Stop Getting Trashed: ‘Zero Waste Girl’ Lauren Singer On Sustainable Living
Every year New York City generates 3,269,659 tons of trash, while the average New Yorker contributes 2.9 pounds of garbage daily. It wouldn’t be quite the issue if the city had a rigorous system in place to process the waste in a way that does not hurt the environment (and ultimately the humanity itself). We’ve all heard stories of plastic waste islands floating in all five oceans, countless toxic landfills, and the poisonous, irreversible effects on eco systems all over the planet. Highly populated places like New York City play a significant role in the environmental degradation. Each and everyone of us is responsible for the consequences yet, at times, it may seem challenging to step away from the perpetual system of consumption we all live in.
Is zero waste lifestyle at all possible in our modern world of rapidly increasing dominance of a throwaway culture? For the Brooklyn-based, eco-friendly entrepreneur Lauren Singer it is. While completing her environmental studies degree at NYU, Singer had an epiphany, and for the past three years she’s managed not only to minimize personal waste to almost a zero, but to inspire others to do so as well with her Trash is for Tossers blog. We met with Lauren to chat about the zero lifestyle challenges as well as its rewarding experiences.
Does it make you angry when you see someone tossing trash on the street?
I think, just by living in New York I am oblivious to things like that. I feel like, if I were to focus on every piece of trash I see around the streets and subways I would want to cry all the time—it is so overwhelming. That’s why I choose to focus on my individual impact. I can’t really tell people what to do but I can pay attention to how much trash I produce.
Do you think the government agencies are doing enough to manage the trash disposal and processing issues?
There’s always more that can be done. There can be more recycling bins, more educational initiatives in schools. In Brooklyn, for example, you can walk for blocks and not see a single trash can, no wonder there’s trash everywhere. I believe that more resources could be allocated to dealing with issues like that. There’s money to be made for those agencies and benefits to obtain out of things like recycling and composting. I see trash as a recoverable resource. By throwing trash away we ultimately do ourselves harm, we pay taxpayers to clean up the streets, to hire people to handle our trash after we dispose of it.
Has the zero waste lifestyle gotten in the way of your personal life?
This hasn’t gotten in a way of my personal or professional live. It helped me save money, have less clutter at home, eat better, it helped me become more of a minimalist. I shop in bulk, I have a very small wardrobe, and I shop for second hand clothing – which is cheaper. I save a lot of money though the food that I eat. There is no more impulse shopping for me. I can’t go into the store and just buy anything because I have to think about the packaging and how much waste it will eventually result in. I plan before shopping which also saves time and money. I also make my own “do it yourself” products.
Is making your own products time consuming?
That’s what most people think. Consider toothpaste: living in Brooklyn, the closest store to me is 25 minutes round trip walk. By the time I get dressed, go to the store, shop, go back home – its very time consuming. With the ingredients that I buy in bulk and that I always have at home it takes me literally 30 seconds to make my own toothpaste!
It can also be a way of socializing. I had my friend over recently and we drank wine and we made our own candles, which was quite fun. Making your own products is social and practical. It is just a matter of rearranging your time.
What do your friends and family think about your lifestyle?
Any change takes time. My friends and family have been very supportive and understanding through the entire process. I’ve hosted zero waste parties and they had so much fun making their own products. Seeing how I do things makes them realize that they have a choice.
Do you have an ambition to go bigger with the Trash is for Tossers blog?
When I started there wasn’t a big central source to show me how to make household products—I had to go to a million different blogs to learn. That’s why I started a YouTube channel because some people respond better to visual information and then they can make their own products at home. My goal is to expand the YouTube channel to show how I do all my things and for people to learn and get inspired.
Is there a difference in DIY products and the ones bought in store?
It is different. There are often various chemicals in products that we buy in stores. Natural ingredients are very depended on temperature. For coconut oil, which is one of the major ingredients used, the melting point is very low, so the products can be more liquid or more solid depending on the combination of other ingredients. But you learn and get used to that. You understand that there are natural ingredients and that they are so much better for you.
What about the convenience of purchasing things in store?
One big misconception about DIY products is that it is easier to go the store and buy stuff. I’m so lazy, it takes less time and money to make my own products then to shop for them. It is much more convenient.
What advise would you give to zero waste lifestyle beginners?
Start with looking at your trash. If you have a million plastic bags—step one: use reusable bags. Process your food waste into a compost bin instead of landfills. Step by step you’ll get there. Every big change requires small gradual changes.
If you drink coffee everyday: bring a reusable cup/container with you. My favorite thing is when people are giving me a weird look when I ask for something specific like that, it means I’m asking for something they never heard before. It makes them think about it in some capacity. Being weird is helping me educate others whenever I can.
Do you ever feel alone in this?
Any time when you do something different it makes you feel isolated. Luckily, my blog connects me to the people with simular interests and mindsets so I don’t feel lonely at all. It is important to connect with people who are doing inspiring things in different fields. On top of that, I don’t mind the feeling of being the only one because it means that you are doing something different, you’re changing something. I always want to continue to grow and do better, expanding my mind and the minds around me even further. It only takes one to change everything.
Have you always had such a positive outlook on things?
When I first started it was very tragic and depressing. I first experienced it when I was in the process of completing my environmental studies major. I remember this overwhelming feeling of ‘oh shit, we’re doomed!’ I’ve learned that the best way to get an idea across is to embody it. Nobody likes to be told what to do, but if they see that it works for me, they might be more open to the idea of it. I try to make living sustainable look easy and it is!