flasks

This was my first swap three years ago. Since then it’s taken me a while to figure out what bottle works best for me but I’ve got myself two that work really well. The idea is simple, if you bring a water bottle with you then you won’t be buying drinks in plastic bottles. This reduces your plastic waste and you save so much money.

 

This was given to me by my lovely partner after they’d been at New Wine serving on team (I wasn’t able to go this year). It’s a single walled bottle given out by a charity called Tearfund and it quite literally goes everywhere with me- this is my day to day water bottle.

With it being only single walled it means I can’t put hot drink in it without it burning my hands. So if I want a hot drink whilst I’m out I either have to bring my flask with me already full or go sit in a coffee shop for one.

As the name implies this water bottle is big. This was my main bottle for almost a year before I was given my Tearfund one. I got it off amazon after having issues with my previous water bottle, what I’ll go into in a second. It’s a duel walled bottle meaning it is hot drink safe and this particular one can keep my drinks warm for up to 12 hours (according to the website, I’ve never been able to keep a drink that long). It also has a wide mouth, what took some getting used to, but it allows me to put ice cubes in and because it’s double walled it will keep it cool for 24 hours (once again according to the website).

If I know I’m going to be out for a day, this one comes with me simply because it carries more liquid. Or if I fancy a hot drink then it will be my flask for the day.

Things weren’t always this easy for my drinks containers, I’ve gone through three different water bottles before I got myself settled with these two.

My first bottle was a cheep plastic one with a straw what I had for a good six months plus. Despite my best efforts the straw got dirty and I found I wasn’t too confident drinking out of it for hygiene reasons, so it had to go. My next one was a basic plastic one minus the straw. This one lasted me the next year and a bit but eventually the plastic left a funny after taste and any flavored drinks would taint the taste further. It also started to break after it was thrown around a few too many time. I finally moved onto metal bottles (what I recommend you start off with) what lasted me a good year. It was durable but the size was wrong for me meaning I found myself leaving it at home and buying single use bottles when I was out. Instead of putting this one in the recycling like the others, a family member was after this one so I gave it to them instead of throwing it.

Finally we make it to my Big Bamboo and little bamboo (what refer to my Tearfund bottle as). Both of these work perfectly for me and I will use them until they are destroyed.

Shampoo bars

I wish I had brought one of these sooner, I debated for so long if I wanted to try one and now that I’ve had mine for several months, I’m sold.

A shampoo bar is what it says on the tin, a bar of shampoo. You use it in the shower like a bar of soap, get it suddy and then rub (sparingly) into your hair. It’s not rocket science and this will save you some money and plastic consumption.

Chances are you’ll have to get these online as not many people sell them in stores just yet. I got mine off Etsy and I paid for it to come in a tin. This means I can store it in the tin when it’s not in use and when it runs out I only have to buy a bar of shampoo next time, as the tin can be reused over and over again. It cost a bit more for the tin, but the bar was only about £3.

I’ve had this bar since August, so it’t lasted me three months and still has plenty to give. Due to the bars being so concentrated they can last a very long time. Granted I have a pixie hair cut so it’s not like I have a lot of hair to wash, but I shower very often. A bottle of shampoo may last me a month at a push and costs about £2 – £3 a bottle. So just think of how much money you can save and how many bottles you’re not using by swapping to bar shampoo.

You can get conditioner bars and normal soap for washing yourself but I haven’t brought any yet. I brought conditioner and body wash with me to uni and I’m yet to use them up. However, once those bottles are empty I’ll make the swap to bar form.

Hand soap

Soap is an example where being zero waste isn’t possible for me. I have both bar soap and liquid soap in a plastic bottle. The reason I still have liquid soap is because I have things like my retainers that I need to clean with it, so going fully bar soap just isn’t feasible for me and that’s perfectly ok.

My bar soap is used for when I wash my hands and is good for the same reasons as my bar shampoo, you get your moneys worth and less plastic consumption. My liquid soap is reserved for cleaning things and nothing else. To make sure I wasn’t using loads of plastic I brought it in bulk. So in my bathroom is about a liters worth of liquid soap. Buying it in bulk means it will probably last me the whole year and as a result, I’m only putting one plastic bottle in my recycling pile.

Fabric bags

Tread with caution with reusable bags. I know at the moment more research is going into how environmentally friendly things like tote bags are as they use a lot of resources to make and most people don’t use their bags enough times to equal out the consequences of the resources used to make it. So just be conscious of that before you go out and buy one, check to see if you have anything you can use instead.

I didn’t bring a single canvas bag with me to uni, I had two bags for life from home and I wanted to use them instead of buying a fabric one. But I discovered I used the bags for life to transport my washing to the launderettes and back and I didn’t fancy putting my food in their afterwards. So at the uni freshers fair I kept an eye out for free canvas bags and ended up with two. One lives in my backpack at all times, encase I go shopping unexpectedly and the other is in my room on the back of my door.

From a students point of view, bring a bag with you for shopping. Sure you can buy one for 5p but over a year all those little pennies will add up. I’d rather spend that money on buying a hot chocolate in a coffee shop.

Second hand text books

Do not go spending loads of money at uni on your text books when you can save so much money getting them second hand. One of my flatmates is studying biology and they needed a very chunky text book at cost a massive £114, but they did some shopping and got it second hand for £4. Do NOT go buying brand new books when you don’t need to.

 

I have a fair few books to read for my course (I’m studying writing so it was expected) and I got all of mine second hand. I saved myself about £30 and I’m reusing something meaning it won’t go in the bin just yet. Sure, they may not be all that pretty to look at. The one above is stained but the inside is fine and still does the job.

Just recycle

Bangor University is amazing for this, they really encourage students to recycle where possible and use things like their own water bottles. Even in my flat I have several bins for recycling and even food waste bin.

If all else fails and you can’t get a reusable water bottle, a bar of soap or a secondhand book, chances are you can still recycle. As I said earlier in the post it’s about taking things one step at a time. Living  more sustainable is a lifestyle choice and that in itself has to be sustainable.


Being zero waste isn’t achievable for most of us. My tablets (and any medication in general) come in plastic packaging and as much as I want to cut down on my plastic waste, I’m not going to forfeit those tablet for that. I don’t use a bamboo toothbrush because I can’t stand the texture of them, one of my weird quirks is that I can’t hold or use wooden utensils. People with certain disability’s HAVE to use plastic straws and I’m going to link a very good YouTube video explaining why at the end. There are so many reasons why most of us will never be able to even get close to zero waste, and that’s ok.

My end goal will never be zero waste.

But I want to live a more conscious and sustainable lifestyle and I am taking those little steps to achieve this. I encourage others to use reusable water bottles when they can or make little changes when they can. But the key words there are when they can.

I’ll be honest, sometimes I still will buy a smoothie in a plastic bottle when I’m out simply to treat myself. This is a lifestyle and it has to be sustainable, so if you want a smoothie desperately one day then buy one and enjoy it. But once you’re done, juts remember to put it in the recycling afterwards. If you force yourself to only drink water from your water bottle you’re eventually going to get fed up and go screw this.

So there we are, this is what I do when zero waste isn’t an option. I know it’s been a long and rambly post, you’ve done good if you’ve made it this far. Starting to live a more conscious life is something that’s been a long time in the making and I’ve got a long way to go. If you guys are interested I’ll keep you up to date with what I’ve learned and what does and doesn’t work for me. Also, if you guys have any tips and tricks that use use to live more consciously then please let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

If you’re interested in the video I talked about earlier about plastic straws then please click here. It’s an interesting video highlighting how the straw ban can negatively impact some people with disability’s and how the alternative straws introduced aren’t all that good.

Until next time guys, take care.

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One thought on “What to do when zero waste isn’t an option – living smart at University

  1. Oo Yeah! Eco life is my best life. I hate spending money of things that I will throw away and mess up the Earth. I can’t say that I am the biggest eco activist, but I am using such eco friendly products and love your ideas! ❤️ Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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