The entirety of the trash that 27-year-old Lauren Singer has produced during the past three years fits inside a 16-ounce mason jar. The environmental activist lives a Zero Waste lifestyle, meaning she has nearly eliminated her production of garbage. She aims to inspire others to reduce their waste too.
While earning her degree in Environmental Studies at New York University, Singer noticed a classmate carry her lunch to lectures in single-use plastic bags with disposable water bottles and plastic takeout containers inside. This brought the issue of the immense and unnecessary amount of trash produced by the common American to her attention.
In an interview with TODAY Home, Singer admitted, “I was really judgmental of [the girl]. We were environmental students and she was making so much trash.” After evaluating her own lifestyle, Singer realized that she, too, contradicted her beliefs every day: while she advocated for environmental protection, she continued to produce trash, much of which consisted of environmentally harmful plastic.
This realization led her to reduce her waste in order to lessen her impact on the environment. Inspired by Bea Johnson, an advocate for waste-free living, Singer avoided purchasing packaged products, disposable items, and anything in excess.
She later created her own blog, called Trash is for Tossers, to document her “Zero Waste journey” and offer advice for others interested in reducing their garbage production. As part of her blog, she launched Package Free Shop, an online store selling eco-friendly merchandise. Singer’s impressive entrepreneurship and widespread influence, coupled with her young age, led her to be featured on The New York Times “30 under 30” video series and the Today Show.
Why live trash-free? Human garbage is harmful to the ecosystem, and a Columbia University study estimated that Americans throw out seven pounds of materials per person every day. Many materials that are collected in landfills contain toxins that leach into soil and groundwater, creating environmental hazards.
Trash placed in landfills decomposes at a very slow rate, which affects the wellbeing of future generations of humans and animals. The process of disposing of food and green waste in landfills, rather than composting it, releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is linked to global warming. Landfills are responsible for 20% of methane emissions in the US.
Besides being environmentally friendly, a Zero Waste lifestyle reaps personal benefits. Buying products that are not packaged and limiting unnecessary purchases saves significant amounts of money. Owning fewer commercial products allows for a more organized household. Going Zero Waste even leads to healthier eating, as unpackaged foods are typically unprocessed.
The increasingly popular Zero Waste lifestyle has proven that reducing one’s trash production is both personally and environmentally beneficial. Though Singer and others who have joined the Zero Waste movement have adopted an extreme approach to environmentalism, they have inspired thousands of others to begin reducing their waste in more manageable ways. On her blog, Singer recommends simple changes like using reusable water bottles and shopping bags, buying secondhand clothing, and composting as first steps.
(Copyright 2019 Abigail Morris)