Currently living on-campus, I can easily dodge single-use plastic by not eating out during the day. However, I can’t help but notice fellow students using single-use plastic. I imagine it’s an even bigger issue at other universities, especially cities surrounded by supermarkets and tempting meal deals.
I thought I’d share my backpack essentials for a plastic-free day at university. Hopefully it’ll help inspire other people to swap meal-deal packaging and more for sustainable alternatives! Using all these essentials, I avoid 154 plastic items per semester.
SCARY STATS WRITTEN LIKE THIS BELOW are approximations of how much plastic students can regularly consume. They’re based on how much plastic I would go through if I didn’t have all these backpack essentials.
Firstly, and obviously – a sizeable backpack to fit everything you need. I don’t know how eco-friendly the production of my one was (I bought it on Amazon because it was cheap) but it has lasted me fantastically so far. I’ve been using it for half a year and it doesn’t show any signs of wear or tear – which is great because it’ll hopefully last my whole degree! I hate the idea of replacing bags every single year as it’s wasteful.
I bought this one because it has lots of spacious compartments, which is useful for my study materials and extra items. It can comfortably fit a laptop, notebooks, stationery, and all the items I’m listing below. Plus pouches for an umbrella/flask/bottle.
3 SUPERMARKET MEAL DEALS A WEEK = 66 SINGLE USE PLASTICS A SEMESTER
I can’t begin to image how many Tesco meal deals I bought during school. They use so much packaging: even supermarket sandwich boxes aren’t fully recyclable because they use plastic film.
I go back to my flat for lunch most days, but if I’m super busy I’ll bring something out to eat in the lunch box on the left. It’s the perfect size for me, and stores small cutlery in a separate compartment. The pot on the right is a new purchase for taking zero-packaging snacks with me in the new semester.
If you really want takeaway lunch, ask your student cafe or bar to put it in your own container. But it’s also cheaper to make your own lunch, so that’s another perk for students.
If the idea of lugging around a lunch box is off-putting, give a collapsible box a go!
3 EN-ROUTE-TO-LECTURE COFFEES A WEEK = 33 SINGLE-USE CUPS A SEMESTER
Both of these were gifted to me and I love them. My Bodum flask keeps tea warm for 4-5 hours, so it’s perfect for long stints in the library, and better than any single-use cup.
The cup (thank u jen <3) is ethically produced and can be sealed with a silicone lid to for caffeine on the go. My flask will stick with me for longer days out (it’s seal-able), but when I’m only popping across campus to a lecture, this cup is perfect! I’ve always been tempted to literally just bring a mug to lectures, so with this cup lid I can.
3 LECTURE-SURVIVAL ENERGY DRINKS A WEEK = 33 PLASTIC BOTTLES A SEMESTER
I’ve tried lots of reusable bottles over the years but I always struggle with them leaking. This one with a screw-on lid is perfect because it never leaks in my bag. I can’t find the product online but it’s from Miniso and I’m sure other stationery/gift stores do similar ones. They’re not needed with every water bottle, but I keep a reusable straw in it too.
1 LARGE FOOD SHOP A WEEK = APPROX. 22 PLASTIC BAGS A SEMESTER
Lastly, one of these comes with me everywhere and they’re even more useful if you don’t live on campus! Stick a tote bag in your study backpack, and you can grab some shopping on your way to and from uni without having to buy a plastic bag. Bonus: Books Are My Bag totes look super snazzy (and won’t break, no matter how many library books you load them up with). They fold up super small, so they’re easily squeezed in among study materials.
If you’re a Sussex student reading this – our co-op is doing a better job now by offering compostable bags. However, if you live on campus, we don’t have food waste bins to use them in – so they’re pretty much useless to us. Switch to a tote!
NUMBER OF SINGLE-USE ITEMS AVOIDED PER SEMESTER: 154!!!
That’s everything I kit myself out with at uni: what do you use, or what are you going to switch to?
If you need some more inspiration, check out wastenot – they’re a Brighton-based shop selling similar items, as well as cool stuff like bamboo cutlery sets (for eating out) and reusable beeswax wraps (for wrapping leftover food on-the-go or at home).
They can be a little on the pricey side, but reusable items are investments that save you money – and the planet – in the long term. And shop around for deals!