How to Reduce Your Footprint, According to Zero Waste Expert Lauren Singer
Lauren Singer is an environmentalist, writer, and the CEO of Package Free—an online shop full of products to help reduce your carbon footprint and kickstart your journey to Zero Waste.
In 2012, Lauren Singer, a 20-year-old New Yorker, decided to document her journey of reducing her waste to zero. A year later, she could fit all of the trash she’d created in a 16-ounce mason jar. She went 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 had when she started to reduce refuse.
Singer did this because the average American creates 4.4 pounds of trash every day. That trash ends up in landfills, which 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 wan t 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. 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.”
So, now that you’re motivated—or at least taking everything under advisement—let’s hear from Singer about some of the products that help her live a Zero Waste life.
If you’re easing into using more sustainable products, Lauren says a bamboo toothbrush is a good place to start. “It’s a super easy swap. You have to change your toothbrush every three months, so it keeps four plastic toothbrushes out of landfill every year.” Not only is bamboo the fastest growing plant on earth and therefore highly sustainable, but the toothbrush can also be composted. Considering one billion toothbrushes are thrown out every year in the U.S., that can make a big difference.
“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.”
Osea makes plant-based and 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. 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.”
If you clean your ears every day, that’s at least 365 cotton swabs you’re sending to 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. It’s so easy to clean. It does sound disgusting, so that might be a later swap for people.”
Price: $14 to $52
“A thing that so many people use and throw out frequently is plastic takeout containers. 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.
Price: $42 for three; $10 to $20 for individual sizes
These reusable silicone storage bags come in snack size, sandwich size, and a half-gallon bag. They’re airtight and plastic-free and can go in the dishwasher, microwave, boiling water, freezer, and oven (up to 400F). “These are a great alternative to plastic bags, which we spend so much money on and that create so much waste.”
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 seem like it makes 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 landfill, it releases methane and that’s more potent for climate change than carbon dioxide. It’s so easy to use. It’s an investment, but it’s so amazing.”
Price: Bags start at $5
Skip the plastic bags grocery stores offer to hold fruit, vegetables, and bulk dry ingredients, and use an organic cotton drawstring bag instead. “For grocery and farmers market shopping, these and the stainless steel containers are my go-tos. When you’re buying produce, buying the unpackaged, non-pre-washed ones can save money and that single-use plastic container it comes in.”
This cutlery set includes a bamboo fork, knife, spoon, and set of chopsticks, and 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. Whether it’s buying a cup of coffee in the morning, ordering your lunch to go, all of these single-use on-the-go things really add up.”
Price: $18 (60 loads)
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. This detergent only has three ingredients (four if you get the lavender-scented version) and they’re all organic.
“A product that is amazing and saves so much money is a menstrual cup. 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.”
Not sure where to begin? Lauren suggests integrating one thing into your routine at a time. “It’s not an overnight process. It takes time and effort and you might not always do it perfectly, but that’s okay. It’s starting and trying that matters.”