The Huffington Post called her a concerned environmentalist. Teen Vogue called her an eco-warrior. Lauren Singer just calls herself someone who “gives a sh*t.”
This 26-year-old social media star has a message: being sustainable and waste-free is not expensive.
After being inspired by her environmental science professor at NYU, Singer began her zero waste lifestyle. In the five years since then, Singer has not sent a single item to the landfill, has written a blog called Trash is for Tossers, started her organic cleaning product company, The Simply Co., and opened a Williamsburg, Brooklyn pop-up store called Package Free.
At Package Free, Singer sells multi-use, no packaging, eco-friendly products so that others can reduce their waste. Items such as bamboo straws, The Simply Co. detergents and foldable metal sporks allow her customers to have a place for one-stop sustainable shopping. Her business model encourages people to invest in bulk or multi-use products so that over time, the cost per unit falls so they end up saving a lot of money.
To Singer, it is a myth that living with zero waste or being eco-friendly is only for the liberal elite.
“That’s another preconceived narrative that’s completely false around sustainability, that it’s exclusionary from an economic standpoint, that it’s for a certain demographic of people who go to Whole Foods … and that to live a sustainable lifestyle you have to be a rich white person,” Singer said in an interview at her store with the Urban Legend on June 12.
“I’ve learned how to be more minimalist and realized that we don’t need as much cr*p as society tells me that I need, we are bombarded daily by things that we ‘have’ to have to be happier, but by actively saying no to those things I’ve realized that I feel better that I’m not trapped in cyclical consumerism,” Singer said.
A classic example of this is personal water bottles. One liter water bottles can cost as much as 40 dollars versus a one dollar water bottle at a convenience store. However, if someone bought a one dollar water bottle every day for a year they would spend over nine times as much money as if they had refilled that 40 dollar water bottle for free. Furthermore, using that 40 dollar water bottle would result in 5,500 fewer pounds of plastic being sent to the landfill in a lifetime.
In order to maintain her zero-waste lifestyle, Singer does small things that are both eco-friendly, end up saving her money and ultimately add up to her contributing no waste.
Many of Singer’s lifestyle changes require little to no effort, she said. Anything she can not compost or recycle she puts in her mason jar. One of the main items in her jar is plastic straws: there is no safe disposal method. If someone gets a drink with a straw once every two days, then over 50 years they would contribute over 9,000 straws to the landfill. On the other hand, she said, it is easy to ask for no straws. Singer’s lifestyle is, in its most basic form, making dozens of these small requests that add up. The same is true for plastic bags, packaged food, and unnecessary packaging.
The hardest part of Singer’s transition to her zero waste lifestyle was the research, according to Singer, “Lifestyle shifts take time, so I like to talk about it in baby steps, little by little. So all of the individual steps were really easy … you just have to know how to do it and you have to have all of the tools that you need. Because I was one of the first people to try out this lifestyle … I had to do a lot of research to figure out what recipes worked for me and where to get the alternatives for single-use disposable items … it’s sometimes hard to make people see how easy it is.”
For others who want to reduce their waste output, Singer had the following advice: “The thing that I suggest you do first is look at your trash and look at what you’re throwing away right now … when I did that, my trash was food waste, product packaging and food packaging. So I started composting, I started buying food without packaging.”
Californians who want to live Singer’s lifestyle will be able to reap the benefits of her research soon. Singer indicated that she is trying to open a Package Free in LA by year’s end and she would go to San Francisco next.