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Lauren Singer lives the typical life of a twenty-four year old living in New York City, barring one remarkable detail: all the trash she’s thrown away in the past two years fits into a mason jar.
Lauren majored in environmental studies at New York University, and decided to try living a zero waste lifestyle. She shares zero-waste tips, advice, and DIY recipes on her blog, Trash Is for Tossers. In 2014, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Lauren started The Simply Company to sell her own chemical-free laundry detergent. Lauren talked to Like a Boss Girls about reducing her impact on the world, becoming a stylish minimalist, and running her own company.
What are the first steps you took when you decided to become trash-free?
I pursued environmental science and environmental studies in college, and I was always very active on environmental themes–I was protesting a lot, and talking about sustainability, and then I transitioned to becoming plastic-free. That was initiated by a girl I took a class with who was using a ton of plastic in her everyday life just to eat dinner. I got really upset about it, because she was throwing it all out. Then I went home, opened my fridge and had the realization that everything I had was packaged in plastic. I felt like a huge hypocrite for getting angry at that girl for using plastic, because I was just as bad, if not worse. I took steps to go plastic free, and started reducing plastic in my life and learning about lower-waste alternatives. It wasn’t until I found Bea Johnson’s blog Zero Waste Home that I realized I didn’t have to make any trash at all. Once I learned that, I dove in.
As you’ve started living a zero-waste lifestyle, how have your shopping and buying habits changed?
On a broad scale, I’ve become so much more of a minimalist by living this lifestyle. I’ve drastically reduced the things that I own, everything from sentimental items to decorative items to clothing items to personal care items. I’ve reduced what I have, and that has resulted in a decreased level of stress. I’m able to clean my house easier. In addition to that, I started shopping only secondhand for things like clothing, so that saves me a lot of money and reduces my carbon impact, because I’m not creating a demand for new clothing. I’m recycling what’s already in the waste stream. I’ve also started shopping totally package free, so I go to bulk stores and purchase things like grains and olive oil. I bring my own containers, and I also shop at the farmers’ market for all of my produce. I like that because it’s package free, and it also doesn’t have a produce sticker.
What was it like when you first started bringing your own containers to stores?
It was a learning process, which is why I have the blog–to share things that I’m learning. When I first started zero-waste shopping, I brought jars for everything, so I was like the jar lady, clanking down the streets of Manhattan with like thirty jars full of beans and whatever. When I realized that there were options that weren’t as heavy and clanky as jars, I switched to organic cotton reusable bags, which are washable and super lightweight. I usually carry one around with me, or I carry a napkin that I can use as a bag, so I’ve learned folding techniques. When I first started, I had to learn to ask for the tare of the container I was using. Even now, I sometimes have to say, “Hey, I know this might be a little bit weird or strange, but I try to live a lifestyle where I minimize my trash impact, and I would love it if you could put X,Y, and Z in my jar instead of this plastic packaging.” When you do that, it’s less inconvenient than just demanding that something be put in a jar, because you’re enabling someone to think in a different way. If someone looks at me weird for doing what I’m doing, that can be an awesome thing, because I’m showing them something that they’ve never seen before. I’m teaching them that there’s a different way.
What kind of response has your blog received?
In the beginning, I got a lot of pushback from people. When word about my lifestyle was first getting out in online news outlets, people were either like, “Wow, this is amazing. I want to take this into my own life,” or people were like, “She’s faking. There’s no way that she can do this.” My response to that was, “Come to my blog, and if you don’t believe that, then come to my house. I totally live this way. I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for me. This is how I choose to live.” Now, it’s been about a year since my blog started getting more traction, and overall, people are very supportive. I think people have gotten past the question of, “Is it possible?” and opened their eyes to the things they can do in their everyday life to reduce their impact.
What’s the first advice you give someone who’s interested in moving toward this kind of lifestyle?
It’s hard, because everyone is different. Everyone lives in a different way in a different place, with different kinds of infrastructures like recycling. Aside from saying, “the best thing to do is just start,” I like to suggest that people do a home waste audit. In essence, it means they look into their garbage can and see what they’re throwing away. You can’t solve the problem of throwing things away unless you understand what you’re throwing away and how you can remediate it. When I did that, I realized I had a lot of organic food waste, so I learned how to compost. I learned that I had a lot of food packaging, so I started to buy things package-free. I learned that I had a lot of product packaging, so I learned how to make my products myself. Just by identifying the main things I was throwing away, I had a place to start to research what to get rid of.
Can you talk a bit about having a minimalist wardrobe, and what that entails?
It’s been a process, because I live in New York City, and I’m walking everywhere and there are so many different things to do. You have to be both functional and have clothing to go out. For me, it was about understanding what works on my body, and what I actually wear, and not getting caught up in trends. I wear a ton of black, because my clothes look clean longer, and everything matches. People don’t really notice if you repeat outfits often. I always like the idea of wearing striped shirts, but if I buy a striped shirt, it sits in my closet and then I sell it. Now when I see a cool striped shirt, I say to myself, “Lauren, you don’t wear this. Stop trying to change yourself.” Now I have a set number of hangers, and if I want something new, I have to reevaluate what it is that I have and that I’m not wearing, or understand why it is that I need something new.
Who inspires you?
For me, it’s not about individual role models. It’s about specific things that people do that inspire me. I loved learning about Bea’s zero waste lifestyle. I picked up on that, and now that’s help me change my life. I’m motivated by my boyfriend, who helps his restaurant become zero waste, and helps me reevaluate the food that I eat. In general, I’m inspired by people who help me think outside my comfort zone and help me to see things differently. It’s easy to become complacent in our everyday actions, and so anyone that helps to call me out on things is someone I can look up to.
What’s it like running your own company?
Starting a company is always hard, but I did a Kickstarter to launch The Simply Co. which blew up in a way that I never expected it to. That comes with its own slew of problems, like having to scale a business before you know how to scale–or even have–a business. It’s been an incredible opportunity to do something that makes me happy instead of being glued to a desktop that doesn’t align with what I want to do in the world. Being able to make a product that reduces someone’s environmental impact by making one simple choice–one simple swap out from conventional laundry detergent to mine–is a very gratifying thing. Also, to open people’s minds to ask questions like, “why are there so many chemicals in the cleaning products that we use? Do they have to be there? Are they necessary?” It’s being able to present that to people, which is so rewarding.
What did you learn from your successful Kickstarter campaign?
I think a lot of it had to do with me having a blog, because I’m not just selling a product. I tell people that I don’t want them to buy my product. In fact, I would prefer for everyone to make their own laundry detergent, but the reality is that not everyone is going to do that. So I want to be on the sidelines, providing them with the next best option, which I believe is my product. I think knowing that they weren’t just buying a product, they were buying a gateway into a lifestyle, is what helped people be supportive of my campaign.
What are your hopes for the future of the company?
I’m hoping to expand, grow my production, and add other products to the line to make it easy for people, so they can buy my products and transition away from all the toxic cleaning products that someone might have in their house. The packaging is thought out sustainably, the ingredients are sustainably sourced, and the shipping is done with sustainability in mind.
What’s something you hope everyone who reads this will do?
I hope they’ll do the waste study I mentioned, which I think is really important, but also, I hope they’ll look at something that they do every single day, like… Are you the kind of person who gets coffee every day in a disposable cup? What’s one simple swap that you can do in your everyday life that will reduce your trash impact? Whether it’s using a reusable coffee cup, or using a reusable water bottle instead of plastic ones, everyone can make one tiny change to reduce their trash impact.
For more tips on creating less waste, check out: Distracted By Clutter? Top Tips To Create Zero Waste This School Year