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Sustainable Living for Students

August 28, 2017

As consumers, the products we choose to purchase can greatly impact the environment, but what exactly should incoming university students purchase and how can these products really make a difference? This post aims to illustrate the value of purchasing sustainable products that students can use in the residence halls and off-campus housing in an effort to make things easier for administrators, parents, and students.

Eco-conscious products can help to reduce waste and the use of natural resources, save energy, protect human health by eliminating harsh chemicals and promote responsibly sourced raw material. When considering cleaning supplies and detergents, sustainable products remove any fillers such as parabens, toxic-chemicals, and fragrances that add to the cost of the product, but subtract from its value. The below list can be added to any move-in packet and takes the guesswork out of a student’s shopping trip.  

Items and supplies for the Kitchen

Look for:

  • A dishwashing detergent that is pH neutral.
  • Anything that is “greywater safe” can help maintain a healthy level of acidification in our water systems.
  • Vegetable-based surfactants
  • Promoting the use of these products minimize our negative impact on water systems as many chemicals that are found in soaps and cleaning supplies cannot be filtered out in water treatment facilities.
  • Hypoallergenic dish soap that has plant-derived cleaning agents.


  • Phosphates can disrupt the chemical balance of water systems and negatively impact vital organisms within these ecosystems
  • Petroleum-based surfactants can increase our community’s demand for foreign oil, which may contribute to the carbon footprint of exporting goods and promote the extraction of fossil fuels.
  • Dish soaps with ingredients include FD&C Red 40, a synthetic color that poses extreme concern for cancer and damage to DNA, as well as dmdm hydantoin, a formaldehyde-releasing preservative.

Items and supplies for in the Bathroom

Look For:

  • Unbleached, recycled tissue paper
  • Hypoallergenic tissue paper that often utilizes less chemicals in production
  • Recyclable or minimal packaging
  • Natural ingredients in soaps and shampoos like plant-based derivatives - limits the need for petroleum-based ingredients
  • Fragrance in shampoos that come from essential oils, this reduces use of harsh chemicals
  • Products that can be used in hot and cold water, which allows residents to bathe in cold water, reducing the amount of energy used to heat the water.
  • Campsuds® works equally well in cold water and is made from natural vegetable-derived ingredients with natural essential oil fragrance.
  • Natural soaps from local farmers markets are also great alternatives.  Many college campuses recognize the benefit of bringing local merchants to campuses for produce, crafts, and yes, soaps/shampoos.  Purchasing these products help minimize the emissions caused by transporting goods and the potentially harmful preservatives used in products with long shelf lives.  


  • Individually-wrapped items
  • Small items that can be bought in bulk because the items will increase the use of plastic in the packaging for products
  • Soft plastics used in packaging - these plastics can rarely be recycled and offer no higher protection than paper or other recyclable packing materials
  • Palm Oil because it heavily contributes to deforestation and human induced climate change
  • Face soaps with microbeads - these tiny plastic particles are common exfoliants in face or body washes.  They do not dissolve and are too small to be filtered out in water treatment facilities.
  • Synthetic Perfumes, although they smell nice, synthetic perfumes are linked to allergies and hormonal issues that may create reproductive issues for surrounding wildlife.

Items and supplies for Bedding

Look for:

  • Linens with Global Organic Textile Standard. The worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain
  • Linens that are Oeko-Tex® certified, meaning the product is free of harmful toxins and irritants; the production is eco-friendly and does not generate any water, air or noise pollution.
  • Polyester down alternative made from recycled PET bottles
  • Linens made in a fair trade factory with eco-friendly dyes
  • Pillows made from hemp - hemp can also be woven/spun into pillow packing that is very similar to that of cotton
  • Pillow made from vegetable-based fiber such as Kapok
  • Pillows made from Buckwheat Hulls, a byproduct of buckwheat milling, the hulls are naturally pesticide-free, hypoallergenic, and water resistant.
  • Pillows made from natural latex


  • Conventional cotton as it  uses a lot of water in its creation, and is  pesticide and herbicide intensive,
  • Polyester - is a petroleum-based, nonrenewable resource that is very energy intensive, using 63% more energy than the production of cotton.
  • Memory foam pillows because the polyurethane foam core can release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air while you sleep.

Items and supplies for the Desk:

Look for:

  • Recycled paper that is 30% post-consumer recycled fiber
  • Forest Stewardship Council certified paper products
  • Sugarcane-based paper: After the sugarcane fiber is crushed to extract sugar, it is pulped and converted into paper
  • ReBinder's™ 3-ring recycled binders that are environmentally sourced
  • Remanufactured ink and toner cartridges that result in a 38% reduction in total energy use and a 36% reduction in global warming potential compared to new cartridges.
  • Energy Star® qualified technology and light bulbs that help you save energy and money

How to incorporate this list in your move-in packages

  1. Email to student staff so the content can be shared with their residents
  2. Post this blog onto your housing social media sites
  3. Hyperlink this blog to your website
  4. Print and distribute at check-in
  5. Work with your campus convenience store to make these types of products available. 

Kim Scatton is the Memorial Union Senior Coordinator at Arizona State University. Shea Alevy is a Community Director and LEED Green Associate in University Housing at Arizona State University, and Co-Chairperson Elect for the NASPA Sustainability Knowledge Community.