Lauren Singer is not your average 25 year old. Well, on a surface level, she very much is – full of life, ambition, style, and kindness. The thing that sets herself apart from most others, is that she lives zero waste. And that’s no exaggeration. Outside of composting and last-resort recycling, all of the trash Lauren has produced in the last four years fits inside a 16 ounce mason jar, which is exactly where it lives – and not in a landfill.
Lauren’s blog, Trash is for Tossers, has evolved into both a lifestyle and a brand, empowering people to make choices in their own lives to reduce the amount of waste they create, and helping them make natural, conscious changes by producing toxic and waste free cleaning products under her company, The Simply Co. – which is the perfect name really, because upon talking to her, you realize her outlook, methods, and objective really are perfectly simple.
We’re so happy to share this inspiring interview, and glimpses into Lauren’s zero waste home, with you today!
In a few sentences, how would you describe the zero waste movement?
Well I can’t speak for the whole movement but I can speak about my lifestyle! For me, it means not sending any trash to landfills, but I do recycle and I do compost, but I recycle as a last resort. It’s taking conscious steps to reduce your waste to hopefully zero.
What was the catalyst that prompted your journey into zero waste? Was it a gradual shift or all at once?
It was kind of a series of events! I studied environmental studies at NYU and was always really passionate about the environment and about sustainability. And then my junior year of college I became really passionate about fighting against the oil and gas industry, particularly hydrofracking because of all of the environmental and human rights associated with it. And then my senior year of college, there was a girl in this class who everyday would bring this big plastic bag full of food, a plastic container, plastic fork and knife, and then she would throw it all in the trash. It seemed like such a disconnect between what we were learning and what she was doing. Then one day after class I went home to make dinner, and I opened my refrigerator and I saw that every single thing in there was packaged in plastic. And I felt like a huge hypocrite. So I made a decision to stop using plastic.
But at the same time, plastic is everywhere – I couldn’t go to CVS and buy all of my beauty products plastic-free all of a sudden. So I found that I had to actually start making a lot of products myself and I hadn’t done that before, and by researching how to make products I found out about the zero waste lifestyle and it sounded like the coolest thing I had ever heard of. It was so empowering. Realizing I didn’t have to make any trash at all, and having such a low environmental impact was so exciting to me, so I decided to try it out, and it’s been four years.
What has been the biggest challenge of living zero waste lifestyle?
I get this question all the time! Honestly the hardest thing for me is trying to dispel these preconceived societal narratives. For instance the idea that sustainability is just for rich white people, which isn’t true at all. It’s something that’s really attainable for anyone regardless of where you come from. It’s just about knowing how to make those choices. And dispelling the narrative that you have to be a quintessential hippie to care about the environment. I’m trying to recreate these narratives – regardless of who you are, what you care about, what you do, who you’re voting for, we can all do things in our daily lives that impact the environment in a positive way. And in return, impact our wallets and health in a positive way.
What about the most rewarding part?
Living in alignment with my values, which I had never really considered before. When I looked at myself four years ago, I realized that while I cared about the environment, I wasn’t doing anything at all that aligned with that except talking about it. So the exercise of making adjustments to my everyday life was so fulfilling because I realized I was living in a way that was exactly what I believed in.
You launched a brand called The Simply Co. which is a line of toxic free, sustainable cleaning and household products. Can you talk about this?
Yes, I make organic laundry detergent, which is something I never thought I would be doing! But I had been making my own products at that point for 2 years – all my beauty and cleaning products – and I realized they worked and they were effective. At the time, right after college, I was working in engineering for the city and I had my blog, and I got questions all the time about the products that I was making, so I started doing some research and found that while there were beauty products that were in line with my own, the same wasn’t true for cleaning products.
I also learned that in traditional cleaning products, there are over 85,000 industrial chemicals that are used and most of them aren’t even tested for safety before they’re released into the market. On top of that, in the US, cleaning product manufacturers aren’t legally required to disclose the ingredients on the product packaging so when we buy something like laundry detergent, we have no idea what’s actually in it. Companies have the ability to say “fragrance” and “perfume” in the ingredient list because those are considered trade secrets, but those could be upwards of 2,000 different chemicals.
I decided to quit my job and start a company to sell these products that I knew worked and that I felt like we all deserved. It was 2 years ago that I launched my Kickstarter for the company. I thought I was going to have 100 people who backed the campaign so I was like “I can do this by hand!” By the end of 3 days, I had over 850 backers and over 1,000 jars of detergent preordered. I was sitting in my apartment hand grinding soap to make laundry detergent!
From there it has become a fully integrated company. My products are manufactured in Ohio at a facility where it’s solar powered and super sustainable, it’s a dream! It’s been a really amazing process.
You haven’t sent a single piece of trash to the landfill in over four years, yet you don’t fit into the stereotypical aesthetic of a “hippie” – can you talk about living zero waste while also thriving in a modern world?
Yeah! I mean, I’m a 25 year old girl that lives in New York City, I want to go out and have fun, date, eat good food, and look and feel beautiful, but at the same time I don’t want to have a negative environmental impact and I want to live zero waste. I’ve found that neither have to be compromised, I can do both, and it’s just about making choices that are quite simple. Through doing things like swapping out a plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one, or coming prepared with a mason jar, I’ve been able to be my authentic self and a live sustainably. If you look at the things that constitute zero waste, like using wash clothes instead of paper towel, saying no to plastic straws, neither of those things are hard, and once you incorporate those into your routine, it has a really positive impact.
How does fashion fit into the idea of sustainability?
When I started living this lifestyle I stopped buying any new clothing, so I’ve been shopping exclusively second hand for 4 years now, and it’s been the most eye opening thing ever. There’s so much unneeded stuff out there that people don’t want anymore, so they sell to a second hand shop. So not only is it 90% cheaper than if I were buying something new, but I’m also reusing something that would technically be waste.
Is it challenging maintaining personal style within your zero waste lifestyle?
Not at all! And it’s cool because I feel like I’m hunting, and when you find something you really like it feels like you’ve scored. I’ve also learned to be much more minimal and have really learned my body and I feel like your 20s are really about that time. I’ve really learned through second hand shopping what I feel good in, what makes me feel beautiful, and through that I’ve learned how to be really selective when I’m shopping. I love asking myself, “How does this make me feel? Does it go with everything in my closet?”
How have your shopping habits changed since you’ve gone zero waste?
I spend a lot less money, because obviously second hand is a lot less expensive. And then I save so much money on food because I go to the farmer’s market every Saturday. I used to spend $160 a week on food, and now I spend about $60 a week. Through that alone I’ve saved over $20,000. Traditionally we’re paying a premium for packaging, and anything that is packaged are things we don’t need – things that have preservatives with low nutrients and high calories – things that aren’t good for us. By removing the ability to buy packaged food, I’ve saved money and actually feel a lot better.
How has this lifestyle impacted your relationship to yourself? To the earth?
To myself, I think I’m just so much more self-aware now. I used to blame everyone else for the state of the world – politicians, and government and business, and it wasn’t until I stopped and looked at myself that I realized I had power to make a positive or negative impact, and I realized I was making a negative one. That helped me look at myself and really do things to change how I was living.
My relationship to the earth has always been the same. My drive for what I’m doing is exactly that relationship. To me, there’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing a really beautiful sunset or golden light on a tree. It’s so simple, and as humans we have no control over it, no dictation over how the sun sets, it’s just so beautiful and it makes me so happy. There’s no question that I would want to do everything I can to protect something that so selflessly gives everything to us for us to appreciate.
What drives you to inform others about the zero waste lifestyle?
The biggest reason that I talk about all of this is that four years ago I was a person who created a ton of trash that really cared about the environment and didn’t know that I had a choice. When I learned about zero waste it opened up my entire world to understand that I did have a choice, and that I could live in a way that was so much more sustainable and so much more in line with what I believed in. I thought there had to be so many other people that would love to learn about something like this and benefit from this knowledge because they want to do something and they just don’t know what. So for me, starting the blog allowed me to explain what I was doing in a way that was simple, palatable and attainable, and not pushy or preachy. It was just, “this is what I do, if you like it, here’s how I do it, and if not then that’s fine!” It’s just my drive to show people that there’s an option.
Do you feel like living zero waste is a bit extreme? What do you recommend to people who are inspired but can’t imagine going completely zero waste?
I would never tell anyone how to live or what to be, I live this lifestyle because it’s what works for me, it’s what makes me happy. I don’t really care if someone thinks it’s extreme or doesn’t want to do it because I’m focusing on myself and my own impact, and I’m putting it out there for people to think about and reflect upon their own lives. If they’re not into it, there’s nothing I can do. If people don’t believe me or don’t think it’s possible, I’ll invite them over for a zero waste dinner or take them to the farmers market – instead of isolating people because they’re not in agreement with me, I try to bring them in and invite them into seeing how a different world doesn’t mean it’s extreme or weird, it’s just different.
Do you have any anticipations or worries about the future of your sustainable lifestyle?
No! I see myself being able to be more and more aligned with doing that, just based on having more financial freedom to, for instance, buy a home, where I can control what energy I use. The reality is, I can’t change where energy comes from, I can only make people aware that there are differences in how our environment is affected by fossil fuels vs. solar. So one day I hope to have a really sustainable small home powered by renewable energy. There are only more ways that I can be more and more aligned with what I believe in.
Is there anything that doesn’t fit into your lifestyle that you don’t use?
So much stuff! But it’s stuff that I’ve realized I don’t really need. Before I lived this lifestyle I thought I needed 50 beauty products to be beautiful, when in fact I only use about 4. Same thing with clothing. So if I’m not using something it’s not that I’ve had to sacrifice it, it’s just something that I’ve realized I didn’t need, that I thought we did based on what society tells us we need.
Biggest piece of advice for someone wanting to reduce the amount of waste they produce?
Well first, there’s no one good place to start. Just start! Do something that’s easy and approachable, and that will give you the confidence to try something else. You don’t have to do it all at once, it’s impossible to go zero waste in a day, it’s one thing at a time! Realize that every positive change is positive, and even by thinking about reducing waste, you’re already starting that process of having a positive impact.
And then from there I have a few steps that I recommend to people. The first is to look in your trashcan and see what you’re throwing away because in order to reduce your waste you have to know what kind of waste you’re producing. For me it was learning how to compost, how to buy in bulk and shop at the farmers market, and learning how to make my own products. By identifying my main sources of trash and figuring out ways to remediate it – I reduced about 90% of my waste.
And then there are simple, one-time changes that have a large scale positive impact. So things like using a reusable bag at the market, saying no to single-use plastic straws, bringing your own fork, packing your own lunch, using reusable cloth instead of paper towels. I call this picking at the low hanging fruit, it’s the really simple things that have a large positive effect.
And then last, learning how to make your own products! At first it was challenging but once I made tooth paste that took 30 seconds, saved me 7 dollars, had no toxic chemicals and produced no trash I was in! It’s just one step at a time. Just start! Don’t get mad at yourself. Be consistent and think about the kind of world you want to live in and if the life you’re living is aligned with that or not. If it’s not, find ways you can live more in line with your values, because when you do it really improves your general overall feeling.