The Zero Waste Dorm Shopping List (Part 2)

by - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

the zero waste dorm room shopping list

About a week after I moved into my freshman dorm, my room mate and I were sleeping in our room when two drunk boys opened the door. They told us they had lived in the room the year before, that one had puked in our bed and that a pack of beer had exploded in the fridge.

Well then.

Beyond this being pretty dang creepy in retrospect, this event taught me an important lesson. Dorms are disgusting. And all sorts of bad decisions will be made there. One bad decision? Not locking our doors. Another? Shelling out so much money on junk to fill up the room.

Dorm rooms seem like the perfect time to just buy whatever junk is available- your tenure there is so short, why waste money? The problem with this is that it makes a ton of waste you will have to confront later. Instead, a greener, waste-free approach to setting up your dorm room can do you lots of good, keep chemicals out of your body, and save money!

If you are looking for information on green options, I have answers for literally everything on your list. Here are some other resources:

If you want to read the first half of this dorm shopping list, check here.

If you need green options for the basics, check here.

If you want to find greener options for all of your class needs, notebooks, etc- we have you covered there too!

So if you really want to have a green dorm room (for yourself, or your kid) you have to do more than buying a few greenwashed cleaners from Target. These are key ways to switch your approach to have a greener (and happier life:

Use What You Have

You already have shelves! You have blankets! You have a lamp! Skip the nonsense and just use those. You don't need a weird shrine to your youth at home (trust me, I had one). Your new home is temporary for sure, but you can still bring home with you. Anything you don't buy is a win for the environment, and on that note...

Get it Used

Happily accept hand me downs. Ask around on Buy Nothing. Go to the Goodwill or thrift shop near campus (it is a GOLDMINE. Trust me. I have just saved you hundreds of dollars. You can use that money for late night pizza or less debt! Either way, better investment). Start thinking of buying new as a last resort and it will change so much.

Buy What is Made to Last

There is this weird assumption that because you are moving into a space for a short time, all the stuff in it should be short-lived too. I don't get it. If you buy a crappy blanket that will last you one year for 10 bucks, you still have to spend 10 bucks again the neck year. It adds up fast. Where you have to buy something new, consider it an early investment in your adult life, and get something worth keeping.

This is great for the world for a couple of reasons. First, it keeps you away from crappy plastic junk that will leech into our water and our bodies. It also means you will create way less waste in our lifetime, which is what our environment desperately needs. Third, if you buy junk, you can assume the people who made it were treated like junk. If you believe in the humanity of other people, you have to care how the person who made your stuff is treated. No more Made in Poverty stuff. Shop things that were manufactured nearby and were made to last. No research needed- I will point you to it.

Now what all do you actually need for college? I went 14 (!!) years ago, so I cannot remember what all we bought. So I thought this one from Honestly Haley covered all the bases. I left a few out that seemed crazy to me. This is everything we are going to try to cover. If you missed the first part, you can check it out here.

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, Hangers
Decorations and Storage- Drawers, Command Strips, Corkboard, Ottoman, 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

I use affiliate links for Amazon and Etsy, so I make a tiny cut if you buy things from there. That said, don't buy stuff off Amazon where you can. Instead, think about local businesses you can try to support instead.

Ok, let's get to filling up that dorm!



Our Pick- Start with what you already have! There are probably enough blankets at your house that you can bring some with you without freezing your family. You will get a lot of mail about the size of the beds in dorms. It matters for sheets, but not really about blankets. Save money, and then your dorm room will smell a little bit like home.

American Made Dorm and Home makes all of their blankets and sheets in the US and the company actually started specifically for dorm rooms. If you aren't sure where to start, this is the site.

Other Options- If you need some blankets, consider asking for a really good one like one from Faribault or  Woolrich as a birthday or holiday gift. These are the kind of blankets you keep for life, maybe one of the first items you take with you from place to place.

Sheets (2 sets)

Our Pick- Find them used! A whole class of freshmen bought these sheets last year, and a bunch of them are moving to apartments (and normally shaped beds) this fall. Check Craig's List, Buy Nothing, or the thrift shops near the college. Wash the heck out of it, and you are good to go.

Other Options-American Made Dorm and Home is woman-owned, American-made, and has everything you need. Not the cheapest (and it is so tricky because you know you will only use them a few years), but if you buy something that will last, you can pass it on at least?

Mattress Pad

Our Pick- A mattress pad might be the best gift you can give a college student (or yourself); it allows for better sleep and puts another layer between them and the last person's cooties. You can also find quite a few made in America ones. Exceptional Sheets has one made in the USA from bamboo, so that might be your best option.

Other Options-There are other options as well, but I recommend looking for things that aren't made with polyurethane. We need less synthetic junk in our lives, and honestly, these literally smell. Instead, here is another bamboo option and a viscose one (viscose is better, but still not great).

Bed Risers

Our Pick - This seems like something you should be able to rent or find used. I mean, someone else has finished using them, right? Go ask the front desk at Goodwill. If not, you can get these gems from CPCustomWoodworking. Or if you are inspired, this looks like something you could make yourself.

Other Options- Ok, if these are mostly plastic, why do they not make 100% post-consumer recycled ones? Why is this not a thing (yet)? I found a few Made in America ones (Greenco), but really, you want to avoid fresh plastic when you don't need it.

from Scholastic Electric


Our Pick- Used! I know we have a couple of lamps sitting around at our house that we never actually use. I think that is true of everyone. Check around before you would ever buy something new, and save money. It's a lamp, so be sure to bring a lightbulb and plug it in if you are going to take it home from a garage sale or Goodwill.

Other Options- Ok, you may think there aren't that many options out there, but you would be a FOOL! So many options! Here are a few of my favorites. They aren't that cheap. If you want cheap, get it secondhand. If you want cheap and stylish, get on Etsy.  If you want cheap and can't find one on in your local thrift shop, ebay has thousands (literally). If it's not amazing, why buy it new?

If you want awesome table lamp you will keep forever, I recommend Scholastic Electric. They make their lighting in the United States, and I will lust after their lamps until I reach peak fanciness and buy one. If you have  hit peak fanciness at 18, God bless you. Buy one of these lamps, but tie them down with something.

You can find other amazingness on Etsy. Vintage is great. I also love the Edison lamps, which seem like what actual future scientists would study by. I love these ones from Urban Edison (they even have desk organizer ones). So much cooler than anything at Target. If that isn't your style, Nino Shea Designs lamps are really unique and stylish.

 Trash Can

Our Pick- Is there a garbage can in your room at your parent's home? DONE. When you come back for weekends, holidays, and laundry, you can toss your trash in another room. 0 dollars spent. If you shared a room with a sibling, just screw them and take it anyway.

If you need a basic liner to bring, I have tons of advice on that too- check here!

Other Options- All plastic trash cans should be made out of recycled plastic. How is this not a thing already?!? Since that is so not the case, my best advice is to get a small Behrens trash can. They look like the kind of thing that is easy to clean, pack stuff in to, and bring it on to whatever your next chapter will be.


Our Pick- Bring pillows from home! How many adults don't have a bunch of pillows hanging around in a linen closet somewhere. Start by using what you already have.

Other Options-Ok, I'm going to be totally honest right now. We got our pillows at Target. The Boy just bought some new ones when we had an overload of visitors, and they are terrible. I don't blame Target; I blame him. But the truth of the matter is that this is not something you want to get secondhand (blech) or buy online (or ask my husband for help with). You need to feel it to know what you are getting. If there are ones with "made in America" (or where ever you are) on it, start there. Otherwise, not a lot of winning here.


Our Pick- Take. Some. From. Home. Your clothes will go with you, so why not bring the hangers they used to hang on? What else will they hold- air?

You can get these used! Skip those cheapy plastic ones unless you can find them in a thrift shop. Ask your neighbors if they have any to gift you, and I guarantee someone will be more than happy to offload some of theirs (seriously, I have given hangers away multiple times). Free is better than cheap.

Other Options- Honey Can Do sells recycled hangers. Still plastic, and it would be hard to track them down in a real store, but better than fresh plastic to hold clothes?

Decorations and Storage

Who doesn't love a new space to make into their own! It's exciting! But you can make it you without making tons of waste and related nonsense.

My best advice for decor for your dorm decor? A potted plant! Get something green that grows. It prevents depression and promotes purpose and happiness. It also cleans the air and keeps things smelling better. If you are scared of it start with some succulents. But buying something to grow!


Our Pick- Make sure you won't already have what you need there. Lots of those rooms actually have a lot of drawers. If you don't have enough, check secondhand! Ask your neighbors on Buy Nothing or check out local thrift shops. You don't have to turn it into a family heirloom, so just pick something that makes sense/ fits. If it isn't your style, why not paint it?

Other Options- When in doubt, get wood. Even the classic Ikea square shelves and cubes is preferable to the plastic drawers. There are too much plastic in the world; strategize to not add more.

Command Strips

Our Pick- Command strips! I mean, no way around this one. I will point out they sell refills, so never throw the plastic parts away!


Our Pick- When are you going to college? 1993? You don't need a corkboard.

If your room has one, cool. Otherwise, this is easily skipable (though it is preferable to white boards, which are plastic). If you just love the warmth cork board brings to a room, or you enjoy making mood boards, or you haven't heard of the internet yet, or you just want to spite me, this one is made of 60% post-consumer material. So it's your winner, for sure.

Other Options- Maybe Goodwill? Otherwise, clearly this one shaped like a bear.

from WildflowerandIvy


Our Pick- Again, who buys this for a dorm room? If we are just talking storage you can sit on, my pick are these adorable storage cubes from Sprout Furniture. They have other storage options as well, so poke around this store. Also pretty great (and maybe a little more typical to the task) are the soft cubes from HingeNHook. They are made from recycled materials and look like exactly what people would want (and not just now, also once you are over the cutesy pattern phase).

 I also like the Fas Projects reclaimed cubes, though they are a little expensive for a dorm room. My last favorite is from WildflowerandIvy, so simple that maybe you could be inspired to make one yourself, but also perfect for the task at hand.

Other Options- You can find some pretty basic soft cubes on Amazon, but if you care about the environment, Smith and Oliver is the big winner. Made in America (local to us, choose something local to you) and they use green foam. Still pretty cheap too, relatively speaking.

Posters and Pictures

from ParadigmArt
Our Pick- You can find every kind of poster on Etsy, so look up what you like or what will make your room seem like home. The best part about it is that you are supporting an actual real person artist!  Here are a few I like that are very cost-effective-

Amy Lighthall
Bugsy and Sprite
Simple Serene 

Other Options- Print out some pictures from Artifact Uprising- they use all recycled paper and their prints looks beautiful. Paper Culture makes beautiful recycled prints as well.


Our Pick- Definitely get one! It can really make those spaces more homey. Nothing is more institutional than stepping out of bed onto cold tile. If you can find a secondhand store, buying one secondhand (or asking on Buy Nothing) makes tons of sense and saves oodles of money. Better to buy something like that then a cheap rug for Walmart. If you have to buy a new cheap rug every year, you have not saved money. Buy one secondhand rug that has already stood the test of time.

Other Options- My other suggestion is to get a rug made of recycled materials. You can find tons of braided rag rugs that are colorful and interesting, but also don't add to the waste in the world. I love these chindi rugs that use recycled fabrics as well.

If you want something really, really hardy, you can find tons of indoor/outdoor rugs made from recycled water bottles. They aren't the softest thing ever, but you can find every design imaginable, it will stand up to all sorts of wear, and you are keeping plastic out of the landfill! Win all around.


Our Pick- Your room doesn't have a mirror? All the ones at my college had more than one! Obviously, this is another spot to just buy secondhand. Our goodwill has a bunch.

Other Options- I found a few things online that are made in America, but they are mostly pretty expensive. The only thing I can find that potentially fulfills a need is this over the door hanging mirror. More expensive than the one at Walmart, but this company manufactures ethically and makes more jobs!


In most cases, college freshmen aren't moving into places with kitchens. But they might. And either way, they need a handful of kitcheny things. So we will look at the best places to get your cereal bowls. Who can guess what I am going to say!?!?

Travel Mug

Our Pick- Ok! I don't understand the big deal about hot drinks, so I know very little about this, but these are the outstanding recommendations from my friends. I did the research, none are manufactured here. But the good news is that anything reusable, especially when it comes to coffee cups, is infinitely better than using disposables. Your generation has to be better than disposables. So here are their picks:

Thermos mugs and Contigo mugs got the most praise. People love them. Seems like you can't go wrong there (I just wish they were manufactured nearby).

One of my other friends suggested a Zojirushi travel mug. And he is just the kind of person who would know what is actually the best. This article agrees with him as well. And it isn't all that much more than most of the suggestions, so

Last great suggestion is ecocoffee cups, which feel like regular cups but are made of bamboo and no plastic. So you get to feel like you are carrying a normal cup.

Other Options- I love the look of this Miir insulated tumbler, and some of the money made goes toward clean water projects. Tupkee glass tumblers are completely plastic-free (so way better for your body).  People swear by their Yeti tumblers, though they are more expensive (and maybe a little big for carrying around campus. Kleen Kanteen makes kickass water bottles, and I hear their hot drink containers are also great (I believe it).

Reusable Water Bottle

Our Pick- There are tons of great ones out there. If I had to choose a top three, I would point to Lifefactory glass bottles, Liberty Bottleworks metal bottles, or Nalgene plastic bottles (if you want plastic). All are excellent. All are easy to clean. All are endlessly reusable.

Other Options-Kleen Kanteen bottles are part of the zero waste uniform. I'll be honest, they are awesome, but they aren't made in the US.

Water Filter

Our Pick- Do NOT buy a Brita pitcher new. There is a secondhand store near your campus that has a ton of them. I promise. If you do want to buy something new, SOMA water pitchers have a slightly nicer aesthetic, are made in the US, and use less toxic materials. And they basically cost the same.

Other Options- Aquagear's filters are made in the US (but not their pitcher, from what I can tell. I do love that they are totally recyclable! A Maeva pitcher is made in Germany under stricter labor regulations (not to mention better regulations for the chemicals in their plastic). Still a long trip for your stuff to travel, but might be healthier once it gets there.


Our Pick- Do not get plastic nonsense! That stuff will be destroyed before you graduate. If someone offered you a pile of garbage for a dollar, would you think it was a deal? That's plastic silverware. Get it used. Dorm rooms are not Downton Abbey; buy a three dollar bag of real (but unmatched) silverware at any thrift store and you will be set. It is cheaper than anything at Target, and you are keeping things out of landfills. Seriously, this is a no brainer.

Other Options- Most silverware is now made out of the United States (and potentially in poverty) but Liberty Tabletop still makes theirs in the US. Great silverware and I highly recommend it for wedding registries... but you aren't there yet. You have a lot of spoons left to lose. So really, goodwill.

Can Opener

Our Pick- When you put "Made in the US" into Amazon, this can opener comes up every time. It is really really made in America. It does have great reviews (over a thousand 5 stars!), so you can count on it to open your can.

Other Options- Used! Ok, this one is so easy too, but if you are nervous about it working, EZ Duz It also makes their can opener in the US. Also, don't get an electric one unless you open a hell of a lot of cans. You can handle it, I promise.

Dish Towels

Our Pick- You only need one or two of these, so it might be another place to look in your own family's kitchen. If not, I highly recommend unpaper towels- you can find great ones on Etsy. Check here: Marley'sMonsters fandcsewingThisJoyfulHomeetcgenerationMeTheEcotopia, and CreeksideKid. If you don't want snaps or fuss, these ones from Juniperseed.

Other Options- We don't use a dish brush or cloth specifically for dishes, but I think it is a good idea, and you have lots of options:

Redecker wood brushes have replacable heads, so it creates even less waste.
Full Circle also sells  a wide variety of dish brushes with bamboo instead of plastic. Poke around, because this is their specialty and they have LOTS.

For dish cloths, Etsy has about a million sweet and homemade options, but you can find a few modern things too. My biggest advice is to skip microfiber- it sounds great but is sending billions of tiny plastic threads into the water.

Pot Holders

Forgive my impertinence, but what are you using this potholder for? To get things out of the microwave? Just skip it!

Our Pick- Take one of your parents, We all have more than we need.

Other Options- Make one. Or buy one from someone who made it. if you don't have any local craft fairs coming up, but one of the 20,000 from Etsy.


Our Pick- I have a whole post you can read on this, but here is the short version. Never waste your money on plastic tupperware. Instead, you can save money by reusing food containers you are already using (like yogurt containers). This is the simplest solution, and we use it a lot. The rest of your tupperware should avoid plastic as much as possible; I highly recommend Pyrex or Anchor Hocking. One of these sets will last you a long time.

Other Options- Want to really look like a zero waste pro? Use mason jars, they are cheap, come in about a million sizes, and will keep working for you forever. The classic Ball Jar comes in so many shapes and sizes (even colors) that you can find what works for you


Our Pick- Prepare to be surprised- get it used! I used my grandparents old set of Corelle plates as my first apartment plates. I loved those plates, and they were still pretty vintage and cute. And they cost 0 dollars. If you don't have any hand me downs, you can find old corelle plates at just about every secondhand store, and they will last you as long as you will have them.

Other Options- Do not buy plastic plates! The bright colors or polka dots ones at Walmart are cute, but they are also terrible for you. If you need new, get  Corelle - they are sturdy and will last you a long, long time. Used Corelle is even better- you can find over 100 sets on Ebay if you can't find them at your local thrift shops.


Our Pick- Ok, now my best advice is to get Pyrex or Anchor Hocking instead of tupperware and then use them for your bowls too. Anything you can simplify is a good thing. You only have so much space.

Next best is getting them secondhand. Yes I use this answer a lot, but that's because it is true. If you can get basic bowls secondhand for 3 dollars, why buy cheap, chemical-laden bowls from Target? Stop at Goodwill first, save money, and keep plastic away from your food and your body.

Other Options- No plastic. That business does not belong in your microwave. If you need sturdy, Corelle could be a great option (just make sure you get one of the American-made sets; they are owned by an Asian company now).

Bennington Potters from Vermont makes two lines of dishes that look pretty sturdy too? Or you could get camping bowls/ mugs that will have a use later in life? So many choices that are better than Target plastic neon plates.


Our Pick- Goodwill. Find me a goodwill that isn't overflowing with mugs, I dare you. Take some of your parents' or siblings' rejects. No one in the world, for any reason, needs to buy a set of plain mugs. Enough mugs will come to you. Ask on Buy Nothing. Seriously, do not buy a new mug unless you are a fool.

Other Options- SERIOUSLY, go to a thrift shop. Never, ever buy a new mug unless it is exceptionally cute and from Etsy. And really, that shiz is never as cute as people think. No other option for you. Secondhand mugs.

from Blue Avocado

Ziploc Bags

Our Pick- Get something reusable! One reusable bag could keep hundreds of plastic bags out of the landfill. I like these ones from Blue Avocado, but you could also look into reZip or Planetwise as well. Our bags are from Full Circle, and they work great! If you are looking for sandwich bags, there are tons of options on Etsy; check out BeegoHandmade, Bagitconcious, and MediaMenagerie.

Other Options- If you are going to use ziploc bags, then reuse them. Unless you are putting raw meat or knives in them, you can rinse them out and reuse them many times. It's a simple way to start cutting down your plastic use and save money.


Oy, Electronics. We all know this is a particularly crappy area if you want to buy things made out of clean or recycled materials, if you want to minimize your waste, or if you want to buy things that were made domestically. Just a lose on every front...

Or is it?

Ok, it mostly is, but there are a few bright spots, so let's be excited about that instead of bummed that most things suck.

Extension Cords

Our Pick-  These Flexy extension cords are made in America, and their design lends itself to the cramped dorm spaces. Perfect fit if you ask me!

Other Options-US Wire sells extension cords and cable as well!

Other than this, keep an eye out for secondhand electronics (especially phones, because someone
"needs" the newest thing every time. But the real key here is to make what you have LAST. If you make every phone last an extra year, you could cut multiple phones from the landfill.

zero waste dorm room eco-friendly dorm room

Want to make your home greener? No matter the size or location, you can limit your waste and make your house have a more positive impact on the environment. Check out the Green Home Page for thousands of ideas on how to do it.

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