The life of a student is fast-paced, busy, and, unfortunately, often filled with waste. We might know that Styrofoam is terrible for the environment, but when we need food and that’s what they serve it in, it’s easy to feel like there’s no other option. By making a few easy changes, however, you can maintain your college lifestyle while dramatically reducing your waste and even saving money. Here are UTK’s Top 10 Reusable Recommendations:
Mesh coffee filters save dozens of pounds of paper from the trash bin or compost heap, lessening demand for lumber and saving trees. Many coffee maker models already come with built-in reusable filters, but if your coffee maker doesn’t come with this capability they’re easy and cheap to buy online. With no need to buy paper filters, you’ll save a lot of money, too.
If you currently use a Keurig or another, similar single-serve brewer, consider switching to a traditional drip coffee maker or a pour-over. Single-serve brewers exponentially increase the packaging needed to bring you your coffee, increasing landfill waste, especially since most k-cups are non recyclable. Since k-cups are made of plastic, it also increases the amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment during the process of manufacturing plastic. Plus, it’s cheaper to use the traditional methods; not only because a Keurig maker is so expensive, but because that extra packaging drives up the cost of a pound of coffee by as much as 30 dollars!
If you ever pack your lunches, you know that you can go through a lot of zip-lock bags very quickly. Not to mention, ziplock bags can get pretty expensive. Luckily, there are other options for sandwiches and snacks. Sandwiches can always be packed by wrapping them in a cloth napkin, but that can get soggy and it doesn’t work well for chips, grapes, and other items. Another option is Tupperware containers, but these can be bulky. So, if you’d like to stick to bags, check out these reusable ones: there are namebrand options, as well as plenty of small businesses who sell reusable sandwich bags, and, if you like to sew, even some DIY instructions.
Cloth napkins are a staple and a pretty obvious way to cut down on waste if you’ve been using their paper alternatives. Plus, they look nicer, they’re easy to make or find, and they just make eating seem fancier. We recommend looking at Good Will or a local thrift store like Karms to see if they have cheap cloth napkins already available, but if you can’t find any there you can always find some to buy new or make your own— sew or no sew.
Do you use aluminum foil or plastic wrap to store leftovers? While this is a great way to keep your food fresh and prevent food waste, all that extra packaging is unsustainable. So, what are your other options? One option is to use Tupperware, but the inflexibility of boxes can sometimes make it hard to fit large items. For that, look into using beeswax reusable food wraps, which are available for purchase, or easy to make yourself.
Reusable shopping bags are a classic of eco-friendly practice and now almost all grocery stores sell them at the register. Chances are, you already have some. The trick is remembering to bring them. Reusable shopping bags aren’t really any more sustainable if you just keep buying more and more of them. If you drive to the grocery store, the best way to remember them may be to just keep them in your trunk at all times. If you’re still having a tough time remembering them, try using a type that folds easily or stuffs into a small carrying sac and then throw it in your bag or pocket.
Lots of messes in your kitchen or around your dorm? Don’t just keep reaching for the paper towels; there are plenty of reusable options. The easiest way to reduce your paper towel consumption is to simply use kitchen towels instead, but many people find that these towels, meant more for drying dishes than cleaning up messes, don’t do the job quite as well. Luckily, we have a solution for that. Many artists and small businesses make un-paper towels, which you can find easily by searching “unpaper towels” or “reusable paper towels” on etsy. These are washable, eco-friendly, very absorbent, and better looking, as well. You can also try bamboo towels like these, check out your local grocery store (I found mine at Kroger), or even DIY your own unpaper towels!
When you’re packing your lunch, it’s easy enough to remember to pack utensils, but what about when you’re eating out? Most fast food places on campus and the strip only carry plastic utensils rather than reusable ones. Carrying a full set around in your bag all the time can be a little obtrusive, so we suggest a couple solutions. The first one is simple: if you don’t often eat soup, just bring a fork. For most fast food, that’s all you’ll need, since very little fast food requires heavy-duty cutting.
If that doesn’t seem sufficient to you, take a look at these awesome utensils. Last year, we gave out these spoon/fork/knife combinations to the freshman dorms- maybe you have one- and I know I’ve been using mine ever since. They’re durable, easy to wash, easy to fit in a bag, and work better than plastic utensils you might pick up at a fast food joint. They come in all colors and several different materials. If you already have one- great! Just throw it in your bag and you’re ready to cut down on plastic waste. If you don’t have one, we recommend purchasing one online or at a camping supply store. Camping supply stores are great resources for easy-to-pack reusable gadgets.
Another easy way to cut down on waste is to carry a reusable straw. They’ve become much more popular in the last few years and, as a result, they now come in a variety of materials and designs including hard plastic, stainless steel, glass, and even bamboo. Most of the time you can get away without even using a straw, but for the times you can’t or it’s more difficult to, like when drinking smoothies and milkshakes, these are a great alternative to single-use plastic straws. Better yet, get one that fits your reusable mug or water bottle.
Tupperware is a no-brainer when it comes to reusables. You can buy it or just save jars and containers you buy anyway. You can even use the ever popular mason jar to store or pack just about anything. These are easy, tried-and-true methods.
Here at the Office of Sustainability, however, we think that reusable Tupperware should also be used for another purpose: taking home leftovers or takeout. Too many take-out or left-over containers are Styrofoam, which is toxic, never fully degrades, and kills marine life. The solution? Bringing your own reusable container. As you’ve already probably guessed, this can be challenging because bulky Tupperware isn’t exactly convenient to carry around. That’s why we suggest purchasing a collapsible Tupperware container. There are many such containers to choose from online and at grocery and home supply stores. Just collapse these containers, fit them easily in a bag, and use them to carry your leftovers. Easy!
Reusable mugs and water bottles are number one on our list of best reusables! They not only eliminate thousands of pounds of waste in plastic bottles and paper cups every day, but they’ll save you a lot of money around campus. Two campus initiatives support the use of reusable mugs and water bottles: SGA’s campaign Take Back the Tap, and The Mug Project. Take Back the Tap encourages students to use water fountains, especially Britta water stations, around campus instead of buying wasteful bottled water. The Mug Project adds some financial incentive to getting rid of single-use drinking containers: any student, faculty, or staff member can bring a 24-ounce or less mug or bottle to UT Dining locations and receive 99 cent drip coffee and fountain beverages. Over 90 percent of UT Dining locations offer this great program including Starbucks, Einstein’s, Quiznos, and Subway.
Reusable mugs and water bottles are so prevalent, we expect you’ll be able to find a perfect one for you no problem, in fact, it’s likely you already have one, but here are a few options, just to let you know what’s out there. You can of course get a traditional lightweight plastic water bottle, but if you want to be extra kind to the environment and your body, we recommend glass water bottles. They’re much less toxic than plastic, surprisingly durable, and after a hot day, most people agree the water inside tastes way better. If you have a hard time remembering your water bottle, you can try clipping it to your bag or even look into a collapsible water bottle or collapsible mug that will fit easily inside your bag or pocket. If you need a mug that will keep things at just the right temperature, try an insulated mug. With any of those, you are well on your way to saving money and eliminating waste.