Zero Waste College Packing List for Eco-Friendly Students

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Going to college is a huge milestone in any young person's life. The start of a new school year can be an exciting and overwhelming time, especially when it comes to packing for school.

You want to make sure you have everything you need, but with a minimal environmental impact. That's why we've put together this zero waste college packing list.

We'll give you tips on how to pack for college in the most eco-friendly way, so you can reduce your environmental impact and start off your college career on the right foot!

The average college student produces 640 pounds of solid waste each year, including 500 disposable cups and 320 pounds of paper. []

That statistic needs to change, and you can help make that happen!

Now one of the most important aspects of the zero waste lifestyle is to use what you already have.

However, if you need to buy any new items, I'll link to our buying guides which will show you where to get the most environmentally friendly versions of everything you'll need for the new term ahead.

Beds, Bedding & Pillows

Some schools let you borrow bedding, sheets, and pillows from your dorm or apartment, but I had to provide my own.

The good part is that when you bring your own, you choose the style and design. So it's a way to start making the space your own.

If you need to bring your bedding with you, make sure to choose organic and sustainable bedding. Some of the best materials are organic cotton or bamboo.

Remember to bring two sets of sheets for when one is in the laundry.

It's unlikely that you'll need to bring your own mattress, but if your dorm isn't providing one, these ethical organic mattress options are the perfect combination of eco-friendly and affordable.

Alternatively, if your room is unfurnished and space is at a premium, consider a futon instead of a bed frame. These non-toxic futons convert from a bed into a sofa quickly and easily, allowing you to maximize your space while still staying green and avoiding nasty chemicals.

If you're bringing a pillow, try opting for a buckwheat hull pillow, or one made from kapok. They're a great option because they are made without any synthetic materials, so they're biodegradable and can be composted at the end of their life cycle.

Also, don't forget the comforter! A dorm room can get cold in the winter months. There are eco-friendly options made from organic cotton or from wool, which will both look great on your bed.

How Green is Your Dorm Room

Laundry Supplies

Speaking of laundry, it was a bit of a shock for me when I had to start doing my own. The good news is, it's not that hard a chore.

Set a good example for your friends by choosing laundry detergents and fabric softeners that are plant-based and biodegradable.

You might not be able to get these around campus, so it's best to bring a supply with you.

There are a number of great eco-friendly laundry detergents on the market these days, like Dropps and Tru Earth.

For fabric softener, you can try using wool dryer balls. They help to soften clothes naturally and don't contain any harsh chemicals.

Food Storage

If you're planning to store any food in your dorm room, try to choose containers that are made of glass or stainless steel.

Plastic is not a sustainable option, as it can take hundreds of years to break down in a landfill. But you knew that already right?

Using plastic that you already own is fine. Buying new plastic items is not cool.

If you need to pack snacks, try using reusable cloth bags or beeswax food wraps. They're both durable and eco-friendly!

Reusable Water Bottle & Coffee Cups

One of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact as a student is to ditch disposable cups and bottles.

These days you're going to get frowned upon for buying any sort of single-use plastic. It's the wrong thing to do, so set a good example for your friends.

Bring a reusable water bottle with you to campus and fill it up at the tap! You can also find coffee shops that offer discounts for people who bring their own cups.

Clothing & Accessories

As a student, your choice of clothing is probably the best way to make a statement about who you are. So be sure to dress green.

If you're buying any new clothes for college, try to choose clothes made from sustainable materials like organic cotton or bamboo.

There are a number of great ethical fashion brands out there, and they look and feel better than the crappy fash fashion rubbish that you might find in the mall.

And if you like to accessorize, there are plenty of ethical and sustainable jewelry brands around these days too.

You can also look for second-hand clothing at thrift stores or online.


One of the most important things to pack for college is a good pair of shoes! You'll want shoes that are comfortable and stylish, but also eco-friendly.

Just like with your clothing, you can find some amazing sustainable shoe brands that make incredible quality products, so you can make the responsible choice without compromising on style.

If you're looking for a more affordable option, try buying used shoes online or at a thrift store.


When choosing a backpack for college, try to find one made from sustainable materials like organic cotton, upcycled rubber, natural cork or recycled PET plastic.

There are a number of great eco-friendly backpacks on the market, like the Patagonia Stealth Backpack and the Fjallraven Kanken backpack.

You can also try upcycling an old backpack or buying a used one online or at a thrift store.


Your tech is going to be a big part of your life, and there's no denying it uses a lot of energy. But we can certainly do all we can to carry and charge it in an environmentally conscious way.

Make sure to bring your own chargers and cords, and try to find ones that are made from sustainable materials like recycled plastic.

You can also try using solar-powered chargers or portable power banks.

For most of us, our phone is a big part of our everyday life. So keep it looking cool and make it last longer with an eco-friendly phone case.

Cleaning supplies

Like it all now, dorm rooms do need to be cleaned now and again! So try to choose cleaning supplies that are plant-based and biodegradable.

Say no to harsh chemicals and choose one of the eco-friendly cleaning brands out there, like Force Of Nature and ECOS.

You can also find recipes for DIY cleaning supplies online. Just make sure to pack them in reusable containers!

School supplies

Your zero-waste college experience includes course textbooks, notebooks, stationery, and everything else on your desk.

There are a number of great eco-friendly brands out there, like Recycled Paper Products and Greenworks.

You can also find second-hand school supplies online - particularly course textbooks.

So if your course has provided you with a reading list already, you could try to pick these up in advance (before everyone else thinks of it). You'll save a lot of money that way as well.

Dorm Room Decor

Your dorm room is your own personal space, so you'll probably want to add a few personal touches to create a look that you're happy with. But remember to think green when choosing your decor.

Many people use rugs, throws, or even an eco-friendly wall hanging to brighten up their dorm room.

If you need to add any of your own furnishings to the room, try to choose furniture made from sustainable materials like bamboo or recycled plastic.

You can also try using solar-powered lights or natural fabrics for bedding and curtains.

Also if you're into yoga, like I am, then don't forget your sustainable yoga mat. You'll find plenty of classes in and around campus, but you can of course practice in your dorm room as well.


Toiletries need replacing regularly, so they often produce the most waste. But it's easy enough to choose products that are cruelty-free and eco-friendly.

Our eco-friendly bathroom products page has reviews on just about every type of eco-friendly toiletries and cosmetics you could think of, from razors to toothpaste, shampoo, and deodorants.

Also, I can't finish up without giving you the most obvious (but frequently overlooked) piece of advice: don't forget your toothbrush!

And whatever you do, do not pack a plastic or disposable one. There are plenty of biodegradable bamboo manual toothbrushes available.

Or if you prefer electric (as dentists do recommend) then go for an eco-friendly electric toothbrush and head.

The Final Word

The most important piece of advice from a college graduate who wishes she was still there?

Have Fun!

College is the best time of your life, so you don't want to waste a single minute worrying about having forgotten something.

Eco-friendly packing for college doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. With a little bit of research, you can find sustainable alternatives for everything on your packing list.

From your shoes and technology all the way down to your cleaning supplies and dorm room decor, you can make sustainable choices without compromising on style or affordability.

I've tried to make this list exhaustive. You may not need everything on it, but at least it means you won't forget anything.

And if you're looking for more tips about how to reduce waste at home before starting school this fall, be sure to check out our blog post "Zero Waste Living - 16 Simple Tips That Will Improve Your Life And Save Money."

I hope you found this post helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions, or if there's anything I've forgotten, please get in touch and let me know.

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With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of renewable energy. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.
Stephanie Cole
With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of renewable energy. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.

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