Distracted By Clutter? Top Tips To Create Zero Waste This School Year

Headed Back to School? How to Create Less Waste This Year

Are all the “back to school” sales tempting you to shop? Before you start browsing the racks to refresh your wardrobe and stock up on school supplies, take a minute to read this article–and think about what you really NEED. A new school year is the perfect time for a fresh start, and one way to do that is by making a conscious decision to lower your impact on the earth. We usually hear the words “reduce, reuse and recycle” around Earth Day, but why not take the every-day-is-Earth-Day approach and start now?

REDUCE what you have – and what you buy

If you’ll be going away to college soon, now is the perfect time to deep-clean your room and get rid of things you no longer want or need. If your shelves are cluttered with decorative items that don’t hold much meaning to you, or books you’re never going to read again, consider donating them to a thrift store. This will create more space for the things you love, and fewer visual distractions. Donating items means they’ll likely be reused, and keeps them out of a landfill.

Before untidy and after tidy wardrobe with colorful winter cloth

Schedule a Swap

If there are clothes in your closet that you haven’t worn in years, or that don’t make you feel good about yourself, get rid of them. Search online for a local thrift store or women’s shelter that accepts clothing donations, and bag up the (clean) clothes you no longer need. Another option?  Encourage your friends to dig through their closets, too. Get everyone together for a back-to-school clothing swap, and then donate any clothes that don’t find a new home.

Go with the Classics

Instead of buying trendy, super-stylish items of clothing that you’ll only like for one season, consider updating your wardrobe with higher quality pieces that fit well and that you can wear over and over. Choose basic items that are easy to care for and match lots of other pieces you own. Create your own minimalist “capsule” wardrobe, perfect for the tiny closet in your college dorm room, with these tips.  

Shop Smarter

Prior to purchasing a newly-manufactured item, check local secondhand and vintage clothing stores to see if you can find a one-of-a-kind piece you like better. Try things on before you buy them to make sure you like how they fit. If you do decide to buy brand new pieces, make an effort to support companies that give back.


This time of year, everybody needs school supplies. Before you stock up on notebooks, folders, and pens, make a list of exactly what you need so you won’t overbuy or impulse buy. Choose notebooks made from recycled paper, and pens with refillable ink cartridges to cut down on waste.

REUSE as much as you can.

Reface Your Gear

Are any of your binders from last year in good shape? Consider using them again this year. If you’re feeling crafty, you could make a new fabric cover for an old binder using this tutorial.

Is last year’s backpack in decent condition? Instead of buying a new one, redecorate the old one with a few new pins or patches.

If you’re in college, buy used textbooks (more pizza money!!), or download the digital versions. If you only need a book for a short time, consider borrowing it from a friend or from the library.

Upcycling, Writing Accessories In Tin Can

Make a back-to-school resolution to avoid buying disposable and single-use products. This can include everything from a pack of face wipes you throw away after one use (use a washcloth instead) or a cardboard to-go cup for your coffee. If you drink coffee or tea, either fill a travel mug at home, or bring your mug to the coffee shop and have it filled there before you head to class.

A reusable stainless steel water bottle will save you money (no buying bottled water) and reduce water bottle waste.

Always stock your backpack or handbag with a reusable bag or two so you won’t need to use paper or plastic bags when you shop.

If you’re bringing your own lunch, carry it in a reusable bag or lunchbox. Instead of using plastic sandwich bags, carry your sandwich and snacks in reusable containers.

If you need furniture for your dorm room or new apartment, see what you can find used. Check garage sales, Craigslist, or local thrift stores.

Sylish Modern Bedroom

Recycle the things you can’t reuse.

Whenever possible, choose products without unnecessary packaging. The second best choice is products with recyclable packaging. If your pens come on a cardboard backing or in a cardboard box, don’t toss it away–recycle it instead.

If you have a computer you don’t need anymore, but that still works, ask around and see if you can find someone who needs it. Consider giving it away on freecycle.org.  

According to the EPA, recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year. So if your old computer or smart phone dies and can’t be resuscitated, git to a local electronics recycling program to help save energy and waste.

Old batteries can be recycled, too. Get details here.

For more ways you can help the environment–-and your local community–-check out Like a Boss Girls’ Change the World pages!