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Heading off to college in low-waste style

Heading off to college is an exciting time, but providing your child with the basics for living on their own can be stressful, expensive and wasteful.

Moving out is likely the last thing on your mind now, but thinking about moving out when moving in will set your student up for success come the end of the school year. Students toss everything from usable designer clothing, laptops and furniture to dishes and unopened food as they race to meet their move-out dates, lack of space on their ride home or not wanting to store it over the summer. Instead, they buy everything new again when they come back in the fall.

The staggering amount of waste that results when students move out is a problem nationwide. This cycle generates an influx of waste that universities and cities are forced to deal with as their student population vanishes for the summer. You can help break the cycle when you send your child off to college with the strategies below.

Buy used

If your child is moving into the dorms, get the list of suggested packing items as early as possible. Look over the list and determine which items your child truly needs - the fewer the better. Take stock of what you already own that your child can take with them and check those items off the list. For items you don’t have, check local thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist or online groups for used versions of the items you need. Some items, such as the twin XL sized sheets and bedding, may be harder to find and posting online that you are in search of (ISO) them could yield quicker results.


When it’s move-out time, have your child bring home all of the items they brought so they reuse them the following year. If they will no longer need items, such as the twin XL sheets, or are limited in what they can pack due to travel arrangements, have them donate the items they can’t bring home to a local thrift store.


If your college student has an item break or clothing that rips or loses a button, encourage them to get things fixed rather than replaced. Teaching your child basic mending skills is a useful lifelong skill for anyone to have. Be sure to have them include a basic mending kit when they move to school.


When it’s time to head back to college again in the fall, send your child with all the items they used in the previous year. If new items are needed, look for them used. If your child is moving off campus and will be living with roommates, have them coordinate what they are bringing to the new living arrangements so they don’t end up with multiple sets of the same item when only one will do.

University of Minnesota Pack & Give Back program

If your child is headed off to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, the University hosts the Pack & Give Back program, an effort to reduce waste generated by students moving at the beginning and end of each semester. At move-out time, students can deliver household items and clothing to the U of M ReUse Program warehouse for donation. Items are stored over the summer and each fall the Reuse Program hosts a free store for students with the donated goods at their warehouse. Visit their Facebook page to learn more: Pack and Give Back Program