Think living a completely zero-waste lifestyle in New York City is impossible? Think again! Lauren Singer—environmental activist and co-founder of Trash is for Tossers blog and The Simply Co. eco-cleaning products—has been proving for the past five years that with a few changes to your daily routine, you too can eliminate pretty much all the amount of trash you produce.
On her website, Singer defines zero-waste as meaning she does not produce any garbage. “No sending anything to landfill, no throwing anything in a trash can, nothing. However, I do recycle and I do compost.”
The Plastic Epiphany
Singer didn’t always lead a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle. The seed for change was first planted six years ago when she was a senior at NYU, where she was earning her degree in environmental studies. A fellow student brought a lunch to class every day, composed of plastic utensils, plastic takeout containers, a disposable water bottle, and all held together in a single-use plastic bag. “I would sit there and think, we are supposed to be the future of this planet and here we are with our trash, messing it up.” Then, one day after class, Singer went home to make dinner and opened her own refrigerator to the horror of finding that everything inside was packaged in plastic. “I felt like a total hypocrite,” she said.
Right then and there, Singer vowed she was going to “quit plastic” cold-turkey. There was only one problem. If you look around you, how many products are contained in plastic? Your toothbrush, contact solution, deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, makeup…. and that’s just the beginning of the list. Singer realized that if she was going to seriously break up with plastic, she would have to learn how to make the plastic-encased products like toothpaste and shampoo herself.
After a bit of research on ‘recipes for deodorant’ and other hygiene products, Singer came across a blog called Zero Waste Home, and was inspired to not only eliminate plastic from her daily routine, but all waste in general. She recalls that it was time that the student she was, who “cared about the environment, studied sustainability, talked about sustainability, protested for sustainability” actually began to implement those claimed values into her daily life.
Transitioning to Zero-Waste in 3 Easy Steps
In her talk at the TedxTeen conference, Singer breaks down how she became ‘zero-waste’ and says that anyone can follow these same three steps:
1. Look at your trash and understand what it is.
In order to fix a problem, you often need to know the root cause and its make-up. When Singer sorted through her trash, she identified three main sources: food packaging, product packaging, and organic food waste.
The Solution: Singer now brings her own jars and bags to the store to fill with bulk or package free items, buys fruit and vegetables from farmers markets, taught herself how to compost. Eliminating these three sources from her garbage reduced her trash production by 90%.
2. Small everyday swaps really add up and make a big difference.
Use a stainless steel or glass water bottle. Bring a reusable bag with you to the grocery store. In her talk, Singer notes that she made the choice to ‘downsize’ and focus on having only the things that were truly necessary. If she does need new clothes or shoes, she browses at the local secondhand shop instead of buying new clothes and adding to the waste.
3. When in doubt, do-it-yourself.
Singer reminds us that buying products at the store often results on “settling.” Don’t like the scent? Oh well. Don’t like how it feels? Too bad. Don’t like that it is covered in unnecessary plastic packaging? Sorry.
The Solution: By making products at home, you can control the scent, the texture, the ingredient list, the container you keep it in. When you run out of your homemade lavender lotion, simply whip up a new batch!
Lauren makes her own detergent, available for purchase at thesimplyco.com.
The Benefits of Going ‘Zero-Waste’ Outweigh the Sacrifices
The average American person produces approximately 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day over the course of a year. Singer compares this to “taking 8 and a half of your best friends and throwing them into the trash.” With landfills piling up and plastic accumulating in our oceans, now more than ever, do we need to take responsibility for our actions and do something. Singer says that for the first time in her life, she is now living in direct alignment with her values. Not only is she being kind to the environment, Singer’s “zero-waste” lifestyle has saved her money and has improved her diet, giving her more energy, a stabilized weight, and an overall better mood.
It’s easy to think that what you do doesn’t have an impact. That you are just one person in this massive world. But think about all those billions of other “one person”, sitting there thinking the same thing. If all 7 billion of us in the world did one conscious eco-friendly thing every day, our actions would add up and make a huge difference.
And as Singer puts it, “I want to be remembered for the things that I did while I was on this planet… not for the trash that I left behind.”