Trying to be more environmentally conscious as a college student might seem a bit overwhelming. When you’re trying to juggle classes, a part time job, and maintaining a social life, the environment might come last in your list of priorities. But here is a list of some simple swaps everyone can easily incorporate into their daily lives. 

Assorted reusable containers


One of the easiest ways to decrease the amount of waste you produce is by refusing all the unnecessary “free” items that are always being handed out. This includes saving no to the fun shaped stress balls, or the extra reusable bags and highlighters, because you already have functional items at home. But this idea also stretches to opting to skip a plastic straw or refusing any single use plastic. By preventing the accumulation of disposable or unnecessary items most of the trash one produces will be eliminated. And who knew it was as easy as just saying no!

Take Public Transportation 

Instead of driving everywhere or calling an Uber or a lyft, why not just take the bus! The buses in San Francisco are hybrid vehicles that run off of B20 fuel that is “a blend of diesel and biodiesel, which is made from recycled oil and fat” (Padilla). This helps the public transit system in San Francisco cut back on emissions, and as an individual your personal carbon footprint is greatly decreased. One bus can eliminate about 36 cars on the road and reduce per person emissions by 4,800 pounds per year.  So you might want to think twice before calling that uber, and instead save a couple of bucks while saving the Earth as well. 

Thrift Shop 

By buying second hand you are buying directly into the waste stream and diverting unnecessary  items from entering the landfill. Recently there has been an increase in the fast fashion industry which refers to the fast production of cheap clothing that is usually worn once then thrown out (Stanton). There are various human rights and environmental issues surrounding this industry and by buying from thrift shops the consumer can vote with their dollars against them. New garments also use many raw materials so this way of shopping cuts out the manufacture demands, giving already made items a second life at a fraction of what they cost before (Froelich). 

Ditch the Plastic Bottle 

Now a days having a reusable water bottle has become some sort of trend and well if you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, here is the time to do it! Plastic water bottles are one of the most common single use plastics used and 90% of them don’t get recycled (Postconsumer). This causes most of the bottles to either end up in the ocean or in our landfills where they will stay since it takes at least 450 years for a single bottle to decompose (Postconsumer). The simple switch from disposable to reusable bottles will greatly decreases the amount of plastic that is being polluted and save you money in the long run. Instead of having to buy a bottle of water each time you are out, you can simply ask the cashier or server to refill your own which they are always more than happy to do. 

Bamboo toothbrush

Toothbrushes are an everyday essential that everyone uses, but most people might not think about how every toothbrush they’ve ever used still exists on earth. According to National Geographic, a single person on average, will use 300 toothbrushes during their lifetime, and because they are made of hard plastic and nylon they are basically indestructible and won’t decompose for a couple hundred years. A great alternative to use are bamboo toothbrushes which can be composted at the end of their lifespan. You do need to pull out the bristles before composting the handle as they are still made of plastic, but it is far less than the amount of plastic used in normal toothbrushes. 

Reusable bag 

Plastic bags are another item that have completely consumed our society, from the disposable shopping bags and produce bags, to small ziplock bags that are used daily. Across the world, around one trillion plastic bags are used a year, this amounts to almost 2 million bags used every minute (Earth Day Network). To avoid adding to this plastic consumption remember to grab a reusable tote bag before heading out the door! If you don’t own one, watch out for when they’re handing them out for free on campus or think about buying one that you’ll use endlessly. As for produce bags, they are usually unnecessary since produce can go straight into the cart because it will be washed and/or peeled before eaten anyway. But a great alternative for those who prefer to bag their items are reusable mesh or cotton produce bags, they are very light weight and can just be thrown in the wash to keep them clean between uses. Instead of using ziplock bags to carry around snacks, upcycling glass jars or reusable silicone bags are great options. You might already have an old pasta jar laying around from last nights dinner so why not wash it and put it to use instead of throwing it into the recycling! The silicone bags can carry anything from snacks to soup and can be frozen or heated up in the microwave; they have the same convenience as zip lock bags but save you the money of having to keep buying more. With these three items there is no need to ever use another plastic bag again. 

Change your diet

Switching from a heavy meat based diet to a plant based one is a very simple and easy way to decrease one’s carbon footprint. Now I’m not saying that you have to become fully vegan or vegetarian but swapping out one meal every other day or so makes a huge difference when livestock production produces 18% of all global emissions (Shrinkthatfootprint). These emissions produced are greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide that are worsening climate change. Taking a look at the carbon footprint of various diets, an average diet has a footprint of 2.5 t CO2e, while a meat lover’s is 3.3 t CO2e, and someone who doesn’t eat beef is 1.9 t CO2e closer to those who are vegetarian at 1.7 t CO2e (Shrinkthatfootprint). The small change caused by decreasing beef intake causes a huge difference down the line, making it easier to be environmentally friendly by being more conscious of what you are eating.

Bars of soap

A great alternative to decrease the amount of plastic used in the shower are soap bars! There are shampoo, conditioning, and body bars that not only lather up as much as liquid soap but last a lot longer than the average bottle. Many people are unaware that shampoo bottles can be recycled -after a quick rinse- so most bottles end up in the landfill. Because of this misconception, Americans throw away enough shampoo bottles that could fill 1,164 football fields every year (Shapley). This plastic could be avoided by switching to bars that come in cardboard boxes or package free all together. Not to mention this switch will also save you money as there won’t be the need to buy shampoo as often. 

I really hope that this short list of swaps has been a bit eye opening or convinced you to change a couple of things in your daily routine. These are just a handful of acts we can do to reduce our carbon footprint, plastic usage, and what we throw into the landfill. And hopefully your actions will inspire others to make the same change as well.  

Works Cited,

“Fact Sheet: How Much Disposable Plastic We Use.” Earth Day Network, 8 Jan. 2019,

Froelich, Amanda, and Amanda Froelich. “9 Reasons to Shop Second-Hand.” True Activist, 7 Nov. 2013,

“How Long Does It Take a Plastic Bottle to Biodegrade?” Postconsumers, 26 Aug. 2017,

Padilla, Cristina. “Muni Hybrid Buses.” SFMTA, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, 12 Sept. 2019,

Shapley, Haley, and Mitch Ratcliffe. “Easier To Recycle Than You May Think: Shampoo Bottles.” Earth911.Com, 6 Oct. 2017,

Stanton, Audrey. “What Is Fast Fashion, Anyway?” The Good Trade, The Good Trade, 8 Oct. 2018,

Whitaker, Hannah. “How Your Toothbrush Became a Part of the Plastic Crisis.” Your Plastic Toothbrush Is a Bigger Problem than You Realize, 18 Oct. 2019,