How to Reduce Your Footprint, According to Zero Waste Expert Lauren Singer

The CEO of Package Free shares some of her favorite reusable and sustainable products to help reduce your carbon footprint and kickstart your journey to zero waste.

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Have you ever asked yourself how much waste you produce in a day, a week, or a month? The answer is probably overwhelming, and reducing that amount can be challenging. In 2012, Lauren Singer, a 20-year-old New Yorker, decided to document her journey of reducing her waste to zero. Now, she can fit several years’ worth of trash in a 16-ounce mason jar. This experience led her on to give a Ted Talk about zero waste as well as create Package Free, an online shop full of all of the things she wished she’d had when she started to reduce refuse.

Singer started these initiatives because the average American creates 4.4 pounds of trash every day. That trash ends up in landfills and creates methane gas, which is actually 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth. Another staggering fact: By 2050, it’s predicted that, measuring by weight, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Recycling is important, but it won’t get us out of this mess. Going as “zero waste” as possible, however, is something we can do now that will make an impact (and help you save money in the process).

“There’s no one-size-fits-all to reducing waste,” Singer says. “We all have different lifestyles, budgets, amounts of free time, ambition, etc. So if you want to reduce your waste, the first thing I suggest is looking in your garbage can to see what you’re throwing away. That’s a really good way to identify easy places to begin your waste reduction journey. If you’re using a lot of something and you want to find an alternative, that’s a perfect place to start.”

Singer also suggests thinking of what you are passionate about. “Climate change touches everything,” she says. “If you don’t care about the environment, but you care about social justice, you have to think about the environment because climate change disproportionately impacts people of color. If you care about animals, climate change affects endangered species and could cause extinction. There’s always a motivator for someone wanting to think about climate change. It’s so intersectional. It impacts everything. By making these changes, it might not seem like you’re doing a lot, but every change really does matter. It adds up. It makes a difference.”

If you have the means to live a more eco-conscious lifestyle and don’t know where to start, Singer suggests integrating one thing into your routine at a time. “It’s not an overnight process,” she says. “It takes time and effort and you might not always do it perfectly, but that’s okay. It’s starting and trying that matters.”

Take a look at some of her recommendations for reusable and sustainable products, below.

Bamboo Toothbrush
Package Free Shop

Switching your plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one is a good place to start. “It’s a super easy swap,” Singer says. “You have to change your toothbrush every three months, so it keeps four plastic toothbrushes out of landfills every year.” Not only is bamboo the fastest growing plant on the planet and therefore highly sustainable, but bamboo items can also be composted. Considering one billion toothbrushes are thrown out every year in the U.S., that can make a big difference.

Plastic-Free Dental Floss
Package Free Shop

When you think about it, switching to sustainable dental floss could make a big impact over time. “Floss is conventionally made of plastic, so by using this floss that is 100% plastic-free and biodegradable, you’re helping to keep yards and yards of plastic waste out of our landfills and our ocean,” Singer says. The Package Free dental floss is made of 100% silk thread coated in candelilla wax, and it comes in a recyclable box.

Osea Blemish Balm

If you’re into taking care of your skin but want to do it in a sustainable way, Osea makes plant-based, gluten-free skincare and body care products that are also cruelty-free and don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients, so they’re all completely vegan. “I tend to break out a lot from stress, so I love the blemish balm,” says Singer. “It’s harder to find sustainable acne products. If you want something at a higher price point, there’s also True Botanicals, but it’s significantly more expensive.” 

LastSwab Reusable Ear Swab
Package Free Shop

For people who clean their ears every day, that’s at least 365 cotton swabs that end up at a landfill site every year (though it’s worth noting, some brands, like Q-tips are biodegradable and can be composted). “I thought the reusable ear swab was so gross at first, but then I used it and it was amazing,” Singer says. “It’s so easy to clean. It does sound disgusting, so that might be a later swap for people.” This reusable swab from Last Object comes with a case designated for your one and only ear swab you’ll have in your lifetime.

Airtight Stainless Steel Container
Package Free Shop

“A thing that so many people use and throw out frequently are plastic takeout containers,” says Singer. Whether you’re taking your lunch to work or want to pack your restaurant leftovers, consider packing them in a reusable container. “These stainless steel containers are airtight and oven safe, and you can put any type of leftover in them. They come in all sizes; there’s even one you can fit a whole chicken in. They’re also great to use for food shopping.” And with proper care, they’ll last forever.

Reusable Silicone Storage Bag Bundle
Package Free Shop

These reusable silicone storage bags come in snack size, sandwich size, and a half-gallon size. They’re airtight and plastic-free and can go in the dishwasher, microwave, boiling water, freezer, and oven (up to 400 degrees). “These are a great alternative to plastic bags, which we spend so much money on and that create so much waste,” says Singer.

The Simply Co. Laundry Detergent
Package Free Shop

The average American washes 80 pounds of laundry a week. That’s 17.5 billion cups of toxic chemical-filled laundry detergent that’s going out into the environment every year, and those toxins could be the reason for your skin allergies. Consider using this detergent from The Simply Co. that only has three ingredients (four if you get the lavender-scented version) and they’re all organic.

Vitamix FoodCycler

Composting is one of the greenest things you can do, and it doesn’t require a lot of work. And although you don’t need this gadget to compost, it does make reducing food waste much easier by transforming all of your food scraps into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that you can add to your plants or garden. “If you go through your trash, you’ll probably find a lot of food scraps; and if you put food waste in landfills, it releases methane and that’s more potent for climate change than carbon dioxide,” says Singer. “[The FoodCycler] is so easy to use. It’s an investment, but it’s so amazing.”

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Set
Package Free Shop

This cutlery set includes a bamboo fork, knife, spoon, and set of chopsticks, plus a carrying case to make taking them with you easier. “I think people don’t realize how much waste they create when they’re on the go,” says Singer. “Whether it’s buying a cup of coffee in the morning or ordering your lunch to go, all of these single-use, on-the-go things really add up.” 

Produce Bag Bundle
Package Free Shop

You probably already take your own bags to the grocery store, but plastic bags are still used in the produce section. Instead, hold fruit, vegetables, and bulk dry ingredients in an organic cotton drawstring bag. “For grocery and farmers market shopping, these and the stainless steel containers are my go-tos,” says Singer. “When you’re buying produce, buying the unpackaged, non-pre-washed ones can save money and save that single-use plastic container they come in.”

Lunette Menstrual Cup
Package Free Shop

“A product that is amazing and saves so much money is a menstrual cup,” says Singer. “If you’re a menstruating person, I highly recommend this product. It completely changed my life. It saves thousands of dollars over the course of its lifetime, it’s plastic-free, and it’s easy to use. It’s one of those things people think is weird or disgusting, and I thought that too before I tried it, but it has changed my entire relationship with my period.”

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