It seems nearly impossible for someone living in New York City in 2015 not to produce any landfill waste. But 23-year-old Lauren Singer has not only managed it for the past two years, she’s also happier, healthier and more financially secure because of it. Even better, she’s now showing others how to do likewise via her blog Trash is for Tossers and her new green product business The Simply Co.
Singer’s zero-waste journey started with a moment of truth about plastic. In one of her classes at New York University, where she majored in environmental studies, Singer found herself increasingly annoyed by a classmate who arrived daily carrying takeout food in a disposable container.
“It was really frustrating watching her throw out all this plastic,” Singer recalls. “But one day I looked in my fridge and saw that I had just as much plastic packaging on my food as she was throwing out. I felt like a big hypocrite for thinking badly of this girl when I was doing the same thing.” (She shares more of her story in this video.)
Singer immediately began transitioning away from waste and nonsustainable household items. Her goal: Avoid sending anything to landfill. No small feat in a world ruled by disposable products, packaged goods and the convenience of weekly garbage pickup.
Nearly everything in Lauren Singer’s life came under scrutiny. She stopped going to the supermarket and started frequenting a nearby farmers market where she could buy unpackaged fresh produce and dry goods and transport them home in reusable organic cotton bags and Mason jars. “Grocery shopping is now a totally waste-free process, whereas before it was bags and bags of plastic,” she says.
Singer also began composting her food scraps and making her own chemical-free cleaning and beauty products, including toothpaste made from (unpackaged) coconut oil, baking soda and organic peppermint essential oil. She bought a compostable bamboo toothbrush to go with it. She even substituted disposable tampons and pads for a reusable menstrual cup. Check out Singer’s list of zero-waste alternatives.
Better living through simplicity
The average American generates about 4.3 pounds of solid waste a year (about a ton a day). In contrast, everything Singer has tossed in the past two years fits into a single Mason jar. Contents include those ubiquitous stickers that seem to cling to every piece of produce (Singer now avoids them by buying at the farmers market, which doesn’t use them) and those unavoidable plastic filaments that attach price tags to clothes — even the secondhand clothes she now buys.
Singer also has shaved about $100 a week off her grocery bill. Plus she says she’s happier.
“It may actually be a body chemistry thing, because I’m eating so much better now,” she says. “I buy whole organic vegetables as opposed to packaged or frozen products that are semi-processed or have preservatives. Also, every Saturday, I walk 20 blocks to the farmers market, which is really good exercise. I’m happier, too, because I’ve become more of a minimalist, so I have less to clean and my house is less cluttered. I also have fewer articles of clothing, so choosing an outfit isn’t as stressful.”
Simpler living has even led to a richer social life. “I have so many more friends now and so many more people who think I’m cool and want to learn how to do what I’m doing,” Singer says. “Just watching people around me make little changes makes me feel really powerful, like I can really make a positive difference. I’ve actually gotten some dates out of it.”
Perhaps the biggest change is Singer’s recent career switch, prompted by a growing number of requests from readers, family and friends for green product recommendations. Not long ago, she quit her job as sustainability manager at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and raised more than $41,000 via Kickstarter to launch a natural cleaning product company called the Simply Co.
“I always had the same goal of making a large-scale positive environmental impact, but thought I was going to become a politician and make changes through policy action,” Singer says. “I’d definitely still consider politics, but after meeting incredible people like Jeffrey Hollender (one of her NYU professors and co-founder of green products company Seventh Generation) I realized that as a business owner, you actually have a lot of power to make change really quickly.”
Singer’s first products include her own organic laundry detergent made from baking soda, washing soda and castile soap; an organic wool dryer ball that cuts drying time and static cling; and a ceramic detergent scoop made by an artist friend using recycled clay.
“The success of the Kickstarter campaign was probably one of the most incredibly inspiring things for me because I realized that people really do want to learn,” Singer says. “I think that’s what I’ve discovered more than anything by (going waste free). People care, and they’re giving and empathetic. It’s helped recharge my faith in humanity.”
Related on MNN:
- This family produces 1 quart of waste in a year
- 50 ways to reuse your garbage
- 10 beautifully useful things made from 'useless' trash
Inset photo: Trash is for Tossers