Produce stickers, an unusable plastic sandwich bag, an ink cartridge wrapper, vitamin safety seals. These items and other non-recyclable and not-yet-reused items fill a single mason jar in Lauren Singer’s Brooklyn home. This is all the trash she has produced in two years.
Lauren, 23, has led a zero waste lifestyle since two key turning points in her college environmental studies program: first when a professor inspired her to live her environmental values, and second when she witnessed a classmate bringing single-use items for lunch that would all end up in a trash can. “I realized I wasn’t living in alignment with my values,” Lauren said. Even though she was an environmental science major and activist, she had a large environmental footprint. “This is when I really decided that I not only needed to claim to love the environment, but actually live like I love the environment,” she says on her website, Trash is for Tossers.
It was with that realization that she began swapping single-use items for recyclable, compostable or reusable products; making her own packaging-free home and personal care products; shopping at secondhand stores; upcycling things she no longer needs for their original purposes; and donating items to Goodwill and similar organizations. She began documenting the experience and everything she learned from the process on Trash is for Tossers where she posts about alternative products, recipes, advice and personal accounts, and the blog is helping to fill a no-waste information void for many readers. As a result of the blog, “I get emails all the time about people making changes toward zero waste,” she said.
Once she began posting recipes for sustainable and nontoxic homemade products, like toothpaste and cleaners, she started getting messages from readers who wanted such products but didn’t have time to make them. Their requests led her on a search for products without harmful chemicals, and even amongst products labeled “natural” or “green,” what she found was startling: “There are over 85,000 industrial chemicals out there and a majority of them are not even tested for safety and on top of that cleaning product manufacturers are not legally required to list their ingredients on their packaging,” she states on The Simply Co.’s website.
This discovery prompted her to launch The Simply Co., a company dedicated to sustainable, safe, healthy, and fully labeled products. Its first product: laundry detergent that uses only baking soda, washing soda and Castile soap. The company started with laundry soap because there weren’t good alternatives in stores, Lauren said. It’s also scarier for people to make, she added, but the demand is there: After a month-long Kickstarter campaign that ended Thanksgiving Day last year, The Simply Co. raised $41,000 to product the detergent–more than four times her original goal. Since the campaign ended, she quit her job as the sustainability manager for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and has been filling the 1,000 preorders from Kickstarter donors. Preordering opened online to the public April 16.
One of Lauren’s goals for The Simply Co. is to have brick-and-mortar locations everywhere selling the detergent and other products in glass containers users can refill in stores. “I want to make it easy for people to be able to use natural cleaning products.” But her ultimate goal is the opposite of what most entrepreneurs seek: “I want a company that one day won’t have to exist.” Her mission is to inspire everyone to make and use their own natural products, not buy them. She knows, though, that this is unrealistic for many, so her company will continue to provide the products customers need.
For both Trash is for Tossers readers and The Simply Co. customers, Lauren is addressing the many misconceptions about trash and natural products and demonstrating how a zero waste, sustainable lifestyle is entirely possible and easy to obtain. The hardest obstacle for her in starting her new lifestyle, she said, was getting past her own ego. “I was an environmental science major, an activist, I went to protests, I loved the environment,” she said. “But I was still using toxic chemicals, producing lots of trash.” Critical introspection wasn’t easy, but it led her to where she is today with a drastically reduced footprint.
After that, she said, creating a zero waste lifestyle was relatively easy, and it can be easy for others too by following her simple three-step method:
1. Examine the trash you already produce. “Learn what your trash is and figure out how you can reduce it.” See Lauren’s list of zero waste alternatives.
2. Make one-time changes that are easy to implement in a day, such as using a reusable shopping bag at the grocery store instead of a plastic one.
3. Learn how to make your own products. “They’re package free and give you control over the chemicals you’re putting in your body.” See Lauren’s product and food recipes or preorder The Simply Co. detergent.
For travelers, there can be extra challenges to minimizing waste and avoid toxic chemicals, particularly with limited packing space, strict air travel regulations and the lack of recycling or compost receptacles and facilities in many destinations. But even during an 11-day trip to Europe and a trip to Boston, LA, Palm Springs and DC all in a single weekend, Lauren was able to maintain her no-waste lifestyle on the road. She avoids travel-sized disposable toiletries, instead making her own and packing them in small mason jars. She brings an empty jar for food waste, like apple cores, to compost when she comes across a compost receptacle or brings it home if no such facilities are available. Just like everywhere else she goes, she brings a stainless steel spork and reusable containers for eating and drinking in establishments with non-reusable plasticware. As for gear, “Get secondhand luggage,” she said. “That’s the best option.”
But whether or not you’re traveling, reducing our waste is critical and easy. “We have a choice,” Lauren said. “We don’t have to produce trash.”