Grad School: Zero Waste Fail


I just slogged through a rough semester of grad school and the recovery feels like cleaning up after a kid’s birthday party.  There is crap… everywhere.

Upstairs, downstairs, no room escapes the wrath of higher ed.

It’s almost all avoidable paper waste:  stuff I printed out to read, rough drafts I needed to edit, sticky notes to mark up books and notecards to organize thoughts.

The amount of paper I printed out this semester was only surpassed by the number of books I was required to read.  Now, I am totally lucky to be able to go to school.  But I am NOT a Zero Waste co-ed by any stretch.

Secondary effects of printing out all that paper:

1.  It’s more wear on your printer.

2.  Having to buy more toner.  That comes in packaging.  And leaves you with old cartridges.

Toner: packaging in, packaging out

3.  Needing clips and staples to keep your papers together.  Those things also come in packages.

Look at all that “stuff”

4.  The use of all those highlighters and pens.  Yep, more packaging.

Look at me! Colleging like the youngsters!

But let me tell you, I DID try to Zero Waste my grad school life.

I downloaded articles on my computer.

I learned to highlight the crap out of them

I figured out how to insert really insightful comments.

I even tried to edit my papers on my desktop.  The e-kind.

But then school became overwhelming, and I started printing things again.  After 35 years of pen and paper education, I needed to eke out an ounce of control in what became an immense presence that dominated my life already consumed with raising my little girls.

I did try to mitigate the environmental footprint (guilt) in a few ways:

1.  I printed on the back of junk mail, school flyers or paper found at thrift stores.

2.  I printed double-sided.

3.  I gave spent pages to my girls to use as crafts.  “Crafts” for my three-year-old is cutting with scissors, by the way.


I will admit, I do love sitting down with a freshly-printed article, a highlighter and a cup of coffee.

Sitting down with my laptop and a cup of coffee isn’t the same and somehow email and calendar notifications and ahem, Facebook memes, find their way into my reading.

It’s a process.  I’ll get better just as I have with bulk goods, cleaning supplies and all those grooming creams we are supposed to believe we need.  Now that I’m armed with a semester of experience and know what to expect, I can hopefully reduce my paper use in the future and keep from turning my family room into a de facto printing house.


When trying to decide whether or not to pursue Journalism as an undergrad, I remember my grandfather assuring me that “Morning newspapers will never die” and that “People like to hold their paper too much” for it go away.  I agreed with him on the second point  – yet – twenty years after that conversation I realize now that I get a majority of my news online.  Not one paper in hand.

Now that has to do with priorities and time and not preference.  Had me some druthers I’d curl up with a paper (any one will do, really) any day.

December 20, 2016

About Me

About Me

I’ve been passionate about combatting blind consumerism since 2008 and joined the Zero Waste movement by starting this blog in 2013, soon after my second child was born. I think it might have been trying to unwrap a toy or someone’s attempt to sell me a butt-wipe warmer that put me over the edge… read more



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