College Essentials for the Sustainable Student

College Essentials for the Sustainable Student

It’s officially back to school season! It’s a time filled with seemingly endless tasks, hundreds of shopping lists, and lots of excitement. At Makeena, we’re committed to helping our shoppers live healthier lives on a cleaner planet. If you read our blogs, then you know that we write a lot about conservation and sustainability, but we haven’t yet discussed what that looks like for the college student.

And, if we’re being honest, it looks a little different. In college, you’re likely living with your classmates in small, unfamiliar spaces. Chances are you’re not in control of who you’re living with, the food, or the facilities. You may also be on a tight budget! It’s true that college living can make leading a sustainable lifestyle a bit more difficult, but certainly not impossible. If you’re looking to be more environmentally friendly this year, then you’ve come to the right place! Read on for our college essentials for the sustainable student.

Sustainable School Supplies

Let’s face it – you’re at college to learn and you need the right tools to do so. Luckily, you can be more sustainable about your school supplies with a few simple changes. 

The best rule of thumb when it comes to sustainable school supplies is reusing items that you’ve already purchased. It sounds obvious, but is worth mentioning, especially considering that a lot of back to school supplies end up in landfills. So, before you craft your shopping list and hit the stores, take a look at what you already have. And, while you’re at it, take a look at 6 things you can do with an old, broken backpack

But, of course, we all need to buy new every once in a while. So, let’s start with school supplies.

Go Paperless

One of the most sustainable options is to simply go paperless by eliminating printing, physical books, and notes on paper. However, it is also important to consider the negative effects of manufacturing electronics on the environment. In fact, harvesting the precious metals and toxic industrial compounds for components is not kind to our planet. Hardware manufacturing is the dominant source of carbon emissions.

When it’s time to buy a new device, consider buying it refurbished, which helps reduce e-waste by keeping older electronics out of the landfill. Also, your wallet will thank you! And be sure to keep your existing devices in good health, so that you can use them for years to come. Here’s a guide to protecting and maintaining your electronic devices. 

Before purchasing that brand new device, you may also want to check out a recycling program like this one for your older electronics. You can also check out Ridwell, a service that picks up your hard-to-recycle items right from your front door. It’s convenient, fast, and will make you feel great about where your stuff is headed.

Try More Sustainable Alternatives

There are some of us who heavily prefer handwritten notes and physical copies of books. And, that’s okay. You don’t have to sacrifice your preferences in the name of sustainability. It’s all about finding what works for you, and making small changes toward a more sustainable life. 

If that sounds like you, try investing in a Decomposition Notebook. They’re made from recycled materials and feature a wide array of designs and styles. We also love the Rocketbook. It’s a customizable, reusable notebook solution that uses cloud technology to save your notes digitally, while giving you the comfort and ease of handwritten notes. You can use the Rocketbook for all of your classes in a single semester, then wipe it clean to use again, and again, and again. 

When it comes to writing utensils, you’re in luck because there is a great assortment of more sustainable options. These include recycled paper pens, inkless pens, and refillable bamboo pens. Here’s a link to a more comprehensive list to find what works best for you. And don’t forget about Staples’ recycling program for your writing instruments that are no longer in use. Together, we can change the fact that Americans throw our 1.6 billion pens each year.


There’s a massive environmental impact associated with traditional textbooks that students are often required to buy. First, hold off on purchasing a textbook until you’re sure that it is necessary for the class. Then, look for a digital copy of the textbook. If that doesn’t work, Chegg is a great resource to rent your textbooks for the time that you need them.

Eating More Sustainably as a Student

So much of college life is busy, hectic, and on-the-go. And, oftentimes, that comes with lots of food and plastic waste. By being more mindful of our eating habits, we can all eat more sustainably, regardless of our busy schedules. Here are a few quick tips:

  1. Create a zero-waste pack with reusable cutlery, chopsticks, straws, cloths, etc. and keep it in your backpack. Or purchase one like these from Package Free!
  2. Bring a reusable cup or mug to your favorite coffee shop. Did you know that, each time you bring a reusable cup to Starbucks, you’ll save ten cents on your drink?
  3. Only buy what you can eat, at the dining hall and grocery store.
  4. Save dining hall containers.

Shopping Sustainably as a Student

It’s true that college life often means a big shopping list. When you can’t reuse or repurpose, try shopping secondhand. This is also a great way to save money as a college student. 

Most schools will have their own page on Facebook Marketplace, which we recommend joining. When it’s time to go dorm shopping, you can browse items that your fellow students or alumni are selling. This is a great option because it’ll help you save money, pick up the items locally, and shop for items that are perfect for college life. You can even sell your items as well! And if your school doesn’t have their own Facebook Marketplace, why not start one?

What’s one thing that college students can never get enough of? College merchandise! Instead of going directly to your school’s bookstore, try sites like eBay, Poshmark, and Depop, where you can find a ton of adorable vintage items and styles. And, if you live in a college town, don’t underestimate the power of thrifting for your school merchandise.

Amazing Apps for the Sustainable Student

In our digital era, technology can be a wonderful tool for learning to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Here’s a list of some must have apps for the sustainable student:

  1. iRecycle to locate local recycling centers
  2. Ecosia – a search engine that uses ad revenue to plant trees! Now, you can help the environment while writing a research paper!
  3. ShareWaste to connect with local people and businesses who are accepting your waste to compost. After all, your dorm may not be the best option to start your own compost. 
  4. Makeena! By shopping with your Makeena app, you can save and earn cash and rewards from buying from your favorite, eco-friendly brands. It’s perfect for a sustainable college student on a budget!

Getting Involved on Campus

Our best piece of advice for the sustainable student is to stand up, and show up! First, it’s important to know just how green your university really is, and to find out what you can do to make your campus more eco-friendly. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself, your classmates, and your university officials. 

Try joining campus clubs focused on conservation and sustainability. By being surrounded by like-minded students, it’ll be easier and more fun to commit to your sustainable lifestyle! 

Your college experience is all about learning, so attend lectures focused on this subject to learn more and share with your family, friends, and fellow classmates. Have extra electives to take? Try taking them in the environmental sciences or sustainable business subject areas to connect with professors in the field and expand your existing knowledge.

When you’re ready to advocate and make your campus a greener place, check out this list of 4 sustainability initiatives to tackle:

  1. Create a campus garden
  2. Divest from fossil fuels, like the University of Minnesota, Boston University, and Harvard did last fall
  3. Include a course about sustainability into the core curriculum if applicable
  4. Install recycling and composting stations on campus

Thanks for reading our college essentials for the sustainable student. It can be hard to embark on a sustainable lifestyle while in university, but not impossible. Together, we can all educate ourselves about conservation and sustainability inside the classroom and beyond.

Makeena, sustainability, education, university, lifestyle


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