Lauren Singer, zero-waste influencer and founder of Package Free, shares her tips on living a green life.
What made you passionate about living a green life?
Back in 2012, I was studying environmental science at NYU and I spent much of my spare time protesting against fracking and big oil. In one of my classes senior year, a classmate of mine would bring takeout lunch every day, and at the end of the class, she would throw away the plastic clamshell, bag, and utensils on her way out the door. I watched this happen over and over again, and one day I remember thinking to myself, “How can you care about the environment and still create so much waste?”
That night while making dinner, I opened my fridge and realized that I was doing the exact same thing: everything was packaged in plastic. I kept looking around my apartment — in my bathroom, my beauty cabinet, my cleaning products, my closet — and found that everything was plastic in one way or another. I realized that I wasn’t living in alignment with my values and that my daily actions were subsidizing the very industry that I had been protesting against. That night, I decided to change my consumption habits and eliminate plastic and excess waste from my life.
In 2014, I launched my blog, Trash is for Tossers, to document my zero-waste journey. I wanted to share recipes and DIYs for plastic-free products, and to show that reducing your individual waste can be simple, cost-effective, and fun.
Fast forward nine years and the space looks a lot different now. There are so many more people involved and interested in zero-waste living. It proves that we’re moving in the right direction, which is promising and helps me feel optimistic about the future. I’m also so excited that at Package Free we’re working to make sustainable and zero-waste swaps for everyday items more convenient and affordable.
How do you think packaging affects our waste problem?
Packaging is a big contributor to overall landfill waste. Try to think of your everyday items that don’t have packaging in some way or another. It’s probably tough to do — and it’s why I started Package Free, to provide everyday items without the packaging waste.
Manufacturers and businesses aren’t being held legally or financially responsible for disposing of, or providing facilities to recycle the waste they’re contributing to, the waste stream, and that’s a problem. If that were to happen, businesses would certainly take steps to ensure their materials were circular or easily recyclable and it would shift the foundation of product development in a massive way. Plus, plastic — the material that a majority of products and their packaging are made from — is heavily subsidized, making it artificially inexpensive to manufacture from virgin materials as opposed to recycling the material.
For me, this shift of responsibility is going to be a major catalyst for change and will come from policymakers and community members. I’m also a huge advocate for ending subsidies for our planet’s most-polluting industries like oil and gas. But I know for an individual reader this could seem abstract, intangible, or not actionable, and that’s why I started focusing on zero-waste living. I asked myself, how can I use my everyday consumption habits as a way to create a more livable future? It turns out that reducing waste and packaging does make a difference by reducing overall emissions from the manufacturing, transport, and disposal of materials and reducing the methane emissions from landfills, which are a massive contributor to global warming.
For me, living a zero-waste lifestyle was never intended to be presented as “everyone needs to do this,” it’s just not realistic at this point in time. We live in an oil economy and single-use is the name of the game. But 9 years ago, I asked the question, could I do something about this. Do I have to live this way and participate in consumption that is contributing to climate change? I learned I don’t.
Zero waste was a way for me to take control over my impact on the environment and to align my personal values for environmental sustainability with the way I live my life each day. I made the decision to share what I was doing online in the event that someone wanted to do the same thing with the dream that I could make the process significantly easier for them since I had already done so much work and research. When I put Trash is for Tossers and my trash jar into the world it was aimed at putting a light on the fact that the way the world is presented to us, the products, the marketing, it isn’t the only way we all have to live. There are choices and ways to move away from plastic, reduce waste, save money, and create a more livable future.
What’s your biggest tip for someone who wants to reduce their waste?
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but one small step can make a difference. I always say to start with the low-hanging fruit. There are plenty of areas in our lives that can be improved from a sustainability standpoint, whether it’s bringing your own fork and knife as opposed to single-use disposables, switching to shampoo bars from plastic bottles, using a bamboo toothbrush, investing in a reusable water bottle, or simply saying, “No, thank you” to a plastic bag at the store. If it seems like a simple and manageable swap, do it.
Why did you decide to start The Simply Co.?
In 2014, I learned that there are over 85,000 industrial chemicals used in consumer products today, including known carcinogens like “dichlorobenzene,” try saying that 3 times fast. The worst part? Most of them aren’t tested for safety before being released into the market.
During that time, I was well on my zero-waste journey and it wasn’t possible to walk into a store and find products that were free of toxic chemicals and plastic, so I decided to make them myself – starting with laundry detergent. The product was so effective and simple, when I posted about it on Trash is for Tossers, people instantly wanted a product like it, but they didn’t want to make it themselves. So I launched a Kickstarter and in 48 hours we had quadrupled our goal and The Simply Co. was born! I ended up inviting friends and family into my kitchen, and together, we made our first 2,000 jars of 3- ingredient, organic, vegan, natural, plastic-free, laundry detergent powder by hand.
The Simply Co. was not only my first company, but also my first step in making healthy, sustainable products available to masses and my inspiration for starting my company Package Free! Our mission is to make the world less trashy, and we sell zero-waste alternatives to everyday products from toothbrushes and beauty products, to period products, and kitchen products. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to make simple swaps to reduce waste.
What was the most challenging thing about converting to a zero-waste life?
Instead of thinking about the challenges, I always like to think about opportunities. How can I continue to create a positive impact? Whether learning about sustainability, talking about ways to create positive impact, or actually making changes in your everyday life, we’re agents of change. I’m inspired by the millions of people who have been looking to reduce their waste and work toward a zero-waste lifestyle.