“It’s obvious that we’re all connected because we’re all made of the same parts and we need the environment… But the environment doesn’t need us. It’s really important to remember that.”
“I felt like such a hypocrite,” Lauren Singer said when she began telling the IPF how she first decided to lead a zero-waste lifestyle in New York City, which was recently declared “the world’s most wasteful city“.
The 25-year-old environmental entrepreneur explained how she had started feeling incredibly angry at a girl in her class who was always throwing away anything plastic – forks, knives, bags, boxes, bottles, and plastic containers. It was while she was glaring at her classmate that Lauren came to a life-changing realisation.
“I was just as bad as her,” she said. “And on top of that, I had been protesting against the oil and gas industry – one of their biggest by-product is plastic. I realised I was using plastic on an everyday basis, so I was essentially supporting them.”
Gaining inspiration for a zero-waste lifestyle
With her growing irritation towards her classmate, Lauren began to seek incentives that would tackle plastic wastage. She realised she needed to start small to make a difference – and that’s when she made a decision.
“I found out living zero waste was possible – and I am forever grateful to Bea Johnson for that.”
Since 2008, blogger and best selling author Bea Johnson has been leading a life of “experiences, instead of stuff”. When Lauren discovered Bea’s philosophy to “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot”, she figured she could apply a similar approach to her lifestyle. At first, Lauren did it solely to lead a better life.
“When I first started living this lifestyle it was totally for myself,” she explained. “I didn’t see the need to tell anyone because I wanted to live in line with my values.”
However, over time, Lauren realised the transition to zero-waste lifestyle was increasingly meaningful to her loved ones. Lauren’s friends and family were curious when they noticed she always had a mason jar, and a reusable cup or bag with her. Whether she was going to the supermarket or a nearby cafe, Lauren always had eco-friendly alternatives. The questions from those around her led Lauren to start a blog about own experiences.
“Anyone who wants to reduce their waste, I don’t want them to have to go through all of the same research that I had to do in order to live this lifestyle.”
Trash is for Tosser: A blog on going zero-waste
Lauren’s blog Trash is for Tossers provides simple answers to the many questions people might have about leading a zero-waste lifestyle in a place like New York City. Her experimental alternatives range from getting rid of plastic bags, razors and plastic boxes, to making your own cleaning products and deodorant.
“The chemical industry and the cleaning product industry have told us this story that we need toxic chemicals to clean our home and clothes. I think that’s complete bullshit to be frank.”
Lauren’s alternatives are becoming more important every day. The entire world generates a total of 1.3 billion tonnes of waste every year. Shocking statistics have also revealed that the United States generates the most waste worldwide, with 264,700 metric tonnes every day. New York City alone disposes 14million tonnes of waste every year.
And where does this trash go?
New York City’s waste goes through a never-ending cycle, with trash being sent all the way across the world to India and China. Beyond that, the trash accumulates in oceans and is posing a grave danger to sea animals. Whales and sea turtles in particular have been found dead due to traces of trash in their intestines.
And that’s only the tip of this man-made iceberg.
The Simply Co: Businesses don’t have to be bad
“What I want to prove from my company is that a big business doesn’t have to be a bad business.”
In 2012, Lauren founded The Simply Co, a company selling sustainable cleaning products. She explained that because of her awareness about the environmental impact of cleaning products, she believes in a ‘Doing it Yourself’ approach to tackle the problem.
“I want to re-direct the narrative and show people that toxic chemicals are bad for us and they’re bad for the environment.”
Lauren tells people to look into the “power of bulk”. She explained that her goal is to increase the amount of bulk and also pointed to places in Brooklyn which sell goods without packaging. Here, people can bring their jars after they are empty and have it refilled for $4.
“It’s more sustainable and exponentially more affordable so I want everyone to have access to it.”
Inspiring the world to be better
Practicing what you preach may be difficult, but not for this young New Yorker.
“I am inspired by any one who challenges what they see as being unfit for the world and actually does something about it,” Lauren explained.
“Not just people who talk about problems, but people that actually take it upon themselves to find solutions. Those are the people that really, really inspire me.”
Lauren believes it’s possible for anyone to switch to a zero-waste lifestyle with two simple steps: evaluate and transition. By thinking about what we consume and where it comes from, people will be inspired to make better, smarter and healthier choices.
Tamsin Walker, journalist at Deutsche Welle and mother-of-five, explained how she has been trying to find alternatives since she came across Lauren’s story.
“It was the toothbrushes. She gave a horrifying statistic, saying that the annual numbers of toothbrushes that are thrown away are equivalent in weight to 75,000 cars.”
Tamsin did some digging of her own and discovered that it takes one plastic toothbrush hundreds of years to decompose, as compared to a bamboo toothbrush, which only takes 18 months. Within days, Tamsin attempted the transition to a plastic-free life.
Lauren continues to empower people around the world to fight for a better lifestyle, emphasising that only humans can clean up the mess we have created.
“We are the only species on earth with the power to destroy our environment and we’re the only species on earth that can also save it.”