Heading off to College? What would Bea do?Je vais a l'universite. Que ferait Bea?

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!


Editors’ Note: This post might contain a sponsored link

Non, mes fils ne sont pas pres a partir a l’universite, mais aujourd’hui, je reponds aux questions de Suzanne…

Bonjour  Bea,
Je m’appelle Suzanne, j’habite St. Louis dans le Missouri et j’ai 18 ans. Ca fait 2 ans que je lis votre blog et j’ai adore lire votre livre l’ete dernier. Votre philosophie est un exemple pour tous et elle a transforme ma vie. Les astuces et le guide que m’ont procure votre blog et votre livre me font reflechir a chaque decision que je prends desormais. Mais je pars a l’universite cet automne pour la premiere fois et j’ai quelques questions…


Que faire quand je vais Ă  une grande rĂ©union et que les boissons ne sont proposĂ©es qu’en contenants plastiques?

Il y a plusieurs solutions :

Soyez pro-actifs , apportez votre propre verre ou allez Ă  la cuisine et prenez un verre. Si vous devez le demander Ă  quelqu’un et n’avez pas envie de partir dans des discussions sur le ZĂ©ro DĂ©chet, dites simplement que vous ĂȘtes allergique au plastique (lorsqu’on y pense, tous les humains le sont vraiment) et demandez un verre.

Si ces solutions ne sont pas possible, choisissez une boisson individuelle en canette ou en verre et buvez-la Ă  mĂȘme le contenant en vous assurant que celui-ci sera recyclĂ©.


Je participe Ă  de nombreux BBQ et pique-niques dans un collĂšge ( ce qui est excellent pour faire de nouvelles connaissances) ; la nourriture y est toujours servie dans de la vaisselle jetable. On m’affirme que celle-ci est recyclĂ©e mais je ne sais pas comment les organisateurs s’y prennent vraiment. Quelle est la meilleure solution pour gĂ©rer ce genre d’Ă©vĂ©nement social dans un cadre environnemental durable ?

Soyez pro-actifs : apportez votre vaisselle ou bien allez à la cuisine pour chercher ce dont vous avez besoin (assiette, couverts, verre) ou tout autre contenant que vous pourrez utiliser et laver. Néanmoins, ce qui est servi à ces occasions ne demande aucune vaisselle ( burgers, hotdogs, tranches de melon ou de pastÚque, petits gùteaux , biscuits et autres chips)

(Si vous optez pour une assiette jetable, assurez-vous qu’elle soit en carton et qu’elle soit compostee -les cartons gras et sales ne sont pas recyclables).


Je suis embarrassĂ©e pour rĂ©pondre aux questions concernant l’usage du bicarbonate de soude comme dentifrice dans les dortoirs. A votre avis, que dois-je dire ?

Si vous ĂȘtes gĂȘnĂ©s de rĂ©pondre que vous militez pour le zĂ©ro dĂ©chet, vous pouvez toujours affirmer que vous ne supportez plus le goĂ»t et la texture de la pĂąte dentifrice -C’est mon cas, en tout cas.

Soulignez aussi que la plupart des dentifrices en contiennent de toute façon.

Vous pouvez également affirmer vos convictions à propos du zéro déchet. Vous serez émerveillés par le nombre de personnes qui respectera votre choix et en sera inspiré !


Lors de la semaine de bienvenue, je m’attends Ă  des tas de prospectus, brochures distribuĂ©s aux Ă©tudiants ainsi que T Shirts et autres petits sacs. Dans cette situation, quelle est la meilleure rĂ©action ?

Oui, vous la connaissez dĂ©jà ! Le plus simple est de dire « Non, merci, je n’en ai pas besoin » Ă  ce genre de proposition . Les gens respectent toujours ce choix.


Comment faire pour manger un sandwich quand la boutique emballe systématiquement votre nourriture dans du papier ou dans un plastique afin de ne rien mélanger ou de la rendre plus facile à emporter ?

Manger, c’est voter (tout comme acheter c’est voter). Investissez votre argent dans des pratiques durables ! PrĂ©fĂ©rez des petits restos qui vous servent dans de la vaisselle rĂ©utilisable.Une fois que vous aurez essayĂ© quelques petits coins sympas, dans votre budget et que vous saurez comment la cuisine est prĂ©parĂ©e, vous ferez vos choix et saurez comment gĂ©rer vos repas.

Si vous devez acheter Ă  emporter, apportez votre assiette ou un sac en tissu (ce que je prefere)

Cependant, les produits « à emporter » (croissant, sandwich, etc) ne demandent mĂȘme pas d’emballage. Je demande simplement au serveur de me le tendre tel quel.


Je vais vivre dans une petite ville oĂč je ne trouverai pas de produits d’hygiĂšne durable en vrac (savon, etc). Par consĂ©quent, je prevois de les acheter sur internet. Peut-on demander moins d’emballage quand on commande sur Amazon ?

Recevoir du vrac dans un colis ? C’est emballer du vrac!

Faites plutot avec le vrac qui vous est disponible! Utilisez mon localisateur de vrac pour trouver des emplacements de magasin de vrac pres de chez vous. Vous trouverez du savon en vrac dans pratiquement tous les supermarches, sinon optez pour une savonette vendue dans du carton.


On m’a dit que, lorsque je me rends dans les douches collectives, je dois porter des sandales de douche ( tongs) . Je m’efforce d’avoir un nombre minimal de paires de chaussures et elles doivent ĂȘtre multi-usage. Les tongs sont-ils de cette espĂšce ? Certainement pas. Qu’en pensez-vous ?

Je ne connais pas les conditions sanitaires des douches de votre collĂšge pour dire que les sandales sont vraiment indispensables. Y-a-t’il une rĂ©elle Ă©pidĂ©mie de verrues plantaires ? Pouvez-vous planifier vos douches aprĂšs leurs nettoyages? Si vraiment, vous prĂ©fĂ©rez porter les sandales de douche, pourquoi ne pas inclure une paire de chaussures impermĂ©ables  (mais Ă©lĂ©gantes) dans votre collection ? (Si j’allais a l’universite, cette paire de chaussures remplacerait mes sandales d’Ă©tĂ© pendant 4 ans).


Depuis que je vis en collectivitĂ©, je vais aussi manger au rĂ©fectoire. Le buffet est Ă  peu prĂšs en accord avec « zĂ©ro dĂ©chet » mais le lait est uniquement proposĂ© en emballage carton dans le prĂ©sentoir. Pensez-vous correct de recycler simplement l’emballage ou prĂ©fĂšrerez-vous vous passer de lait ? (J’ai l’habitude de boire toutes sortes de lait en bouteille de verre et je n’ai aucun a me soucier de cela à la maison)

Je ne suis pas la pour vous dire si vous pouvez ou non boire du lait d’un emballage carton.  Il appartient Ă  chacun d’adapter les pratiques « zĂ©ro dĂ©chet » Ă  son mode de vie et de connaĂźtre ses limites. Je ne boirais pas du lait contenu dans un carton mais je ne suis pas non plus une accro. du lait.


Pensez-vous que les plantes vertes sont un bon moyen d’assainir l’air d’un dortoir ? J’ai conscience de l’espace et de la lumiĂšre rĂ©duite dans ce lieu (Je partage ma chambre avec une seule petite fenĂȘtre) Avez-vous des suggestions ?

Ouvrir la fenĂȘtre est le moyen le plus simple d’assainir l’atmosphĂšre.


Que suggĂ©rez-vous pour dĂ©fendre le concept » zĂ©ro dechet » auprĂšs de l’administration et des organisateurs d’Ă©vĂ©nements sur le campus ? Envoyer des Emails ?

Ne sous-estimez pas vos capacitĂ©s pour crĂ©er un groupe ZĂ©ro DĂ©chet (il pourrait d’ailleurs dĂ©jĂ  y en avoir un dans votre campus!), organisez une rĂ©union, tĂ©lĂ©phonez ou bien comme vous le suggĂ©rez, envoyez des courriels, mais j’estime que les visites en personne personnels sont gĂ©nĂ©ralement plus efficaces.


Note de l’editeur: cet article peut contenir un lien sponsorisĂ©

  1. Miser Mom says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 9:47 am (#)

    I am a professor at a college; I find that many, many people admire the idea of zero waste. When I told some students in a sustainability club hat I put out only one trash can a month, they asked me to come to talk to their group about how I do it. (Meanwhile, I'm embarrassed that I put out a whole trash can every month!) Other people have started carrying cloth napkins and plates, like me, to events with food.

    Like you, I think Suzanne doesn't have to worry about being embarrassed. I think a lot of people are going to be asking her for advice!

  2. Bare Necessities says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 1:44 pm (#)

    Absolutely embrace it! The fact that students and university campuses don't necessarily have healthy practices right now sometimes just means that nobody had the time or idea to implement them. When it comes to a bigger scale issue of college life – furniture!, I would also check out PLAN (http://www.postlandfill.org/), they are trying to keep student furniture out of landfills every year, and need an outpost in all schools in the country 🙂

  3. Sadie says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 2:18 pm (#)

    I have one more suggestion for any college student! Encourage your university to keep furniture & small items from being wasted by holding a spring-fall sale. Each year, the Office of Sustainability at the university where I live works with local groups to put on this sale: http://sustain.indiana.edu/programs/hoosier-to-hoosier/index.php

    It is an incredible way to keep waste out of the landfill. When students leave in the summer, they throw out many items that would be of use to incoming students– but those students won't arrive until the fall. The project gathers those items from collection points at dorms and apartments and stores them in donated shipping containers over the summer, then holds a huge sale when students return in the fall.

    I am not a student or employee of the university, but I eagerly await this sale every fall– it's a great place to pick up clothes, small appliances, linens, pans, etc.

  4. hannah ransom says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 4:48 pm (#)

    Where are you going to college? I am just asking because you mentioned week of welcome and I know they had that at my school (Cal Poly SLO), which has a lot of bulk opportunities in the town.

  5. St. Louis Too says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 6:05 pm (#)

    Step into somebody’s kitchen for a glass cup or plates and silverware? Bad idea, Bea, even for an activist, maybe ESPECIALLY for an activist. It’s the host’s home — their rules, their party, not yours. Would you head for the kitchen to find vegan food cuz you don’t eat meat? or meat cuz you don’t like veggies? or better liquor? or? or? or? Be a good guest, good manners and life-long friendships trump activism. So either stay home or take along your own stuff. But stay out of the host’s kitchen and cupboards.

  6. Miser Mom says:

    September 3rd, 2015 at 1:24 pm (#)

    If the host is a "stranger", I'd agree, and of course you don't go snooping around even in a friend's home. But I find many of my friends who host parties now explicitly point me to their kitchens when I come, even when I don't need to borrow a plate or such from them. If you know the person well enough, it really is okay to ask.

    And other parties and gatherings on a college campus happen in places where there's a sort of public/community-shared kitchen, and it's really okay to use those items, provided you observe the usual rules about cleaning things and putting them back.

  7. Archana says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 6:56 pm (#)

    I love all the suggestions. I live on campus. I love the 'allergic to plastic' idea.

    Thank you ! Thank you for doing all you do.

  8. Emily says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 11:10 pm (#)

    The questions all revolve around how we navigate the social consequences of zero waste. There are a lot of them, from appearing rude to just feeling embarrassed for going against our society's sense of "normal." And it is also tiring to have to constantly explain oneself. In college a lot of social activities are done in large groups, and it might be hard to be the person who can't go to certain restaurants because of disposables. Especially since these are the restaurants that are probably the most affordable for college students. (I've never thought of asking someone to just hand me the food–I wonder what they would say at In-N-Out!) Also, I can imagine that it might feel embarrassing to be the student in a big group of new people who pulls out their own personal metal plate and cup at a picnic. On the positive side, I would say the good thing about college is that it is one of the first times in many people's lives when there is much less pressure to conform. It might be helpful to have a prepared simple explanation like "I'm trying to avoid plastics and be easier on the earth." Most people will leave it at that. Even though it might not be the norm to be zero-waste, environmental consciousness is much more mainstream than ever before. It is a great opportunity to show others that they could do things with less waste.

  9. designSMITH says:

    September 2nd, 2015 at 11:58 pm (#)

    Suzanne – Have confidence and teach your fellow students about zero waste! College is a time when many people experiment with non-conformance so I think your fellow classmates will be more accepting than you fear (though it might take a while for some people to catch on).

    Get a stainless steel plate, cup, and flatware to take to events and parties. Just say no to all the freebies (there will be lots). Good luck!

  10. Laura's Last Ditch Vintage Kitchenwares says:

    September 3rd, 2015 at 4:54 pm (#)

    Sometimes it's helpful to the real you out there. Those who are interested in what you're doing – even if they don't do it themselves – will want to get to know you. Letting your real self shine is a great way to make like-minded friends. Once at a gathering the hostess asked our hobbies. I reluctantly admitted I love Dumpster diving (and then explained it's not as gross as they think if you're selective, and some of my favorite finds); while some may have been appalled, an interested person approached me to ask about it, and now we are friends.

  11. Anonymous says:

    September 3rd, 2015 at 7:58 pm (#)

    My best zero waste college tips are:
    1) used or electronic textbooks
    2) textbook sharing with a friend
    3) avoiding ewaste by making do with used electronics
    4) skipping most of the "dorm room essentials". Most dorms have common areas with kitchens so you don't need a microwave or hot pot. The cheap furniture, cheap décor,organizing and storage bins can be skipped. I studied in the science building instead of my room ( more people to study with) so I didnt need my desk or desk lamp. I only watched movies in friends' rooms, so no TV necessary. All I really used, in fact, was the bed and bedding, the closet, the mirror, a laundry bag, a broom and dustpan, and my laptop.
    In retrospect, I wish I had also brought a bicycle.

  12. designSMITH says:

    September 4th, 2015 at 3:05 am (#)

    In my discipline, it was easily to make use of the library for my books (fewer real text books, mostly academic books) – it also helped that we used several over the semester. Some classes had the books on reserve, so if you were willing to read/study in/near the library that was perfect, or sometimes I could just check out what I needed (and some I could check out digitally).

    Re: textbooks

    If you need to buy new/used, you may be able to share (though that gets tricky before test time!) but definitely sell at the end of the semester! Most people I know will tell you that they rarely referenced their textbooks after the class ended (and at that point, you can check it out of the library).

  13. Andria says:

    September 4th, 2015 at 3:30 pm (#)

    I just discovered this the other day: https://openstaxcollege.org/
    Free, legal e-textbooks. Check this before buying anything, new or used!
    Typically, your library won't have textbooks to borrow, but for English/ Humanities classes where you're reading literature, philosophy and things of that nature, they certainly may have a copy. Usually you can borrow for about a month, which is probably as long as you would actually need it anyway.

  14. Laura Guégan says:

    September 4th, 2015 at 9:42 am (#)

    TrÚs intéressant ! Si je ne dois retenir qu'un seul mot, je retiens "proactif"

  15. Anonymous says:

    September 4th, 2015 at 11:49 am (#)

    College students tend to bring way too much to college — it's not uncommon to see parents hauling U-hauls; and hence the trash piles come spring. My daughter went to school half the continent away, and we told her she could only take as much as would fit in the car with three people (we drove a VW Passat at the time). She packed the clothes she would need for fall semester and boxed up winter clothes to be shipped to her later. When I went to college, I had the same kind of limit, except that one year I could only take along as much as would fit in a 1970s era car that was filled with seven people.

  16. Andria says:

    September 4th, 2015 at 3:26 pm (#)

    I lived in a dorm my first year of college, never wore shower shoes (just because I didn't like to), and I never had an issues with athlete's foot or other foot ailments. The showers are cleaned daily, and a few germs never hurt anyone. What I did end of doing, was buying a pair of "Indoor shoes" that I could wear visiting friends on other floors and to and from the shower. In my case, it was just a pair of fluffy slippers that I wore for years to come, but you may already own something that would work well.

  17. Chevanne says:

    September 10th, 2015 at 1:05 am (#)

    The embarrassment factor is highly underestimated and I think those determined to undermine your efforts for their own convenience know that. I got help up in a supermarket for 10 minutes while two people figured out how to tare my jar. It's frustrating and naturally, discourages me. I don't have the flexibility in my schedule to shop early on a weekday so I have to plan for setbacks. In addition, when I've had a long day, I may not want to take the extra five minutes to ensure I have my own supplies. This is where decluttering and organization come in. Inaccessible items will go unused and having all your dish towels in the wash can mean bumming napkins off the local fast food joint if you get in a rut. I say keep working and keep trying. You'll be more proud that you did.

  18. Somerset Wedding Girl says:

    September 18th, 2015 at 3:34 pm (#)

    Just throwing my 2 cents in – I would definitely advocate wearing flip flops.

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