10 Ways College Students Can Go Green and Save Money

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going green in college

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The new generation of young people hitting colleges marks a break from previous generations in terms of cultural diversity, lifestyles, use of technology, and Eco-consciousness. 

Gen-Z students are ready to make ethical, organic, and environment-friendly product choices, and they have a strong desire to live more sustainably than their parents do. 

However, students don’t always have a clear understanding of how to go green while in college. Since their values and lifestyles differ from those of their parents, they don’t have role models to follow. 

College students are known for their active involvement in many movements, and one of those movements is definitely the green movement, promoting environmental awareness and living an eco-friendly life.

And even though most students would love to pursue a more sustainable life, sometimes it can be hard to do on campus.

The biggest issue is that most of them are not really sure how exactly to achieve this.

There is always an obvious option for recycling, but some students want to do more for our environment. As a college student, you might be wondering how you can help the environment and save money at the same time.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to do both! From using reusable water bottles to composting your food scraps, here are 10 ways college students can go green and save money.

1. Cook fresh meals

fresh meals

Observational studies report that as students transfer from secondary school to college, there is a tendency to gain weight. This phenomenon is known as “freshman 15” – students gain, on average, 15 lb (6.8 kg) in the first year of university.

One of the main factors that drive bodyweight changes is new eating habits. At college, freshmen get exposed to unlimited food choices, including unhealthy choices. Young students tend to opt for fast food and junk food and skip eating fresh vegetables and fruits.

Such eating habits harm not only students’ health but also the environment. Since fast food and junk food come in plastic, polystyrene, styrofoam, and other non-recyclable packaging, unhealthy eating is associated with the increased amount of waste sent to landfills.

The best thing students can do to prevent weight gain and protect the environment is to start cooking healthy meals by themselves

Let’s compare two meal options. A student can order a take-out burger at a local fast food restaurant – the order will be packed in a plastic box and a plastic bag. 

Or, the student can buy rice (packed in a cardboard box), fresh tomatoes and mushrooms (package-free), olive oil (packed in a glass bottle), and cook risotto by himself – it will be a healthier meal option that creates no waste.

go green in college - cook at home

Many young people see cooking as a daunting task. But the truth is that meal preparation can be a fun, simple, and enjoyable experience. 

There are many food bloggers on TikTok and Instagram that promote healthy eating and share simple recipes. If you want to improve your diet and go greener, go find inspiration online and start working on improving your cooking skills. You can start with our healthy recipes here.

2. Reduce digital carbon footprint

Generation Z spends a whopping 10.6 hours using their gadgets and engaging with online content every single day. One survey shows that 54% of Gen Z students use multiple devices at any one time, with the average being 1.8 devices. 

Naturally, extensive use of digital technologies negatively affects the environment. The digital CO2 footprint of Gen Z students is much bigger than those of millennials, generation X, and baby boomers.

Every time students log into their social media accounts, submit an essay via email, or take a test online – they add up to their digital carbon footprint

Not many young people recognize their impact when consuming online content. They don’t realize the fact that digital technologies now actually cause more CO2 emissions and have a more significant effect on global warming than the aviation industry.

go green in college - the tech

Students who want to go green should take action to reduce their digital carbon footprint. Here are a few essential steps every Eco-conscious individual should make:

  • Delete duplicate photos and files that you store on your phone, laptop, and in the cloud.
  • Review your online accounts and delete the ones you no longer need or use
  • Unsubscribe from all unnecessary newsletters and de-clutter your email inbox
  • Purge old digital files – everything from cached and cookie files stored in your browser to downloaded PDF files and pictures.

Embrace Second-Hand Technology

Purchasing second-hand technology is an excellent way for college students to reduce their environmental footprint.

By opting for pre-owned laptops, tablets, and other gadgets, students can significantly cut down on electronic waste, which totaled 53.6 million metric tons globally in 2019 alone.

The production of new electronics is resource-intensive, contributing to approximately 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Opting for refurbished devices helps mitigate this impact.

There are numerous reputable websites dedicated to selling refurbished tech, such as Back Market and Own4Less, making it easier than ever to find reliable, high-quality devices at a fraction of the cost.

Not only does this practice promote sustainability, but it also offers substantial financial savings, allowing students to allocate their budgets more effectively.

3. Opt for reusable items


Regular use of reusable items, for instance, coffee cups, is associated with fewer greenhouse gas emissions, reduced toxic emissions, smog, and ozone depletion.

Every Eco-conscious individual should strive to replace single-use plastic bottles, straws, coffee cups, plastic bags, and food containers with reusable items

Even though the purchase of reusables may seem to be a pricey investment for students, indeed, it’s an economical solution. If you buy an aluminum water bottle today, you will use it for years. Every time you refill your bottle instead of purchasing water packed in plastic bottles, you will save $1-2.

4. Buy second-hand furniture

sustainable furniture

When freshmen move into the dorm or apartment, they shouldn’t rush to buy new furniture and other stuff. Instead, check local second-hand shops and scan the sidewalk for discarded furniture first. College towns and campuses are great places to find used furniture.

In the UK alone, 670,000 tonnes of furniture are annually sent to landfills. According to statistics, 110,000 tonnes of this furniture is reusable in its current condition.

By opting for second-hand furniture, students can not only save money but also contribute to the environment. By keeping second-hand items in use, we can decrease the demand for new items and reduce the exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources.

5. Buy a solar charger for your devices

anker 625 smart solar alignment panels

When you think about it, your smartphone is one of the devices that you use the most. Therefore, it requires the most charging and the most electricity out of all of your devices.

Solar smartphone chargers are one of the most effective ways to make your carbon footprint smaller – you will spend a lot less electricity,” according to one expert.

By harnessing the power of the sun, solar chargers eliminate the need for fossil fuels, which are a major source of pollution.

He further stated: “The great thing about these chargers is that they can be used for more than just charging your phone – they can also be used for charging your laptop, wireless pods, or any other devices you may need.”

In addition, solar chargers are often very compact and lightweight, making them easy to transport from place to place. And since they don’t require an outlet, solar chargers can be used just about anywhere – perfect for students who are always on the go.

6. Minimize heat appliance use

This includes a wide array of appliances like blow dryers, clothes dryers, curlers, flat irons, etc.

For a change, try to use your blow dryer only when necessary – this way, you will help the environment while letting your hair recover from all that heat.

The same goes for flat irons and curlers – they damage your hair and waste a lot of power when working. Reduce your usage for your own good and the planet’s well-being.

Clothes dryers do not do you any harm, but they definitely use a lot of electricity while they are on. Air-drying is a good option that will reduce your power usage too.

7. Ride a bike or walk

Eco-friendly living on campus

You have a lot on your plate as a college student. You’re probably trying to balance schoolwork with a social life and, often, a part-time job to boot.

There’s always the temptation to drive everywhere. It’s convenient. However, there are a few good reasons to ditch the car and walk or bike to class instead.

For one, you save money. Gas prices are always fluctuating. We’re just emerging from a rise in gas prices that has made driving extremely expensive.

Walking and biking are two affordable alternatives that can save you money and get you in shape.

That’s right, it’s good for your health. Walking and biking are also forms of exercise that can help you tone your body, improve stamina, and even reduce your stress levels and enhance mental health,

And finally, it’s good for the environment. When you choose to ride or walk, you minimize pollution, conserve resources, and protect the environment.

8. Reduce your paper and plastic usage

Students use a lot of paper, and that is inevitable. With so many assignments and classes, it is necessary. However, there are many areas where reducing the amount of paper is possible.

For example, you could replace your paper towels with rags and clothes – they do a great job at cleaning spills too.

Do not use paper plates. Instead, opt for a couple of ceramic, washable plates. Think about other places where you are using paper when cloths would do just fine too, and replace them.

As for the plastic, there are even more areas where you could eliminate it. For example, you could use glass bottles instead of plastic bottles that are made just for one use; you could replace plastic cups with glass ones, use metal utensils instead, etc.

You probably use plastic much more than you think, and replacing it with long-lasting materials will not only reduce plastic pollution, but it will also save your money”, – explains Jim, a recycling expert.

9. Replace your bulbs with LED bulbs

LED lightbulbs

LED bulbs are becoming increasingly popular as a way to save energy and money. College students are especially well-suited to take advantage of LED bulbs, as they are often living on a tight budget. 

LEDs use much less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and they also last much longer. 

This means that you can save money on your electricity bills by switching to LED bulbs. In addition, LED bulbs emit very little heat, which can help to reduce air conditioning costs in the summer months. 

Overall, LED bulbs are an excellent way for college students to save money and cut down on their carbon footprint.

10. Educate yourself and others about the environment

This is an indirect way to help but just as effective. If you tell other people about what you are doing without being annoying about it, they will likely follow your lead.

Show them how what you are doing is not that hard. If you get just one more person to be more attentive to our environment, it will be worth it.

Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about climate change. Take the time to learn about the science behind it and then share that knowledge with others. The more people who understand the issue, the more likely we are to find solutions.

Get involved

get involved in the fight for the planet

If you have some free time on your hands, join activists who clean parks or other green surfaces. “You could also start a group on your campus or start a competition between dorms to see who spends the least energy.

Other ways include:

  • Join or start a club devoted to environmentalism. If you want to really get involved in the fight against climate change, consider joining an existing club or starting your own on campus. This is a great way to meet like-minded people and make a difference at your school and in your community.
  • Vote! Once you turn 18, you have the power to vote in elections. Use that power to elect officials who will fight for policies that will help combat climate change.
  • Recycle, compost, and reduce your waste. This one is easy enough to do on campus. Most colleges have recycling bins set up around campus, so take advantage of them. And if your school doesn’t have composting facilities, see if you can start a pilot program.

Final Thoughts

From these examples, you can see that living green and saving money on campus is not that hard. All you have to do is pay a bit more attention and make slight tweaks to your lifestyle for an amazingly positive impact. Just remember that changes begin in your own home, even if it is your campus home.

  • Luke Rooks

    Luke is a passionate environmental advocate based in upstate New York. When he's not sharing tips on sustainability and wellness, you can find him hiking with his dog, Max.

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