This Is Plastics: From Shower Caddies to Binders, Plastics Increase Affordability and Accessibility for College Students


From Shower Caddies to Binders, Plastics Increase Affordability and Accessibility for College Students

Learn how plastics make college essentials more durable, affordable and sustainable.


Back-to-school season is here, and college dorms across the country are reopening after two years of COVID-19 shutdowns. Whether moving away from home for the first time or returning to campus, college students must tick through a long list of dorm and class essentials, which can quickly get pricey. As parents grow increasingly concerned with back-to-school costs amidst record inflation, many are looking for savings on school supplies and dorm essentials. Fortunately, plastics make school must-haves affordable, long-lasting and more sustainable for all students.

Plastic college essentials reduce financial strain, increase accessibility

Plastic dorm and classroom necessities are more accessible and more affordable and, thus, more accessible than those made with alternative materials—including metal, wood, cotton and glass. From storage bins to shower caddies and educational supplies, plastic-based products are widely available in a variety of designs for every student on a budget. Writing utensils, one of the most necessary products for school, are often made with a polypropylene, a dense and highly recyclable type of plastic. Though once a luxury item costing up to $180, modern pens are now one of the most affordable school supplies thanks to plastics. Dorm room reading lamps are another pricey item made more affordable with plastics. Lamps made with materials like steel, ceramic or wood can have an average price point of over $200. Plastic-made lamps are found for as little as $17, becoming an affordable alternative for college students.  

Plastics’ affordability gains are particularly important for college students, considering a recent survey which found  that nearly half of all college students worry about their finances. Increased affordability also offers relief amidst high educational costs, allowing students to reallocate funds to other essentials, like books and food, and focus more on learning.

Plastics make college essentials long-lasting and durable

Plastics’ durability also means that products bought specifically for college are investments that can last far beyond graduation, reducing the need for unnecessary consumption. High-performance, durable plastic products are less likely to break or deteriorate compared to those produced with alternative materials. Even after repeated use, plastic shower caddies resist rust and breakage, unlike their metal counterparts. Plastics are also more hygienic and easier to clean, harboring fewer bacteria and mildew than alternatives. Plastic shower shoes are a durable alternative that can last through many uses and prevent the spread of bacteria or germs, particularly in shared dormitory bathrooms.

In college classrooms, plastics are also essential to items like calculators, which are often required for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes—especially at more advanced levels. The first handheld calculator, introduced in 1967 by Texas Instruments, was made possible with plastics. Today, nearly 90 percent of modern pocket calculators are made from plastic, including the display, buttons and microchips. Improving upon original designs, plastics have made modern calculators more portable, durable and affordable, ensuring all students are properly equipped for STEM courses.

Plastic college supplies promote sustainable and circularity

Beyond relieving financial strain and increasing accessibility, plastic college essentials promote sustainability and circularity. Many school supplies made from plastics—like pens, storage bins and binders—can also be upcycled and transformed into new products, thanks to manufacturers that provide free recycling programs promoting product circularity. Many college essentials are also made with recycled plastics, including backpacks made from recycled polyester and pens made from recycled plastics. Recycling and repurposing these products diverts unnecessary waste from landfills, reduces resource consumption and helps craft a more circular economy. Plastics enable innovations that make traditional classroom supplies more sustainable. For example, solar-powered calculators are primarily made with plastics, reducing the need for lithium batteries. As an added bonus, solar-powered calculators can last for over 20 years, reducing the need for additional purchases.

Amidst rising inflation, students and families can look to plastics for affordable, long-lasting and environmentally friendly products that enable successful college living and learning. Thanks to the affordability of these plastic-based college must-haves, back-to-school season can be less of a financial burden on students and parents—all without compromising durability, portability and sustainability.

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