Change. Change is always happening. As individuals we are constantly modifying, learning, growing, digressing and rebuilding in alignment with the environment in which we exist – particularly New York City where no two days are the same. However, moments of grand transformation are few and far between. This is probably due to the fact that life overhauls and mental revolutions are preceeded by moments of frustration or fury so drastic that they absolutely demand it. Enter heroine of the environment, the lovely Lauren Singer. After noticing a class mate relentlessly use and discard plastic packaging in much the same way as the majority of us do, and then realize that she too was a part of that mindless majority, something had to transform. Life ordered an overhaul, hence a very mindful revolution to becoming Zero Waste. Now a two year strong lifestyle, we sit down with Lauren over a glass mason jar of coffee to find out everything…
Tell us about how you transformed into living a Zero Waste lifestyle
During my senior year at NYU where I majored in Environmental Studies, there was a girl in one of my classes who would bring a plastic bag of chips, a plastic clamshell of food, plastic cutlery and a plastic drinking bottle every day. After class I would watch her throw all of it into the trash, without even recycling. One day it made me especially mad and I walked home mentally talking so much crap about her! When I got home and began making dinner, I opened my fridge to grab ingredients and froze. There was plastic EVERYWHERE. I was worse than the girl in my class!
I felt like such a hypocrite.
I decided that if I was going to advocate for the environment, I couldn’t just think and talk about it. I had live and embody my values and philosophies. So I quit plastic. I recycled all of the plastic packaging in my house, used up all of my beauty products and recycled all the containers that I could. I started replacing every product in my home with ones that I made myself and put it all into glass containers.
You began this lifestyle during your final years of college. How did you find living Zero Waste as an independent, (and most likely budget conscious) college student in NYC?
Living a Zero Waste lifestyle has saved me SO much money so I really didn’t feel any financial strain at all when I transitioned from college into real life. I actually spend so much less money now and feel sorry for my family that they had to support me during my BZW (Before Zero Waste) era! I don’t purchase packaged beauty products and instead make them myself. I can make about a year’s worth of body and face cream for the price of one month’s worth of packaged product. I eat 100% organic, vegetarian and spend around $60 per week on groceries. That includes coffee and all the ingredients I need to make cleaning and beauty products. It truly is an incredibly economic way to live.
Prior to the interview, I wasn’t sure if I should bring my plastic bottle of juice! Do you find people apologizing to you for their non Zero Waste friendly habits?
TOTALLY! People feel super bad if they are doing something unsustainable! Which is so funny because I never ever judge anyone on how they choose to live. I just put my lifestyle out there and provide people with the tools to adopt Zero Waste practices if they so choose. But I do think it goes to prove that all the plastic and disposables – we all kind of know they aren’t the best for the planet or our bodies, but they are convenient so we settle and use them. I believe that is why people feel bad or say sorry. We, as a culture and as a population, are aware that our choices are making a pretty big negative impact on the planet and there is no better time than now to start to try to reverse that impact.
As a consumer I find that the food and beauty industries make it very difficult to live completely Zero Waste as almost every product comes in some form of packaging, even down to the smallest plastic sticker on fruit. Have there been any challenges for you along the way and what advice do you have?
I believe that is only true if you are going to those types of businesses. We have a choice! I think almost every city now has a farmers market so there is access to sticker free produce! There is a Whole Foods or Trader Joes in almost every major city alog with small natural food stores or co-ops that have unpackaged produce. It is all about thinking in advance. Living Zero Waste isn’t the norm, so not every store is going to have products that align with that lifestyle, but I certainly believe that it is more convenient than one might think. I also think that it is easy to discount your clout as a consumer. If you want something in bulk, without a twist tie or stickers – ask your local store for it! They can be really accommodating. You might even teach them something. It is really important to remember that we all have the power to make real, positive change if we just try.
What are your zero waste essentials?
I always have a mason jar, stainless steel straw, foldable metal spork, and reusable cotton napkin in my bag in case I want coffee, a smoothie or some food on the go.
Travel seems to be a great part of your life. How do you manage to do so without falling off the Zero Waste wagon?
I absolutely love to travel and yes, I know that traveling on an airplane is inherently unsustainable, but there are definitely ways to make it moreso. The biggest thing to me is all those stupid plastic cups they use for water and drinks. Some of them are recycled, but the rest are just thrown out. To combat that I bring a mason jar on flights. I can personally attest that they will make you a mimosa in one! I also bring my own snacks like cashews, dried fruit, and homemade energy squares in organic cotton bags and heartier foods like pasta or salads in mason jars. I always bring my own reusable organic cotton napkin and spork along too!
What are the misconceptions of living Zero Waste and how do you prove this wrong?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that I’m a total hippie, don’t shower and that I live in a tree! I live in an apartment in New York City and definitely not a tree (I mean, come on). I also like to think that I look exactly the same as I did before going Zero Waste, if not better.
Going ZW helped me change a lot of my prior habits. I don’t buy packaged foods anymore which means I am eating more fresh, raw vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts that I purchase in bulk.
I used to think I needed superfluous things like fifteen different beauty products for my face… but since my transition I realized that I need almost nothing. In fact I have deduced it to two. Besides the obvious food and water, I just want to feel good and be happy. Everything else is extra, an added bonus. People also think that I am totally lacking something because of my lifestyle. I’m not sure what they think I am lacking. The changes in my life that resulted from becoming ZW have only helped me to feel amazing, listen to my body, and be a genuinely happier person.
What do you do for fun, and how do you incorporate Zero Waste alternatives.
I go to a lot of concerts and by now I have a pretty good idea of what venues in NYC only use plastic cups! If they do, I bring a mason jar or a Klean Kanteen pint cup to have filled with beer. It’s totally Zero Waste and a great conversation starter! Otherwise, if the venue has glass cups, I will just order a drink in one of those.
I also go out for dinner and drinks with my friends a lot. I always eat everything on my plate because I am pretty good at ordering, have a big appetite, and absolutely hate to waste food! That way, I never have to worry about taking leftovers home in plastic containers. When it comes to drinks or cocktails at restaurants the biggest thing is reiterating ‘no straw’! I hate them. They are unnecessary, change the flavor of the drink, give you wrinkles and are not recyclable. I don’t like them and I never will… unless they are stainless steel or glass, in which case, go straws!
I also love to go shopping but only secondhand shopping. I’m definitely not into fast fashion, textile waste or pesticides sprayed on clothes. I only just went to my first clothing swap and got some great clothing fo’ free!
You’ve been sharing your journey through Trash is for Tossers for 2 years. How has this form of media benefited you along the way?
I never expected to make so many friends! I thought blogging would be a fun project, but over time the blog has grown, evolved, and turned into a resource that people actually utilize to lessen their environmental impact, which is so amazing and great and makes me so happy! My readers from around the world reach out to me through the blog, social media and at events. Sometimes we chat on email, other times we will meet for coffee and end up hanging out! (Kind of like a girl I know that started WTF Magazine…!) I am so, so happy and feel so grateful to be a part of a lifestyle that seems to be becoming a movement. I couldn’t think of anything that aligns more with my interests than to help propagate the idea and the possibility of lessening your impact or even living Zero Waste.
What sources have helped support the transition?
Through researching recipes, I stumbled across the Zero Waste Home blog by Bea Johnson and that really did something for me. She is a mother with two kids and a husband living a Zero Waste life in Mill Valley California. I thought, if a whole family could do it, why can’t I? So I dived in head first making virtually everything that I use myself, and eliminating plastic almost completely from my life. Now, two years later, I have only produced enough trash to fit into a small mason jar.
The most recent amazing opportunity that has come out of the blog was that I met Daniel Silverstein, a Zero Waste clothing designer. We got along immediately, found that our philosophies really aligned, and he actually asked me to be the editorial model for ‘The Piece Project’, a line of clothing made completely out of pieces of scrap fabric that he saved from prior collections. The clothing was gorgeous. I felt super special, and it was such an incredible experience.
Live your philosophies. Elaborate on that.
‘Live your philosophies’ essentially means do as you think. For a long time I was talking about how into the environment I was, protesting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the oil industry, but I was still using a ton of plastic which is one of the oil industry’s biggest byproducts! It just didn’t make sense. Realizing that helped me to come to the conclusion that if I was to care deeply about something, I needed to live in a way which supports that. I never want to look back and think that I didn’t try my absolute hardest to make change. I want to live in a clean, non-polluted, trash-free world. So, I don’t just talk about it and get mad at people when they don’t, I actually live trash free and embody my dreams for the world.