Greening the Dorm- The Eco-Friendly Dorm Room Shopping List Part One

by - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

dorm room with flowers on the blankets and a long string of pictures

When you leave for college, you are faced with the longest "Back to School" Shopping List of your life. There is so much stuff, that I can't think of one college freshman who didn't have at least a run or two to Walmart or Target to get all the things they forgot. It's part of the rite of passage.

Because it's your (or your child's) first time out on your/his or her own, it makes sense to lean on the cheap side. They are moving into a space they will definitely leave in months, so why spend too much gussing it up? I don't disagree (I certainly don't have much left from my college dorm ten years later), but buying a bunch of Made in China junk comes at a big environmental cost:

This stuff isn't built to last. It's essentially landfill-filler already.

- This stuff has traveled a long way. When your stuff travels (way further than you do), it has numerous negative environmental effects. These items increase your carbon footprint exponentially. Think about how much more gas it takes to travel half way around the world vs. one state away. Now multiply it by everything on your list.

- This stuff comes with baggage. Labor baggage. If you are a Christian or an American who believes in the worker, buying this stuff directly undermines your morals. So often, way too often, "Made in Elsewhere" and a cheap price means "made by someone treated very very badly." That's why it is so cheap.

- This stuff is made of environmentally-stinky (that's a scientific term) materials. If the idea is to make it as cheaply as possible, it doesn't get cheaper than plastic. The problem is, plastic essentially lasts forever and is made of petrochemicals. They say we are the plastic generation, but we don't have to be.

So, the three steps to take for a more Environmentally Conscious Dorm Room (that your room mate won't even suspect is any different)-

1. Use what you already have- Oh, you need to bring blankets with you to college? Let me make a wild guess you already have some at home. Or a garbage can. Or a rug or coffee maker your parents are ready to part with. You can save so much money by just going with what you already have. Newness feels appropriate because everything is so new, but a little of the familiar can save you money.

Use what the room already has too- the college wants to overcharge you for a mini-fridge? Well, what are you going to do with the one you buy? Take the options that leave you with the least new baggage.

2. Get it Used!! Just stop at consignment stores first. You know what happened last year? And the year before that? People moved into dorm rooms or their first apartments using stuff they weren't going to want 12 months later. If you are in a college town, shop at Goodwill before you stop at Walmart- you can probably find almost everything on that last minute list, for way cheap, and you are saving things from landfills. Also, look into whether your college's area has a Buy Nothing. We live by a small college, and I have given college kids so much of our old stuff to get them started on their first apartments. I know the town I went to college in - State College PA- has it's own Buy Nothing as well.Buy Nothing is a goldmine for college students.

3. Get it Local, Recycled, or Made in America- This is where things stop being cheap or free and start getting expensive. Don't stress. Maybe you can't switch everything over, and that is ok. The idea isn't to do everything perfectly, but always try to do a little bit better. I will try to find you the best/ most affordable options so you don't have to search for every little thing, and you can get the things that work for you! Prioritize what will travel with you through places.

I found so many lists to follow online, but I thought this one from Honestly Haley covered all the bases. I left a few out that seemed crazy to me. So this is everything we are going to try to cover:

Big Things- TV, Microwave, Printer, Fan, Rug, Coffee Maker, Vaccuum
Bathroom- Shower Caddy, Washclothes, Scrubbies, Shower Shoes, Robe, Towels, Toiletries
Bedroom- Blankets, Sheets (2 sets), Mattress Pad, Bed Risers, Lamp, Trash Can, Pillows
Decorations and Storage- Drawers, Command Strips, Corkboard, Ottoman, Hangers, Hamper, Mirror, Photos, Poster
Kitchen- Travel Mug, Reusable Water Bottle, Silverware, Can Opener, Dish Towel, Pot Holders, Tupperware, Plates, Bowls, Mugs, Ziploc Bags
Electronics- Headphones, Cell Phone Charger, Computer Charger, Flash Drive, Surge Protectors, Extension Cord
Cleaning and Laundry- Dish Soap, Cleaning Wipes, Paper Towels, Trash Bags, Lint Roller, Air Freshener, Landry Basket, Detergent, Stain Remover
Other- Batteries, Flashlight, Duct Tape, Umbrella, Games, Playing Cards, Travel Bag

Oy, it's a lot. We will split it into two parts, so check part 2 if you can't find something. Let's do this, people!

Big Things


Our Pick- There is only one option that makes any sense, environmentally or otherwise. Take a used TV with you. Get a super cheap used TV from Goodwill or Buy Nothing. Do not bring an expensive new television with you- you are asking for it to get stolen. Even if you get an apartment, you will have so many people go through your space. Our Goodwill always has little tvs. Are they amazing?? No. But they will do the trick. Anything more than this is a fool's game.


Our Pick- Some colleges will rent these out, and I really think that is probably your best option if you want to be eco-friendly. The same microwave will get lots of use, and less will end up in a landfill.

Other Options- Some family member has a microwave sitting in their basement or you can get one for cheap at Goodwill. I would start there. No microwaves that I know of are still made in the States, but I think this is still an easy one to start off with a used one.


Our Pick- First, I am not confident you actually need a printer in your room anymore. Even when I was in school, it was easy to send myself a file and print it in a computer room before heading to class. By the time I was finished at Grad school, lots of faculty were accepting assignments by email. Even if you do pay for printing, it would probably add up to less than a printer.

Other Options-  If you do have a printer, you can definitely go eco-friendly on the paper by only buying recycled paper. Buying in larger quantities will also save on money and packaging. You have so many options here- Printworks sells paper made in the US that is 100% recycled. Staples and Boise Aspen have great recycled printer paper options as well. Right now, our tree consumption is way too fast, so if you want to still have clean air when you retire, it's time to switch over to recycled paper permanently.


Our Pick- Holmes sells a well-reviewed, made in the USA, and 100% recycled fan. So why are we buying any other fans? This is one of my favorite things.

Other Options- I can't find anything as great as that fan, but I do have a couple Made in America options. Air King  and Lasko are made in America (with "globally-sourced" components).


Our Pick- We bought a rug from Walmart for our dorm room, and it was so poorly made it didn't stand up to much wear. It didn't even make it through the college years with me. If you can find one used, I definitely think that is the best bet. You can find so many cute little rugs in consignment stores, but usually at a cheap price so you save money. You could even try used furniture stores- they always seem to have a lot of rugs.

Other Options- If you want to buy a rug, check out braided rugs and rag rugs on Etsy (60,000 options). They are super hearty, so they should last a long time, maybe even making it to future apartments .Even better, you can find rugs like these from Rag Rug Road that are made of recycled fabric! Score! You can also try Cotton Craft for gorgeous braided and recycled rugs.

If you need a rug pad, try this one from Gorilla Grip. You have tons of options here as well- you could do an indoor/outdoor rug made out of recycled plastic like these ones from Santa Barbara. Not the most homey, but it can stand up to college level wear.

Coffee Maker

Our Pick- Used! Well, it totally depends on how much of a coffee drinker you have on your hands. If you don't care that much about it, take one of your parents' backups with you or find one in a consignment store (this is just the kind of thing you can find more easily in a college town). If coffee holds a more Gilmore-esque place in your life, Bunn coffeemakers have great reviews and they are still manufactured in the States.

Other Options- Everything else seems to be made in China, six of one half a dozen of the other, situations. I would 100% not recommend a Keurig unless you are buying a coffee maker for a hoard of different coffee drinkers, so it is not for a small dorm room (so wasteful in most cases).


Our Pick- Get a used one! Again, it isn't worth it to do anything big. You want to pick something that can live in a small closet. I might even recommend looking for dust busters over a full vaccuum.

Other Options- If you do go new, I have an awesome option for you. Metro Vac sells a small handheld vacuum that comes similarly priced to any standing vacuum, but it has awesome reviews, is made in America, will last to be your handheld for a long time, and has great reviews. They have a couple of models, but I think this is your most practical bet.


Shower Caddy
made in america shower caddy bag
from Somer's Cove Canvas
Our Pick- There are a few options for shower caddies on Etsy- Somer's Cove Canvas sells what I think I would get- simple, mostly mesh, and easy to throw in the laundry. That looks the most practical to me. Clar USA makes simple mesh bags that might be perfect for the job. Gebbie's Embroidery has a cloth one that looks great to me.

Other Options- The Club Bag sells a simple mesh bag that isn't going to fill your roommates with envy, but it would get the job done.


Our Pick- Again, some to spare from home might work just fine. Washing works the same in college. If not, Bamboosa mostly makes washclothes for babies, but their clothes are super soft. I would go this route.

Other Options- If you can get washclothes that are made of recycled or American cotton with American labor, that's your best route. A few options- Blue Point, Marquis Mills, and Smiling Gaia.


Our Pick- Did you know that eco-friendly loofahs are already a big thing? I didn't! Then again, I am not a loofah girl. These ones from Impressa Products are 100% made of recycled material and are also recyclable.

Other Options- Buddha Bath sells recycled loofahs too, and they come in a wide variety of colors.

 Shower Shoes

Our Pick- Okabashi or Oka-B sells simple water proof flip flops out of rubber and Made in America. 100% the winner for guys and ladies. Not too expensive and well-reviewed, Used flip flops seem kind of against the point of shower shoes, so this probably does the trick.


Our Pick- I like Big Ass Towels. I appreciate the sass, the fact they are made domestically, and that the towels are a little bit larger. If communal bathrooms are going to be part of your life, a slightly larger towel might do a lot of good in covering your business.

Other Options- More Made in America Towels- Gilbin, 1888 Mills, Made Here, and Wholesale Plumbing. This is also another one where your parents might have towels near retirement that would do just fine for you.

Cleaning and Laundry

Dish Soap
dr meyers dish soap
Mrs Meyers from Amazon
Our Pick- We honestly use Dawn Dish Soap, so pretty basic here. The great thing about Dawn is that it is used to clean up animals (especially birds) after oil spills. The counter argument is that the soap itself is petroleum-based, so buying Dawn just reinforces the demand for petroleum products that causes the oil spills in the first place. So not a great choice if you are trying to avoid giving money to Big Oil.

 Also, I am looking all over this bottle (and the internet) and though it is distributed out of Ohio, there is no real information on its actual origin. So, maybe as you start fresh in the world, you can start with a fresh, eco-friendly dish soap! My favorite option is Mrs. Meyer's dish soap, which is mainstream enough that you can get it at Target. You can also refill that dawn bottle at more granola stores with lots of bulk options.

Other Options- There are plenty, and you are pretty young, so you can always test a bunch- Frosch,  Caldrea (on the expensive side), or Natural Homelogic.

Cleaning Wipes

Our Pick- I get it, cleaning wipes are simple and easy. They are also a blight on the environment, because you can't recycle them, they come in plastic packaging, and they can be loaded with chemicals no one needs in their water or soil, much less their house. My advice? You are going to get paper towels anyway, why not just buy some all purpose spray? Your young and spry hands can handle a spray bottle. We like Method lavender all-purpose cleaner which was recommended to me by a Department of Health speaker on dangerous chemicals and cleaners in a household. She also swore by Bon Ami for bathrooms, in case a private bathroom is part of your dorm situation.

Other Options- Seventh Generation does have cleaning wipes. I am not wildly impressed by the "eco" elements of this particular product, but at least you won't be spreading random , nasty chemicals around your room. Especially because you want to take care of that brain, and it is clear lots of cleaners and bleaches are not great on that front.

Paper Towels

Our Picks-You may not be able to buy Seventh Generation Unbleached Paper Towels in bulk, but you could go in with friends and split up the bunch. It will save you a ton of money, and no trees will come down so you can clean up your messes. If you are buying paper towels, buy them recycled. Let's be the generation that stops hemorrhaging trees.

Other Options-If it weird you out to have brown paper towels (we have had them so long I always feel surprised when they are white), try Seventh Generation White Recycled Paper Towels or
Marcal Small Steps Recycled Paper. In bulk, they are cheaper than your average towels (don't have to pay for that bleach or international shipping), but they can get pricier, so either buy bulk and leave some at home, or figure out a split with people on your floor. Collective shopping may sound crazy, but it might also be a great way to build community.

Trash Bags

carboard box full of trash bags from webster earthsense
Webster Earthsense from Amazon

Our Pick- Do not get biodegradable! It sounds great, but at least right now, these bags don't actually decompose, they break into tiny plastic pieces that will be that much harder to clean up. No good! Instead, only buy bags made of recycled plastic. No need to make new plastic for your refuse! Webster Earthsense Bags are my favorites- they are made of 75% recycled materials,

Other Options- If you want to do eco-friendly but stay in the mainstream, Seventh Generation is always a good place to start. Want more options? Check out my list for Greening your Basics.

Lint Roller

Our Pick- Eh, not a ton of options here, but I did find a few reusable rollers- Dancewear, Generic, and GBZ 11.

laundry bag that says Hi Mom! I'm home
from Bad Bat Designs

Laundry Basket

Our Pick- I think a basket doesn't make much sense since you probably have to drag things to the laundry room.   I like these screen-printed laundry bags from Bad Bat Designs- so cute! I also love this eco-friendly bag from Zero Waste Moving.

On the other hand, if you can handle it and you already have a basket at home that you like, just bring it with you for goodness sake. I still have the rubbermaid baskets from my Dad's house, and they work just fine. If that is what you are thinking, check Goodwill or your Buy Nothing. You might be surprised!

Other Options-  It's Embroidered Baby sells ones you could put your name on if you are worried about that. Hen house originals sells oodles of funny laundry bags, and something about a laundry bag really screams for some humor. It's covert resistence against the banal horrors of adulthood. You can buy a military-grade laundry bag on Amazon, and it was made in the USA. It looks damn tough, and now that I think of it, might be just the thing to get a student through all 4 years.

Handy Laundry makes laundry backpacks in the USA, which sounds silly, until you think about dragging your laundry long distances. Green Forest sells hampers with some shape but made primarily of a cotton/linen blend. They have natural looking designs, but aren't too cutesy to not be useful. They also have jute hampers which could be recycled or reused once they look to rough to cart laundry in (is that a thing that happens?). This one looks pretty small, but plenty of options exist.


the simply co laundry detergent in the glass jar

Our Pick- I will swear by The Simply Co, who are zero waste and make great detergents. There aren't a bunch of random chemicals, and you only need a little, so you can make one of their jars last a very long time. Put the bit you need in a cup and head off to the laundry.

Other Options- If you need fluid detergent, Greenworks laundry soap, Mrs Meyers, and Seventh Generation are more mainstream options that might be more to your laundry room's liking. But seriously, if you don't have to go fluid, try The Simply Co.

Stain Remover

Our Pick- To be honest with you, we mostly use Dawn Dish soap on our stains, and it stands up shockingly well against the pure chaos of a toddler. That being said, if you are an athlete, maybe that won't be enough. I am slightly obsessed with the idea of these Buncha eco-friendly stain sticks (what a wonderful world), so if anyone tries it, let me know what you think.

Other Options- Need more choices? I've got you- Attitude, Caldrea, and So Soft,

Ooooh boy, college takes a lot of stuff! Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Greening your Dorm Shopping List next week! And if you just can't wait for more shopping ideas, check out my Giant List of Shopping Lists!

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