Reducing one’s rubbish

Illustration by Marcus Jefferson | The Signal

College is the time to become more self-aware and develop sustainable habits that persist into one’s adult life. One practice of sustainability that is gaining attention, especially among young people, is the zero waste movement.

The definition of zero waste, according to the Zero Waste International Alliance, is “the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of products, packaging and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”

In simpler terms, zero waste is the act of cutting down on one’s impact on the environment, specifically by cutting down on trash production. 

For some, such as Bea Johnson, this can be a full-time job. Johnson is the author of “Zero Waste Home,” the book that is credited for giving the zero waste movement the popularity it has today.

“Reducing … results in a simplified lifestyle that allows you to focus on quality versus quantity and experiences versus stuff,” Johnson wrote.

But for those with a full load of classes on top of jobs, internships and extracurriculars, this is simply not a feasible lifestyle. 

However, here are some manageable tips for cutting back on trash usage with limited time and money. 


An easy first step is to invest in a collection of reusable Tupperware containers, coffee mugs or Mason jars, in addition to the commonly used reusable water bottle. Smaller items, such as reusable straws, can be helpful too but are less important. Mason jars can be bought in bulk for around $10 and, with the correct lid, make a great replacement for single-use iced coffee cups. 

Multiple coffee shops around campus, including Ebrik, Buenos Dias and Saxby’s, all take reusable cups or mugs. Starbucks even offers a small discount to those using reusable containers, Starbucks brand tumblers or otherwise.

An item likely already laying around many students’ homes is a tote bag, which can be used to replace single-use plastic bags during grocery trips and other occasions.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.”

An extra step during grocery store visits can help more than one may think. 


The money spent on Tupperware could easily be saved by cutting back on needless shopping. Fast fashion is significantly more wasteful and more expensive than slower fashion alternatives like thrifting. 

Morgan McFall-Johnson went more in depth on fast fashion usage in a 2019 article for Business Insider.

“On average, people bought 60% more garments in 2014 than they did in 2000,” she said. “Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams.”

In gift-giving, whether to yourself, your family or your friends, gifts can be unnecessary. Rather than buy an item that may be tossed after a year or two, share an experience as a present. This could be a birthday party, a vacation or just a nice day in the park. There are many alternatives to material gift-giving that don’t produce any trash.


This is an easy one. Most apartment buildings have areas to drop off recyclable items, and there are recycling centers scattered all around Georgia. When throwing away a beverage or snack in a recyclable container, it takes nothing more than paying more attention to make sure that the bottle doesn’t end up in a landfill.


Full zero waste isn’t easy. For most Georgia State students, it likely isn’t possible to be on top of everything happening in their lives. Partial waste reduction for a large group of people, rather than full waste reduction for a select few, is the key to reducing the population’s carbon footprint. 

Doing one’s part may be a small commitment, but it goes a long way when many people contribute.