10 Ways to Practice Zero Waste in University

March 14, 2019  |   Found in Editorial // Feature

Practicing zero waste is a great way to help the planet. Although it may sound intimidating, there are many practical everyday additions anyone can make to protect the environment. Zero waste is a philosophy that aims to produce… no waste. People who are follow the zero-waste movement are conscious about all of the products and packaging that they purchase and consume and attempt to throw out as least as possible. There are 5 R’s to zero waste which include Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (which essentially means to compost).


The first R, refuse, challenges everyone to say no to plastic and disposables. Some ways to refuse waste include:

  • Carry a water bottle
    This is one of the easiest ways to practice zero waste in university. Instead of purchasing a plastic water bottle, you can simply fill up the bottle as you need. This significantly helps eliminate the amount of plastic water bottles that end up in landfills and in the oceans.
  • Skip the t-shirts
    Almost every campus event involves some form of a t-shirt give away. The question is – do we really need another random t-shirt? Probably not. Consider donating these shirts to those in need and skip out buying them all together. Try to limit yourself to only purchasing t-shirts for events that you really want to remember.


The second R, reduce, has been preached to many of us since primary school. Reduce challenges everyone to lower their overall consumption of waste. This can be done in various ways, for instance:

  • Buy your snacks in bulk
    Purchasing food items in bulk helps cut down on additional packaging that inevitably ends up in landfills! Buying items in bulk (especially at stores where you can use your own cloth bags and mason jars)
  • Say goodbye to fast fashion
    Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing that is rapidly produced by mass markets as determined by trends. A great way to practice zero waste in university is to go thrift shopping and by second hand clothing items whenever possible.
  • Go digital
    Let’s be honest, almost everything happens on D2L! Assignment deadlines, course information, online readings, and submissions mostly take place on the invaluable internet! While there are many advantages to writing your notes out by hand, consider using OneNote or Google Drive to take your course notes – think of all the paper you will save!


This is something you probably do already. Reusing lunch containers, taking your water bottle with you to class, and even reusing plastic bags. However, we can always improve by doing more to protect our planet, here are some additional ways we can reuse items to reduce waste:

  • Carry reusable utensils
    Most students pack a lunch in a reusable lunch container most days of the week. Why not take this one step further by carrying reusable forks, spoons, and butter knives as well! Fun fact: if you stop by the Sustainability Office (in Science B) you can pick up a reusable straw if you show them a reusable mug or container.
  • Buy Used Textbooks
    This is something most students do anyway to save a couple dollars, however, the benefits this has for the environment are so important. Bound and Copied in Mac Hall has plenty of used books available for students looking for cheaper options. Also, many classes offer students textbooks on reserve in many of the libraries on campus – check with the front desk at TFDL to find where some of your course books can be found for a 2-hour free rental!


After you have refused, reduced, and reused, there shouldn’t be much left to recycle. However here are some additional tips on how to recycle everyday items as university students!

  • Recycle cloth bags
    The bookstore on campus offers a reusable cloth bag with a purchase of textbooks. As students, we are purchasing textbooks (unfortunately) every semester. This means visiting the bookstore at least 8 times in our entire degree if not more. If you can, try and make sure to bring along the bag from your last semester’s purchase! This helps cut down manufacturers’ plastic use!


Composting in Calgary has recently been made easier with the addition of the green composting bins. Stay up to date with when composting is picked up in your neighborhood and be sure to use a compostable bag in the bin in your kitchen!

  • Get into composting and do it right
    Compostable bags are available in every grocery store. Look for this logo for compost friendly bags at your local supermarket. Composting is even available for students living in residence! Head to residence services in the Dining Centre to pick up free compostable bags available all year round!
  • Take your food to go
    Eating out in university is a part of the experience. Let’s face it, as much as we try to pack a lunch, it doesn’t always happen. Being served large platters of food now a days is simply a part of dining culture. Whenever possible, ask your server if you can get your leftover food to go – but make sure to bring a reusable container with you to skip the cardboard they use to package your leftovers! This way, you get a second meal and the restaurant doesn’t have to throw away food.


Makda is a fourth year Honours Political Science student minoring in French and Sociology with a passion for public policy and community based advocacy. Her hobbies include reading young adult novels, frequenting coffee shops, and, binge watching Masterchef.