Furthermore from Equinox: How to Live More Sustainably

Lauren Singer, Lauren Singer sustainable

Lauren Singer

This story originally appeared on Furthermore from Equinox, the official wellness partner of The Related Life.

The average American produces approximately three pounds of non-compostable, non-recyclable waste every day. Lauren Singer, on the other hand, has generated fewer than two pounds of trash in the past eight years.

The 28 year old committed to a zero-waste lifestyle (which she defines as not contributing anything to the landfill) in college. A classmate in one of her environmental studies courses at New York University was bringing plastic takeout containers and utensils for her lunch every day. "I asked the question, ‘How could you care about sustainability and make so much waste?’" she says. "That’s when I realized that I was doing the same thing: purchasing groceries with plastic packaging, buying clothing made out of synthetic material. I was doing these unsustainable things even though all I talked about every day was sustainability."

To document the process of shifting to a trash-free lifestyle, she created the site Trash is for Tossers in 2012. She shares tips for composting, recipes for DIY beauty products, and explains how she limited nearly a decade’s worth of waste to a single 16-ounce Mason jar. She also founded Package Free, a set of shops in New York City selling zero-waste essentials, such as biodegradable bandaids, cotton produce bags, and reusable bamboo utensils.

In honor of Earth Day, Furthermore spoke with Singer about starting a sustainable business and maintaining her values in the pandemic.

Q: How did you shift your environmental passion into a full-time career?


A: After I started Trash is for Tossers, people were asking me about the products that I was making and featuring on the site. They wanted the sustainable laundry detergent or toothpaste, but thought that it would take too much time to make, so they would abandon the idea. The thought that time could be the limiting factor felt so unfair to me. (That's how my first company, The Simply Co., which sells 3-ingredient laundry detergent started).

I began meeting all of these awesome consumer product companies that had the desire to make a product to solve an environmental problem, like ocean pollution or animal cruelty, but were having a hard time acquiring new customers. So I started Package Free as a way to bring all of these brands together in one place.

Q: What goes in your Mason jar?


A: Things that I haven’t been able to divert from landfill [that aren’t recyclable or compostable]. For example, hair ties and bandaids. Although now at Package Free we have sustainable alternatives to most of these.

Q: Can you explain the concept of "circumstantial trash?"


A: It's trash that we ourselves don’t necessarily create but is a function of circumstance. You order something and you stipulate that you want it to be plastic-free but it comes to you in plastic. You can feel guilty about that, sure, but if you did everything in your power to ask for things the way that you wanted it then that’s OK. You could take initiative from there and email the company to say that you’d like to continue supporting them but you prefer your packages without plastics.

You also need to be understanding that, for the most part, the world isn’t there yet. At Package Free we have these Terracycle boxes where people can drop types of materials that aren’t recyclable through New York City’s program. [The company then turns these items, like electronics, certain personal care products, and cleaning supplies, into new products].

Q: What makes recycling so confusing?


A: The regulations around what is recyclable and the processes around what gets recycled are different in basically every single city in the world. That’s why I try to prevent any packaging from entering my home to begin with. One of the most important things to do is to check on your city's government website to see what is recycled and what isn’t.

Q: What’s an easy way to approach the zero-waste lifestyle?


A: I always suggest that people look into their trash can and see what they’re throwing away. Say you have a ton of single-use plastic water bottles, a good option is to get a sustainable water filter. Or if you’re super attached to the type of dental floss you use, but not your toothbrush, swap that for the bamboo kind. Little things that aren’t super hard can have a positive environmental impact.

Q: What about athletes specifically?


A: Make sure you have your own reusable water bottle. It’s great when gyms and facilities have stations where you can refill. Also choosing synthetic-free gym clothing is a big one. Most athletic clothing is made using plastic and synthetic fibers. So I try to support brands that have organic cotton leggings, sports bras, and workout t-shirts.

Q: What does your own workout routine look like?


A: Walking is one of my favorite things to do. It is so meditative and while I’m doing it I can talk to someone on the phone or just listen to music. I went on a five-mile walk today, which was great to help clear my mind and reset my body. I also love yoga.

Q: And what about diet?


A: One really cool thing about a zero-waste lifestyle is that you’re not buying packaged, processed foods. I go to the farmer's market every week and buy fresh fruits and vegetables. I also eat plenty of whole grains and beans, like rice, chickpeas, and black beans. The food I make is super simple. I make fresh pasta so I’ll do that with vegetables. The other night we had vegetable tacos and made the tortillas from scratch. It takes 15 minutes to make and you can do a huge batch and freeze the rest. They taste so much better than the store-bought version and you know exactly what’s in them.

Q: Are you finding it harder to maintain this lifestyle while self-isolating?


A: Yes. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of my environmental sustainability values when it comes to food. When Sandy hit in 2016, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have water stocked or food. This time I made the decision that I wouldn’t let myself be in that situation again.

I bought a lot of canned beans and frozen produce, which is healthy and in alignment with how I normally eat, but the packaging is misaligned. I’m still recycling and separating out these materials [into a Mason jar] that I do consider to be trash. So I’m not contributing anything to the landfill, but at the same time I’m creating a demand for these materials that I know are not sustainable. It makes me feel a little bad, sure, but I need to take care of myself. I also have a team of 50 people that depend on me as a leader and if I get sick that threatens their livelihood. I realized that I had to give up some of my own sustainable values for the safety and security of others. No matter what, it was a sacrifice well worth making.

This story originally appeared on Furthermore from Equinox, the official wellness partner of The Related Life.