Being a student can be tricky in terms of budgeting and living low waste. Sustainability is expensive so it’s not usually a student’s go to. However, I’m going to cover how you can live low waste as a student, saving the earth without breaking the bank. So you can live cheap and sustainable.

Study sustainably

Studying can be really wasteful. With handouts that go in the bin, reading notes printed off never to be read and notepads never used. I have noticed a difference at my university (well the Politics department anyway) with less paper being used; we no longer get handbooks for every module (instead it’s on a digital learning platform) and all lectures are via PowerPoint.
Going digital when you can is more sustainable, even suggest the same to your lecturers. If your lecturer is handing out 100s of paper handouts per lecture think about all those trees being felled every single semester with maybe only half of the paper being recycled.
Maybe you could suggest a waste-free alternative in the form of digital downloads to go along with your lectures. If you are taking notes in a lecture or seminar use a recycled notepad when possible.

Be content with what you already have

I’ve learnt over the years to value the things I own, everything that has a purpose and I’m happy with. Mindfulness is key. Being a student you can’t really afford to buy a lot of materialistic stuff and probably will be the most skint times of your life, but it’s an experience. That’s no bad thing, be happy with the stuff you’ve got. Live that student life to the fullest.

Learn to say no

While it might seem awkward at first, refusing single-use plastics will be sure to result in a reduction of plastic pollution. By saying no to a plastic bag, straw, stirrer etc, you sure can make a difference in the reduction of their production. For example, these single use plastic items (bags, straws, stirrers, cotton q-tips) have recently been banned in the EU and most recently in the UK (aimed to start by April 2020). Showing a commitment to cutting the plastic consumption which is great. Continue to say no and maybe more plastic items will be removed from the market.


The textile/ fashion industry is hugely polluting, it’s also very wasteful, clothes are often bought, worn for a few months and then binned. However, by thrifting and donating you can stop this wastefulness from exceeding. You can pick up something second-hand that is in good condition (sometimes even with original tags) for a savvy bargain. Check out some of your local charity stores, vintage stores (be careful as it can get expensive here) or even try online at depop and ebay for those pre-loved goods that need to be loved again!

Invest in good quality water bottles and coffee cups

This is a vital one. As a student always studying or at classes we need to have our brains working and hydrated. Reusable water bottles and coffee cups are a standard must have to living low waste at university. You reduce the amount of plastic bottles and cups you use by bringing a reusable. It’s also more economical to invest in a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, almost all high street chains offer a discount for bringing your own cup now and maybe even some university cafes do the same. So what are you waiting for?

One of my favourite places to purchase reusables is Global WakeCup, they offer a range of bamboo reusables for you to choose from.

Cook in bulk

When you grab a lunch on the go not only is it expensive but it is very wasteful. You have the excess packaging going to landfill as majority of wrapped sandwiches or salads cannot be recycled. If you cook your food in bulk and store your meals in containers you can reduce your waste and the costs of having lunch at university.

Wash your clothing using soap berries

This one was new to me about 2 years ago, I had never heard of soap berries before. However when trying to become more eco-friendly I came across them as laundry alternatives and have continued to use them. Berries are sustainable as they are all natural, organic and can be used up to 6 times. They are non-toxic, non-polluting and biodegradable in addition to saving water as they rinse easier and save energy. Purchasing a 1kg bag of soap berries as a student can save you a lot of money in laundry detergents as well as energy. As you only need about 4 berries in a pouch to clean your clothing (and they can be used 6 times), they make the perfect economical and environmental option.

Use package-free soaps

One of the best things to live low waste and cheaply. Packaged free bars or soaps, shampoo and conditioner can last up to 5 months, depending how much you use them. Therefore a £5 shampoo bar that lasts 6 months can cost less than a liquid shampoo. Perks of living low waste! I have used 2 shampoo bars since going low waste over two years ago. This is because I let my hair breathe and only wash it at least once or twice a week – sound disgusting but it is healthy for your hair to build up its natural oils and regenerate. I also use my bars of soap to clean my body instead of liquid shower gels (majority of these shower gels just get wasted by washing down the drain when it falls off your hand). My bar of soap usually only lasts 3-4 months as I shower every day and I still believe this is a great way to reduce waste and saving money at the same time.

Ditch the disposable menstrual products

If you’re a menstruating person and you want a way to live cheaply and waste free. Then one of the best ways to do that is by ditching disposables. This means stop buying the single-use tampons and sanitary towels and invest in some reusables. For example, you can purchase reusable pads that work the same way as disposable sanitary towels. But instead of throwing them away you wash them. After washing the pads you can reuse them on your next cycle, these are what I use on my cycle.

The pads can be made with sustainable bamboo, cotton and absorbable materials. As they are not plastic they sit comfortably like they aren’t even there. Another option is the menstrual cup, a silicone cup that like a tampon goes inside you however the cup collects menstrual blood rather than absorbing it. You empty it rinse it out and place back in. The cup can collect blood for up to 12 hours (depending on your cycle and flow). The menstrual cup is a huge bonus to a low waste lifestyle, its convenient, waste-free, environmental and economical.

Read: Is the menstrual cup worth it?

These have been just some of my top tips to trying to life low waste at university. Things that I do to reduce my impact on the planet whilst still trying to live a student lifestyle. Some people believe a sustainable lifestyle has to be expensive. But I hope these points have shown you that it can be cheap and convenient to be sustainable on a budget. Do yourself, your wallet and the environment a favour. Try one, two or all of these points and be a more ecological person today.


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