college students wearing protective masks

College may not nearly as social this year but you can still make it a sustainable experience. If you (or your kids) are heading to college this upcoming semester, it’s going to be a bit of a different experience than it has in the past.

Some institutions of higher education are offering remote-only learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. Others are requiring masks in all academic buildings with six feet between students and professors during classes. Many colleges are also changing all dorm rooms to single-occupancy residences and limiting student club gatherings as well as sporting events.

Getting ready for dorm or apartment life is a new adventure for kids headed off to school. Here are a few things to make the move and college life sustainable.

Stock Up on Reusables

Before you head to campus, be sure you have all the reusable options you’ll need to reduce your single-use waste.

This year, that will mean having multiple reusable and washable face masks — don’t wear the disposables over and over and then throw them into the landfill bin.

You’ll also need a reusable water bottle and travel coffee/tea mug. Throw a few cloth napkins and travel cutlery into your backpack. Most campuses offer real silverware but sometimes you’ll find yourself in a cafe that provides only disposable utensils; packing your own now will help you avoid contributing to the tons of single-use plastic littering the globe.

Also pack a few reusable shopping bags, food containers, a reusable straw, and dryer balls. What about produce bags or cleaning rags? Depends on how much shopping and cleaning you intend to do!

Limit Your Electronics’ Waste

When you’re shopping for new appliances such as microwaves, minifridges, and coffee makers, look for ENERGY STAR labeled products that use less energy overall. Do the same for your laptop and monitor.

Choose LED bulbs for desk lamps or string lights. When you’re not using your game systems, chargers, monitor, coffee maker, and the like, turn them all the way off or unplug them to lessen your vampire loads. You can also use a smart power strip that can turn off specific electronics when you’re not using them.

Avoid any pod-based coffee systems that generate non-recyclable plastic waste.

Packing for Dorm Life

An enormous amount of waste is generated on campuses during both at move-in and move-out. Make your college move more sustainable with some planning.

When you’re packing up your stuff, do your best to pack in suitcases as well as crates and bins that you can utilize in your new (roommate-less) space. Avoid single-use plastic trash or grocery bags — unless you intend to use them again. Wrap breakables and delicate items in towels, sheets, and clothes instead of bubble wrap or packing peanuts. If you need more packing material, choose highly recyclable newspaper ads (or newspapers if your family actually subscribes to one!).

Also, check out Rent A Green Box or Bungo Box to rent durable moving supplies for use when packing.

The Big Moving Day

Move-in day will be tense and emotional (your mom will cry no matter how many times you’ve done this before!).

Know where exactly where you’re going and parking instead of circling campus using fuel and stressing the parents out even more. Recycle any cardboard boxes you used for packing or better yet, flatten and store them for move-out. Do your best to recycle any other waste.

If you are moving from a different state or region to campus, recycling may be different than you’re used to. It’s best to know the system before you get there. This will make move-in day less stressful and also inform your packing. Will you be able to recycle all the plastics you could at home? Is it a single-stream or sorted system? Will you have to empty the recycling bin from your room into a community bin or will a custodian empty it for you? Will you need to pack your own recycling bin or recycling blue bags? What about composting options?

Check out How To Plan a Low-Waste Move for more ideas that will be especially helpful on move-out day!

This article contains Amazon affiliate links that help fund our Recycling Directory. If you purchase an item through one of these links, we will receive a small commission

By Maureen Wise

Maureen Wise is a freelance writer for a number of green-leaning companies and organizations. She also is a sustainability consultant and previously worked in higher education sustainability and watershed restoration. Wise serves on the board of an arts and environment nonprofit, is a solar owner, and is a certified master recycler. Wise writes eco-mysteries under the pen name Iris March.