Five days of living waste-free as a student

A Journal staffer shares the findings of her zero-waste challenge

Jodie set out to live as waste-free as possible for a week at Queen’s.

It’s a confusing time to be environmentally conscious as a Canadian.

For one, our country has declared a climate emergency, but also just agreed to expand a damaging pipeline. On top of that, we’re always facing the underlying responsibility to do our part as citizens and consumers, which can be an overwhelming and intimidating task. 

Though it’s become the norm to hoard reusable cups and go thrift shopping, many of us are left wondering if we’re doing enough to salvage the planet in our daily lives. As someone experiences the common phenomenon known as climate grief, I recently decided to use my anxiety about the future of Earth as a call to action.

Packing my lunch in Tupperware containers, avoiding fast fashion, and reducing my meat consumption have been some of the more common ways I’ve tried to reduce my personal waste.

But since watching a few videos about going zero-waste, I’ve often wondered how feasible that habit would be on a student schedule and budget. The zero-waste lifestyle entails a closed-loop system, where you reduce your waste exponentially, reuse what you can, and compost.

So I set out to live as waste-free as possible for a full week at Queen’s, trying to avoid even recyclables and food waste as much as I could. Here are a few struggles and triumphs of the week I spent living waste-free.

Monday (Day 1)

In classic university student fashion, on Monday night I made a giant batch of pasta to eat for dinner all week.

Since most easily-accessible meat comes in packaging, this week’s sauce was vegetarian and packed with carrots, celery, and onion. Buying my vegetables from the bulk section of the grocery store and my pasta from Bulk Barn in a reusable jar made this meal essentially waste-free.

My first piece of (mostly) unavoidable waste was the empty tomato sauce jar, which has officially become my bulk rice jar for the next time I need rice. While I could have roasted and blended bulk tomatoes to prepare my sauce, being on time for my night class was my priority.

Tuesday (Day 2)

By day two, I was craving snacks. I hadn’t thought about anything but my meals when I did my weekly shop, so a trip to Bulk Barn with two cleaned-out sauce jars was in order.

Cramming one jar full of fruit gummies and another full of jalapeño Cheetos, I realized another piece of waste was about to come my way. My items were weighed out, and as I tapped my card, I heard those all-too-familiar words: “Would you like the receipt?”

Knowing the machine would print a receipt off even if I said no, I glumly tossed it in my backpack.

Wednesday (Day 3)

By Wednesday, I was already getting tired of my pasta—and tired of this challenge. The receipt and the jar were deterrent enough that I wanted to call it quits.

I left the house in a rush, not having time to make coffee with my drip machine and reusable coffee filter.

After class, I rushed to The Brew and searched my bag for the coffee tumbler I thought I’d tossed in to grab a coffee on campus after. Realizing it wasn’t there, I spent a moment wondering if anyone would really know if I just got a coffee anyway.

Instead, I left the line and congratulated myself on having some self-control.

Thursday (Day 4)

Making sure to get up earlier than the day before to make coffee before my 8:30 a.m. class, I headed out for a long day on campus. Thursdays mean Journal press days, so I’m usually on campus for a lot longer than average.

Around 3 p.m., I accepted that I would probably be on campus for a few more hours, which meant buying a meal. At CoGro, I asked for my bagel to go without a plate, then proceeded to awkwardly balance the bagel on my coffee cup as I walked down the street.

Friday (Day 5)

By the last day of this challenge, I realized that going waste-free couldn’t happen all in one week. For example, even though I’d been using a shampoo bar from Lush and a bar of soap in the shower, I still had my old shampoo bottles left from the weeks before.

I couldn’t go out and buy everything I would need at once. Slowly replacing your items with waste-free versions, like shampoo bars, bulk food, and laundry strips, is the only way to feasibly become waste-free over a longer period of time.


My waste-free week was definitely a struggle. Being environmentally conscious means giving up a lot of easy products in exchange for more individual work.

Even though it was hard, at the end of the week, I couldn’t help but feel proud of my much- tinier-than-usual pile of garbage and the things I had learned on the way about my part in preventing the climate crisis.

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