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A Beginner’s Guide to Zero-waste as a Student

What’s in it for me?”, you wonder. 

Surely, most of us are aware that 12.8 million tons of plastic are currently swimming in the ocean and that plastic bottles take four and a half centuries to break down. We have most certainly come across the heart-wrenching visuals of plastic stuck in turtles. 

All of us have witnessed so much; we are either withstanding stress or are completely immune to it. It is time we ask ourselves, “Is it really the time to give up on our future?”

A substantial suggestion is to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. 

‘Earth Overshoot Day’, celebrated annually on August 22, marks the imaginary point when humanity’s resource consumption exceeds Earth’s capability to regenerate per year. Working towards a zero-free lifestyle may seem intimidating but once you comply, you will realise it is not as strenuous as privileged Instagram sustainable bloggers make it seem. 

In fact, hear it from Eric Schaffner, CEO and Founder of Zeloop, a reward-based application aimed to decrease pollution from plastic bottles in the UAE. He launched this app after recognising the lack of ownership of stakeholders including consumers who confuse the benefits of the material and how they dispose it. 

Zeloop is a reward-based app aimed at reducing plastic pollution. Image credits: Ubuntoo.

He comments: “I don’t think a zero-waste lifestyle is a matter of budget. On the contrary, learning how to re-use and to repair can reduce expenditure for new things! Keeping in mind how we can maintain our modern lifestyle while minimising our impact so our children won’t inherit a devastated world — should drive how we consume. Everyone can do their part to be the solution to the pollution instead of being the source of pollution.”

From the moment you wake up to the minute you hit the bed, here are 10 effortless ways to incorporate a zero-waste way of living as a student. 

Plastic-free toiletries 

It’s just another day. You wake up and head over to the bathroom to clean your teeth with your bamboo toothbrush. 

Bamboo toothbrushes and solid shampoo can be found in most Carrefour and Lush stores. Image credits: Carrefour UAE/Allure.

Sustainable swaps like bamboo toothbrushes and safety razors are incredibly cost-effective and accessible. These Love Beauty and Planet toothbrushes can be found in your nearest Carrefour stores. It is just as easy to get safety razors that will last much longer than disposable ones. Moreover, using soap bars packaged in paper and solid shampoo as well as toothpaste tablets by sustainable brands like The Four Flowers or Lush are also some ecological options to consider. 

Carry your reusables 

You’re at your favourite café. Pulling out your phone, you update your followers with your morning dose of energy: Just flexing my new #reusablecoffeecup. 

Taking your reusable Costa coffee cup to its cafes guarantees a discount on your order. Image credits: Whatson AE.

Fun fact: If you take your reusable Typo coffee cup to small cafeterias like our very own Koukh Al Shay, they will fill it up! Some like Costa Coffee also give a discount. Don’t limit yourself to a reusable cup, start using fabric face masks that are available in every supermarket and mall clothing store. Remember to carry your refillable water bottle as well as ceramic cutlery and stainless-steel straws from stores like Mumuso. 

Use public transport

Taking a glance at your watch, you remember your 10 o’clock meeting! Luckily, you’ve made it just in time for the bus to university. 

The Student Nol card has made it much affordable for us to travel using the RTA public transport. Image credits: Emirates 24/7. 

UAE has made it easier for us to travel using the Student Nol card on the RTA public transport giving us access to buses, trams and the Metro lines. Not only is it a safer and cost-effective option, but it also ecologically reduces your carbon footprint. 642,000 estimated carbon emissions were removed from Dubai because commuters chose public transport in 2018

Cook more, order less

It’s finally lunchtime. Your colleague asks you if you want Nandos. You reach into your bag for your freshly made pesto pasta and say, “No thanks, I’m good!”

For enticing lunch boxes, check out #bentobox on Tiktok. Image credits: Unplash.

Food for thought? There’s nothing better than a homecooked meal. Besides the fact that you’re saving up on your pocket money, the food-packed Tupperware prevents you from buying existing packaging like plastic cutlery, ketchup packets and half a tissue box. If you are in search for brilliant tiffin ideas, check out Tiktoks under the hashtag ‘#bentobox’. 

Separate your trash

You didn’t bring your reusable bottle but it’s okay. After you’re done with that plastic bottle, you make sure to drop it in the recycle bin.

Dispose plastic bottles in its respective recycling bins. Image credits: PBase.

A quintessential zero-waste lifestyle doesn’t recommend the purchase of recyclable materials. However, if you do happen to buy plastic beverage bottles, make sure to use the Zeloop app and recycle bottles. Schaffner explains how this act makes an impact, “If every human being was practising zero waste living, yes it would make a difference. But it is not a simple journey that everybody enjoying a modern life is willing to start. To have a greater impact, we have to educate and provide motivation to change habits step by step. 

Zeloop does not reject plastic. However, they ensure that the plastic that one makes use of, does not end in nature. He comments: “Every product is designed for full recyclability and entered the loop of circular economies. You are right; this won’t be completed if consumers are not part of it. ZeLoop closes the loop by rewarding their eco-friendly circular gesture.”

Buy in bulk 

You head to your local grocery for essentials. You pick a bigger pack of rice because of the cut down on product packaging and price. 

Buying in bulk will save you by the penny and reduce packaging. Image credits: Unsplash.  

Shopping from the bulk or discount aisle will not only save you by the penny in the long term but it also means you reduce the packaging needed to store those products. However, ensure its shelf life is long enough to last you at least two months. Don’t give in to it if you stocked enough of a particular item. 

Shop with tote bags 

You are at the cash counter. The cashier starts filling plastic bags with your groceries. You interrupt and let him know you’ve got your own shopping bag.


Tote bags and biodegradable garbage bags are available at stores like Spinneys and Carrefour. Image credits: Carrefour UAE.

String or cotton tote bags are a better switch from destructive plastic bags. They are sturdy, stylish and sustainable. UAE’s well-known hypermarkets such as Spinneys also encourage the use of fabric bags. If your household is one that uses plastic bags as disposable dustbins, a much ecological option is to purchase biodegradable garbage bags from Carrefour or Lulu stores. 

Sustainable skincare 

Back home finally! You decide to do a little self-care with an all-natural aloe vera gel. 

Fig.10. Use sustainable products like Makeup Eraser and face soap bars. Image credits: Sephora AE/ Noon. 

Indisputably, honey, aloe and potato juice are not the best solutions to ideal skincare. Nonetheless, switching from brands like Clinique and St. Ives to skincare options like CleanBeautyME is more ethical. Other minor changes that would make a major difference are swapping disposable cotton pads with the Makeup Eraser, individually packed facial sheets with clay masks in glass jars, and face wash tubes with face soap bars. 

Support small and buy local 

Craving for something sweet? You decided to splurge on the scrumptious cake jars you bought from your friend’s little start-up. 

Buy from local markets like the RIPE market instead of big corporations. Image credits: The Huntr. 

Believe it or not, purchasing from the farmers market like the Waterfront market, Dubai Flea market and RIPE market could save you a lot more money and reduce plastic usage. You could also place orders for organic and affordable produce requirements from online stores like Fresh to Home. Small home-grown businesses also indulge in sustainable ways – from preparing products to packaging them. Furthermore, unlike big corporations, they invest in materials that are guaranteed to be utilised. 

Choose your brands wisely 

At last, you find time to talk to your best friend. You tell her that you almost bought from H&M today, but you found a better deal on an indie second-hand online clothing store. 

Greenwashing looks eco-friendly but realistically isn’t. Image credits: Unsplash.

Have you heard of ‘greenwashing’? Greenwashing is when companies like Zara spend more on marketing about how ‘organic’ or chemical-free’ their products are rather than veritably making them sustainable. This can be hard to detect, hence it is better to support indie brands such as Ms Mannequin AE and Do-overs Dubai on Instagram. 

An ideal zero-waste conduct would include much intense measure like going vegan. However, that is not the point of this initiative. Don’t consider this a project rather an experiment to be the new sustainable you. 

To finally answer your question, a better future, that’s what is in it for you. 

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