Eight years ago, environmental activist Lauren Singer set out to make reducing waste accessible.
A college student at the time, Singer learned about living waste-free from blogger Bea Johnson. Johnson helped the zero-waste movement gain traction, but she lived in a California suburb with children in a spacious house. Singer, meanwhile, was navigating the hustle and bustle of the city, while attending New York University.
"I had to apply this concept to a lifestyle that felt unique and relatable to me," Singer told Global Citizen.
The idea led her to create the educational platform Trash Is For Tossers for people who might not have the time or resources to figure out how to adopt low- and zero-waste practices on their own.
To Singer, living zero-waste means "not sending anything to a landfill or to discard anything with the intention of it not being repurposed or reused — basically not creating trash."
Trash that ends up in landfills emits methane gas, a major climate change offender.
While eliminating all waste might seem intimidating at first, starting small is the secret, according to Singer.
"When you zoom out, the average American makes about four and a half pounds of trash per person per day," she said. "Over the course of a year, that would be like eliminating thousands of pounds. When you look at the little things that you do — like say no to a plastic bag, or buy something in bulk as opposed to in packaging — these little changes that over time add up and result in not making any waste."
After launching her platform, Singer gained recognition in 2014 for fitting all the waste she produced in two years in a 16-ounce Mason jar. She also worked as a sustainability manager at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.
The jar that prevented a thousand pounds of trash. Actually, to be more exact - it’s more like 14,145 since the average American makes about 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day. When I hear that one person can’t make a difference I think, well that’s silly, 14,000 pounds seems like a difference to me ;) We are powerful and that power can be good or bad, it’s all about how we choose to use it 💪🏻💪🏼💪🏽💪🏾💪🏿
Certain tools, like reusable water bottles or stainless steel food containers, helped make a waste-free lifestyle easier, she realized, but they were pretty hard to find. The companies making these products were having a hard time scaling their businesses, and sustainable companies weren’t getting much financial backing, she said.
To bring all her favorite companies together, Singer founded Package Free in 2017. The company sells waste-reducing products online and at a brick-and-mortar shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
"I started Package Free to make those really simple swaps easy for people — switching from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one, from shampoo packaged in plastic to a shampoo bar," Singer said. "We have alternatives for just about anything that you would need to buy packaged."
The stores has kept 100 million pieces of trash out of landfills to date.
While running the store and online platform, Singer continued squeezing all the waste she accumulated into one Mason jar until 2020. But in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, reducing waste has required a bit more effort. On the one hand, Singer has found herself eating out less and having more control over the waste she’s contributing. Buying groceries, however, has presented a bigger challenge.
"During COVID, there have been inconveniences that have been created, like you can't buy groceries in bulk anymore," Singer said.
In an Instagram post on March 21, Singer shared a photo of the food she purchased in plastic packaging to take precautions and stock up on items she might need, if stuck in her home.
"We’re all navigating this situation together, and while I’m far from perfect, and have made VERY imperfect decisions over the past few weeks, I am trying to be the best for myself, my community, my company and team, and our collective humanity," she wrote.
Once lockdowns are eased and Package Free re-opens, it will help members of its community divert any packaging accrued during the pandemic from landfills. The retailer works with waste management company Terracycle to collect non-recyclable waste and turn it into reusable raw materials for new products. Online, the store is selling zero-waste boxes to help consumers ensure items, like disposable gloves and kitchen household products, get recycled.
"Any choice to reduce your waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle is positive," she said. "Don't be discouraged by what you're not doing, be motivated and inspired by what you are doing."