Heading off to College? What would Bea do?

By September 2, 2015 No Comments

No, my kids are not heading off to college just yet 😉 but today I answer Suzanne’s questions…

backpack - heading off to college

Hi Bea,
My name is Suzanne, I live in St. Louis MO, and I am 18 years old. I have been reading your blog for the past two years and absolutely loved reading your book last summer. Your philosophies and practices have set a wonderful example for all people to strive towards, and they have transformed my life. Truly, the tips and guidance your blog and book have provided me with weigh into every purchasing decision I now make. But I will be heading off to college in the Fall for the first time and I have a few questions…


What should I do when I am at a gathering and beverages are only being served in plastic cups? 

There are lots of ways to go about it. Be proactive: Bring your own; or make do: go in the kitchen and grab a glass. If you need to ask someone and are embarrassed to go into a waste related discussion, tell them you’re allergic to plastics (if you think about it, all humans actually are) and beg for glass.If none of these options is possible, pick an individual drink in a can or glass bottle (and drink directly from it), make sure your empties get recycled.

The college I am attending throws many BBQs and picnics for the student body (great for meeting new people), and food is always served on disposables. They usually offer recycling at these events, but I am unsure of how to approach these situations. How is the most environmentally and socially sustainable way to handle such events?

Again, be proactive: Bring your own; or make do: go in the kitchen and grab a plate, or a container that you can use and wash. But I find that the food served at such events often does not require the use of a plate at all (burgers, hot dogs, watermelon slices, brownies, cupcakes, chips, etc)

(If you still choose to use a disposable, pick a paper one, but make sure it gets composted – dirty paper should not be recycled).


I am concerned about how I should respond when asked about my baking soda for toothpaste in the dorm bathrooms, what do you think I should say?

If you are embarrassed to say that you are aiming for Zero Waste, just say that you no longer like the taste or the feel of toothpaste. It’s the case for me anyways. Also point out that most toothpastes do contain baking soda.

But eventually, you might want to be open about your Zero Waste goals. You’ll be amazed how many people will respect your choice and be inspired to follow your lead!


Especially in Week of Welcome, I am expecting lots of flyers, papers, and other items to be passed out among the students (T shirts, draw string bags, etc.) In all of these situations is refuse the best policy?

Yes! See, you already know what to do! The easiest way to Refuse in those instances, is to say: Thanks, but I don’t need it. People always respect that choice.


How do I manage eating at sandwich shops when they always wrap up the food in paper and plastic to keep it from falling apart and to make it easier to take to go?

Dining is voting: Invest your money in sustainable practices! Prefer sit-down businesses that serve in reusables. Once you’ve tested a few food joints within your price range, and know how they serve their food, you’ll pick your faves and know exactly how to handle them.

If you must buy something to go, be proactive: Bring your own plate, or cloth bag (my preference).

But often, to-go items do not even require a wrapper. I ask the person behind the counter to simply hand it out to me.


I am moving to a very small town where I am not expecting sustainable personal hygiene products to be available to me (bulk soap, etc.), so I am having my favorite brands ship to me. Is there a way to request less packaging on Amazon?

Having bulk shipped to you defeats the purpose: It puts packaging around a package-free product. Embrace the package-free items near you. Use my Bulk Finder, to locate bulk locations near you. But you can find bulk soap in practically any drug store. If not, pick one in a cardboard box.


I am told that while living in dorms that I should have shower shoes/flip flops to shower in. I am trying to keep my number of shoes to a minimum and only versatile pairs, and shower shoes are certainly not versatile. Also, your Cleanliness Standards Revised article came to mind. What do you think about this?

I do not know enough about the cleanliness of your college dorm showers to make up my mind whether flip flops are truly needed: Is there an epidemic of athlete’s foot? Could you time your showers right after the cleaners have come through? If you’d prefer to wear shower shoes, why can’t a pair of waterproof (but stylish) flip flops be one of your pairs of shoes? (If I were going to college, they would replace my sandals for 4 years).


Since I will be living in the dorms, I will also be eating in the dining halls. The buffet style is fairly accommodating to Zero Waste, but milk is only provided in a cardboard carton. Do you think it is acceptable to simply recycle the container, or would you just not drink milk? (I am used to drinking lots of milk from glass bottles and not having to worry about this at home)

I am not here to tell you whether you can or cannot drink milk from a carton 😉 It’s up to everyone to adapt Zero Waste practices to their own lives and know their limitations. I would not drink milk from a carton, but I am not dependent on milk either.


Would you say plants are the best way to clean the air in a dorm room? I am concerned about the limited space and light (I will be sharing room with one small window). Do you have any suggestions?

Plants are great – but also simply opening a window is an excellent way to keep your air clean and fresh.


How would you suggest that I advocate for Zero Waste to administration/event organizers on campus? Send emails?

Don’t underestimate your capabilities: you can build a Zero Waste group (there might already be one on your campus!), request a meeting, make calls, or as you suggested, send emails – but in person is generally more powerful. And please, keep us updated on your progress!


Do you have What Would Bea Do questions on a specific topic? Use the contact form in the header above to get them to me; I’ll pick my faves and post my answers!


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