How to be a waste-free student even when money gets tight

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

It's more than possible for students to overcome the challenges of living a sustainable lifestyle while on a budget

A common misconception of waste-free living is that it means producing zero garbage whatsoever. It is impossible to live completely waste-free. If you search far enough down the supply chain, all products (even sustainable ones) produce some form of waste. Waste-free living is less about being the perfect environmentalist and more about reducing consumption, saying no to plastic, and forming sustainable habits.

However, making small changes to your daily routine can be expensive, especially for students whose financial priorities lie elsewhere. With rising costs in tuition, housing, food, and gas, being environmentally friendly may not take precedence. In addition, students must balance course loads, jobs, friends, family, and more - all before taking the time to make waste-free lifestyle transitions.

Making the switch can be daunting when you have a busy schedule, live on a budget, or don't have a lot of money in savings. But don't give up hope. For those who are looking to become more environmentally conscious, there are many ways to navigate the financial challenges.

Step one is to abolish any perception you have of minimalist living. Social media inaccurately depicts the waste-free lifestyle by turning it into an aesthetic rather than a philosophy of life. Reducing your consumption won't be glamourous. Our society is structured for convenience, meaning that plastic is everywhere. Finding alternatives for single-use items might be messy and that's okay.

Step two is to come to terms with the fact that this transition cannot be done overnight. Replacing everything you own with something sustainable in one go will deplete your wallet. Those who claim being eco-friendly is too expensive, are likely trying to do too much too fast. The trick is to make the lifestyle switch slowly by using what you already have first. I've been making this transition for three years and still have much work to do.

Contrary to popular belief, waste-free living actually saves you money. Yes, alternatives are more expensive short term, but unlike single-use products, sustainable goods aren't purposely designed for the dump to keep consumers consuming. Instead, they are crafted to last a long time. For example, a menstrual cup, which has a lifespan of up to ten years, can save someone roughly $600 dollars on tampons in that same period of time.

Step three is to set realistic goals. My top tip for this step is to think about accomplishing zero-waste living based on the different rooms in your house. Tackle your bathroom first, then your kitchen, then your bedroom, and so on. Think about the various items in these rooms that can be replaced with ones that have longer lifespans.

My waste-free journey started in my bathroom. I switched to bars of shampoo and conditioner. While they do cost slightly more, they last about three times longer than the bottled kind. I also switched from single-use razors to a reusable one. Again, in the short term, it was more expensive, but I've been using the same one for two years and it will probably last me two more.

As for my kitchen, I started freezing my food scraps to make broth I could later cook with. I do this because, although composting is excellent for the environment, food waste produces a harmful greenhouse gas called methane. The average Canadian household loses $1,100 dollars in food waste each year, so just by making homemade broth, I am saving both the planet and money.

In the long-run living waste-free is not as expensive as it seems. All you have to do is remember that there is no perfect environmentalist, to make the transition slowly, and to set attainable goals. If, as a student, this lifestyle is not accessible because of finances the easiest change that still makes a difference is to say no and refuse unnecessary single-use plastics.

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