Lauren Singer. I first saw that name in a TEDx Talk, “WHY I LIVE A ZERO WASTE LIFE.” That was also the first time I heard the term ‘zero waste,’ a movement that is being popularized around the globe, with the aim of sending little to nothing to a landfill, and a movement Lauren has now become a symbol of.
Lauren was an Environmental Studies student at NYU when she noticed a girl bringing lunch to every class in a plastic bag – inside was a plastic takeout container and a disposable water bottle. Disturbed by this, one day she went home only to discover that everything in her fridge was packaged in plastic. So she made a decision to stop using plastic, and later on, decided to stop producing trash.
Since then, Lauren has started a successful blog, Trash is for Tossers, a youtube channel with the same name, and has opened Package Free Shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (also available online) in the hope of making a zero waste lifestyle easier by selling many sustainable items that can replace single-use ones, all in one place.
On October 31st, I had the opportunity to chat with Lauren about being zero waste, running Package Free, and about herself. Here is what she had to say:
on going zero waste
Most of [my family and friends] actually didn’t even know, there’s not much that changes from the outside perspective. It was really the little things like saying no to plastic tupperware at the holidays that really led to them asking questions and me talking about it more.
on the change in her definition of zero waste
When I started I was just focused on waste but as I learned more and developed, and dedicated my career to it as well, it’s less on the individual and also about incorporating zero waste into the way I run a business and the businesses that we work it to help to grow and develop the message.
on what change was the hardest to adapt to
There’s really not one thing… Taking it slow, doing it one thing at a time, making sure not to try to take on to much at once. It’s important to always remember that this is a long-term commitment, it takes time. You’re changing your routine so it’s important to do it little by little. And if you try to do everything at once it’s going to seem really hard, but if you do it one thing at a time it feels better.
on how long it took her
There are still things that I’m working on. There are still products I can’t find without plastic, so it’s still happening.
on replacing “I can’t” with “I choose not to”
I think it’s just about maintaining an attitude. If you look at something like “oh I’m sacrificing something, I’m losing something, this is so hard” then it’s going to feel hard and you’re going to feel like you’re sacrificing and losing something, but if you make a decision that this is something that you want to do and you’re excited about it, you reward yourself, it feels palatable, it feels exciting: It feels like every change you make is a reward. I think making any kind of change is all about perspective and attitude so I don’t like to think that I’m limiting myself, I like to think that I’m expanding myself.
on the word ‘impossible’
I think all of these things are just a matter of preconception. I never use the word impossible. That’s not something I think is even in my vocabulary. I think anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Of course, there are exceptions but when it when it comes to zero waste so many things are possible.
In New York City I keep my compost in a freezer and I bring it to the farmers market, but I just found out there are individuals that start a community composting and they’ll actually pick it up for free because they’re just passionate about it. And if you have a problem, if you want to compost but there’s nowhere to compost there are probably other people in your community that want it to. By talking to people about your problems and saying to everyone that you meet: “Yeah, you know, I’m having a great day but I really want to compost but I can’t find anywhere to do it.” Maybe you’ll meet five other people that want to do it too and you can start something together. That’s the foundation of all business.
on balancing being a shop and staying sustainable
People are going to buy the products that we’re selling whether they’re made from us or not. What we do is provide alternatives to a lot of single-use products. By using one stainless steel straw for the rest of your life you can eliminate hundreds from going to landfill. It’s an alternative to things that would otherwise be thrown away. If it’s just a swap, like a toothbrush to toothbrush, bamboo is a much better alternative than plastic. We just posted on @packagefreeshop that every toothbrush that you ever used still exists somewhere, so even though you’re consuming something, there are alternatives that are better.
We can’t tell people how to consume. We can suggest buying things that are important to them, what they’ll use what they’re looking for. But ultimately anything that you buy ever can end up in landfill if you let it end up in landfill. But we hope that our customers understand the impacts of their actions, that if they purchase these products in the hope of using them and implementing them, and stop using those single-use items.
on living in New York
(Laughs) I mostly just work and go home. So I’m either at my house, at the office or at Package Free.
on the future
I think it’s really hard to look into the future because 5 years ago I was working in a job where I was the lowest on a totem pole, in a consulting job. I would never have thought that I would start businesses and do all of the things that I’m doing. But no matter what I love starting businesses and love being in business, so anything that I can do to help continue the dialogue on sustainable business and sustainable practices will lead me where I end up.
on what she thought she would end up as when she was a kid
President. For sure. (Laughs)
Lauren’s employee: Could still be doing that Lauren!
Lauren’s employee: First zero-waste president!
Lauren: At this point, the benchmark for becoming president is pretty low, so…
on what advice she would give to her teenage self
I wouldn’t. I don’t believe in shortcuts. I do believe in “work smarter not harder” but I think everything that happened in my past led me to where I am now. So I don’t believe in trying to “manipulate destiny” or anything like that. I would let myself struggle cause that’s how you learn.
on how she defines herself
I feel like I’m both a private person and an open book, so there is nothing I’m not comfortable talking about.
on her dog Rose
She’s sleeping next to me. She’s the cutest ever. She was a lion for Halloween.
on her Halloween plans
I went out on Saturday night. I have a date tonight. (giggles)
Lauren, thank you for your time and hope we see you again sometime at Package Free!