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Lauren Singer can fit all of the trash she’s produced in the last four years into a single Mason Jar.
Image: Erwin Caluya
So how does she do it, and why should we be getting to know our waste better?
"What is your toothbrush made out of? – Plastic. What is your toothpaste packaged in? – Plastic.
"Your face wash, your moisturizer, your contact solution, so many things that are in our everyday lives are packaged in plastic," Lauren Singer explained.
Lauren posed these questions during her TEDx talk titled 'Why I live a zero waste life.' During this talk Lauren tells us how she lives a completely trash-free lifestyle, and that you can too!
In Lauren's TEDx Talk she justifies why she has been living a zero waste lifestyle, and touches on how it really isn't that hard to do. Lauren is also the founder of the blog Trash is for Tossers.
"The average American produces approximately 4.4 pounds of trash per person- per day. Over a course of a year that's like taking 8.5 of your best friends and throwing them in the trash" Lauren clarifies.
Let's figure that out for Australians. According to a recent report, Australia is one of the highest producers of municipal waste in the world, at 647 kilograms of waste per person. Australia is following closely behind Switzerland, Denmark and the United States of America where Lauren is based.
Lauren is based in New York City, is an Environmental Studies graduate from NYU and former Sustainability Manager at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. I was so inspired and fascinated with Lauren's lifestyle that I managed to steal a quick chat with her via Skype as she hunted down a rare car park in New York City.
“I had a realization when I was in college that I cared about sustainability a lot and talked about it a lot. But I wasn’t actually doing anything really in (my) everyday life to live that way – it was basically all talk,”- Lauren Singer
This is the part that got me. As I spoke to Lauren, it resonated with me that I too have always felt very passionate about sustainability and the environment, but here I was talking and writing about it and not really taking impactful action toward doing anything for it. I was interested to find out how this lifestyle started and is it possible that others and myself could implement some of these actions too?
Read more: 5 easy steps to quitting plastic
Lauren explained that the very circumstance that urged her to consider a trash free lifestyle was watching a girl in her class during college use a lot of plastic, she would bring her lunch and dinner wrapped in plastic to environmental science class every single night.
It dawned on Lauren that she wasn't really any different, and if she really did want to make a difference she would have to put her words into actions. From here she started reducing plastic in her own life.
"I learnt how to replace things that were packaged in plastic, but then I found Bea Johnson's blog – The Zero Waste Home. It was then that I realised I didn't have to just get rid of plastic I would have to get rid of trash altogether" Lauren explained.
Is it that simple??
"It's got a lot to do with shopping in bulk and shopping for things that are package free instead of things that are packaged in plastic or that are wrapped in a lot of wrapping.
"Doing things like shopping at the farmer's market, buying all of my clothes second hand, making all of my own products. And these are all things that might seem daunting or difficult, but if you listen to my TED talk I explain that it's just a preconception, the time that I save from actually doing these things outweighs all the time that I would have spent to actually buy all of the products – as well as the money I save. Not to mention the healthier food that I am eating" Lauren said.
Read more: How to break up with big supermarkets
I reiterated my issue with the timeliness of it all. On Lauren's blog Trash is for Tossers you can find tips and recipes for all sorts of products that you can use to clean or add into your beauty routine. But I wondered if these would actually be worth the time it takes to make them?
Lauren's response was:
"If you haven't done it before you can't really say that it's time consuming, that's just a preconception. Actually making these things, which I do on my videos and on my Youtube channel, I do to show that it's actually not time consuming at all. It actually saves you a tonne of time."
I was interested to know how Lauren manages a waste free lifestyle whilst travelling. We are all on the move these days and there has to be a way to stay more sustainable whilst constantly in transit isn't there?
"That is something I have previously written about in my blog. (It's true, if you search 'travel' on her blog a lot of posts come up). I also have a long distance boyfriend and so I'm constantly travelling and I have maintained zero waste whilst doing that. It's just a matter of being a little bit prepared, for example having a mason jar and my own fork, packing adequately and having snacks for the plane or the car. It's a matter of just thinking ahead a little bit" Lauren responded.
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Image via Trash is for Tossers Instagram: Plastic-free lunch at Yellowstone
I asked Lauren what her ideal world would look like.
"It's not like I would change the way things are drastically. I would just kind of revert back to lifestyle where people consumed within their needs. Now people buy so much crap that they don't need and then don't understand why there is so much waste and so many issues with pollution. Because these things (they are buying) are being produced in a manner that isn't sustainable, and a lot of people are making things that aren't necessary.
"I would love to go back to a tradition where everyone had to grow their own food. Or buy all of their food locally where it's not shipped from overseas, in the middle of nowhere. I would prefer just a localized economy, that's based on people consuming responsibly," Lauren explained.
Image via Trash is for Tossers Instagram: Lauren at The Growing Club
I ask Lauren where she sees the planet's future headed with plastic and trash.
"The thing is with plastic is that it is predominantly made from fossil fuel which is a finite resource. We are not going to have oil and fossil fuels forever. Slowly with technology, plastics are being made with a lot of other things now. You can take a lot of other components and turn them into plastic. But I think the thing that will happen eventually is that you can't keep growing crops just to make plastic, you'll wear out the soil. It's just going to get to the point where plastic just isn't the sustainable thing to produce anymore and it's not necessary. I think we're headed to a place where we are going to face a wall, where it's consumed more than we give back – I think" Lauren answered.
So how do we get started with reducing our trash?
"It's just like taking little baby steps as I like to call them, because I think the idea of living zero waste can seem really overwhelming and super daunting. Like 'oh my gosh it must take so much time to make toothpaste', but when you start doing one little thing at a time, you realize it's actually really easy and it only takes 30 seconds. Maybe I'll try bringing a reusable bag ever yday? Oh, it's actually really easy to bring a bag everyday. Maybe I'll try bringing a mason jar every day for my coffee, instead of using a disposable cup. It's just little baby steps and I suggest some people start with what I call a waste characterization study; it's just about looking at the trash you're producing right now, going through it and identifying what it is. You can't learn how to reduce your trash if you don't understand what you're throwing away.
Image via Trash is for Tossers Instagram: Coffee in a Jar from Tweet Cafe
"When I did my waste characterization study, my main sources of trash were organic food waste because I wasn't composting – it was all being put into the garbage. Plus food packaging, things like plastic bags, paper boxes and tins etc. and then of course there is the beauty products and personal care packaging –the shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes. So once I identified all of those sources of waste it gave me a really easy place to start figuring out how to minimize them and reduce them.
One of the steps to less waste was making her own.
"I make everything that I use now, my toiletries are nothing. I have a face oatmeal that I use to moisturize my face, I make my own body lotion, I make my own deodorant, I use a bar soap for my face, body and hair and make my own tooth paste. That's it – that's all I use.
"Marketing and media has told us that we need so many different things and I realized that is not true at all," Lauren explained to me.
Amen to that.
And where to from here for Lauren?
"I created The Simply Co, while I was running my blog and working. I realized that there weren't any options for sustainable cleaning products on the market, and the things that were marked as sustainable, weren't actually sustainable. In the U.S especially there are very few regulations on what you have to do for products, you can basically slap a label on anything, lie about the ingredients on the packaging and call it a day. There is no regulation – it's actually slightly comical.
Image via The Simply Co Instagram
So I thought, I have been making my own cleaning products for years and I know they work, they're safe, they're made with things that you can find in the supermarket and so I decided to quit my job and start a Kickstarter to launch my company The Simply Co. Right now I am just selling laundry detergent, but I hope to expand that to a full line of cleaning products that are simple, minimal and easy to reproduce.
"I kind of hope to be a gateway company, showing people that hand made, simple products do work and hopefully inspire people to make them themselves and not buy my products. I'm a bad entrepreneur but my goal is not making money or having successful businesses – what success means to me is less people buying my products and more people making it themselves. So if I can be a gateway to that, that's what success is for me" Lauren said.
For tips on how you can create a waste-free life head to Lauren's blog Trash is for Tossers. To help Lauren become a bad entrepreneur and save the planet head to The Simply Co and find out about ethical cleaning products. And to inspire your own trash-free lifestyle, watch Lauren's Tedx Talk here.
Thank you Lauren, for all that you do.
I'm off to make my own toothpaste.
Nina Hill is the resident host of Skuff TV, an extreme sports show that airs on Fox Sports Australia. She is also a producer and presenter for a number of online channels. Somehow she finds the time to work as a model and a freelance journalist. All the while exploring every corner of the globe with her obsessive travel bug. You can keep up with her on Instagram, Periscope, and LinkedIn.
Banner Image: Trash if for Tossers
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