This woman fit 8 years of trash in a glass jar and started a global movement

On the other side of the dystopian reality that this pandemic has actualized for all of us, nature is thriving. All over the world, pollution levels are dropping fast. In the US alone, CO2 emissions are estimated to drop 7.5 percent this year, according to recent government findings. Wildlife is spilling into once residential streets. And, for the first time in decades, China has imposed a ban on the wildlife trade in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. While the impetus for this environmental resurgence was tragically born out of hardship for humankind, we can take away a lot from nature’s ability to rebound so effectively, in such a short period of time. Nature’s expedient recovery following our temporary hiatus is also a reminder of humankind’s immense footprint. 

Living a zero-waste lifestyle is, understandably, low on anyone’s list of priorities right now. Needless to say, in this state of global emergency, access to food, and basic necessities dispel sticking to a 100% sustainable agenda. Living a zero-waste lifestyle should not come at the cost of your health or the health of others. This is a reality that environmental activist Lauren Singer soberly acknowledges. “I definitely wouldn’t suggest trying to start a zero-waste lifestyle right now,” she said in a recent interview. “There are still ways you can try out sustainable habits right now, like DIY toothpaste, composting or learning how to ‘sprout’.”

Before the outbreak, the 28-year-old influencer, environmental activist, and entrepreneur was busy attending press meetings, running her two Package Free locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and booking video interviews with Harper’s Bazaar.  She slowed down to lend a few minutes to talk about the initiative behind starting her zero-waste lifestyle almost a decade ago, a massive career leap that engendered her media presence, and what she predicts for the future of sustainable living around the world. 

*This interview was conducted prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

How did your zero-waste journey begin?

It really started with living my values. I studied environmental science, always cared about the environment, but never asked myself what it is that I care about and if I’m living in alignment with that every single day. My journey to start my zero waste lifestyle was really founded on asking that question: What am I really doing to live sustainably? When I started living in alignment with my values, everything started to change. 

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Eating during the holiday season is synonymous with a few things – gluttony being at the top of the list. Sure, I love to shove piles of mashed potatoes into my face as much as the next person, but with increased amounts of cooking and dining comes increased waste. Some practical ways to stay zero waste with your food choices during the holidays so you don’t end up tossing a turkey include being prepared, switching up your recipes, starting from scratch, composting, using real utensils and cloth napkins, and of course, storing those leftovers in glass containers. 👍🍽⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ What are your some of your go-to tips when hosting? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #TrashIsForTossers #PackageFree #PackageFreeShop

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How did your experience working as a sustainability manager at the DEP influence where you are now? 

Studying science helped me more than anything because learning science helps you see things from a systematic approach. It’s not just how X affects Y. It’s how XZW all create what we’re experiencing, and how they correlate with the other. Nothing is as simple or as obvious as it seems. I think that studying science is what most influenced me to think about things differently. My job at the DEP showed me what I didn’t want to do in the sense that I realized I didn’t want to be a tiny part of an industry that didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to create change from the inside of a large organization. I wanted to create change in my own way. That’s when I decided to leave my job at the DEP. 

In what way has social media galvanized your initiative and business? 

The democratization of ideas and thinking is why social media is so amazing. If social media didn’t exist there would be a few people living a zero-waste lifestyle in a niche capacity. But social media reminds people that they have an option for how they can live, and that the world in front of them isn’t the only world they have to live in. That’s what’s most powerful for other people — seeing that they have a choice to decide what their impact is. Yes, humans are the cause of climate change, but we can also make decisions every day to be a part of the solution as individuals and not be reliant on the system at large to dictate what our world looks like. I think it’s really empowering to realize that it can come back to you as an individual — this idea has motivated people so much because we all want to do something, but most of us don’t know where to start. That’s why Trash is For Tossers has been so successful.  

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WTF does a CEO dress like?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I'm a CEO and I wear clothes (hopefully) “paging HR”. As @packagefreeshop has grown and developed I have had to venture outside of my Brooklyn HQ to do things like raise venture capital, while simultaneously having to walk my dog two hours later. Because of this, I’ve had to figure out what CEO dressing means to me. I’ve been so happy to build my relationship with @Theory__ over the past few years because to me, being a CEO means wearing clothing that is long lasting, natural, easy to clean, and makes me feel sexy and confident while also being comfortable if I need to sit in my conference room for 6 hours straight. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I wore the same Theory blazer from over 6 years ago to most of my fundraising meetings and they are my go-to for suits that check all of my “I run my own company” boxes. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I’m super excited to tell stories of companies that are moving in the right direction like Theory! They are transitioning towards preferred fibers with their Good Fabrics initiative! It’s great to know that a brand that I’ve worn for so long is prioritizing responsible materials and helping to perpetuate industry change. This suit is made a part of Theory’s Good Wool collection that first launched in 2017. In addition to Good Wool, Theory launched Good Linen Spring of 2019, and Good Cotton this March! Follow my stories to learn more. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #TheoryForGood #theorypartner #ConsciousByDesign #InTheory

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Can we encourage big businesses to be more sustainable?

It all comes back to the individual. Companies are just large groups of individuals making collective decisions. You can’t change an entire organization, but you can inspire individuals to think differently, and those individuals can bring ideas back to larger organizations.  If you have senior leaders at these big organizations who care about environmental initiatives, they can push environmental initiatives. Just talking about a problem makes people think about it — this plants seeds, from which innovation can grow. While I don’t believe you can change big business, I think you can be a pillar of a belief system, and use that to inspire others. 

I collaborate with big businesses all the time to communicate the sustainable changes they’re making or help them think of things that they could do. I have calls with billion dollar businesses pretty regularly, which I feel so privileged to be able to do. There’s always an opportunity to do better, and if you set it up in a way that’s positive and exciting then they’ll be open to hearing your ideas… Even just being a voice to disseminate change that big business is doing is so powerful. I think so many corporations are afraid of not being perfect, and that prevents them from leading a sustainable agenda. 

 

What are your thoughts on the sharp escalation in sustainable investment we’ve been seeing over recent years?

People that don’t invest in sustainability are going to be the losers in the long run. More progressive businesses are acknowledging this as this is where consumers are heading. That’s why I’m so grateful to have raised venture capital from people who are forward thinking. I think investors also have to recognize their role in shaping the future. The money that they give helps to empower or disempower sustainable businesses. The more money we put into these businesses, the greater their impact can be. 

 

Are you optimistic about the future of the environment, or do you lean towards cynicism? 

I’m a balance of both. I teeter between absolute catastrophizing and optimism. That’s what keeps me both healthy and realistic. Thinking from a systems approach allows me to envision all scenarios and options. I believe in science and the earth as a self-regulating system, so ultimately I know that the planet will be okay. My work is to protect the planet, but ultimately it’s to help the people who live here — our actions are contributing to our own demise. Our creativity is killing us. I think there’s a balance we can achieve and I’m hoping to help people find it. 

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING. ❤️ This year has been the most amazing one of my life thanks to @packagefreeshop and all of our friends and family. From closing our seed round with amazing investors and growing our team to opening our new Chelsea Market location and beginning to develop our own product lines, I have so much to be thankful for this year! Our business is expanding faster than I ever could have imagined and we're creating a greater positive impact on the environment every step of the way. Nevertheless, none of this would have been possible if it weren't for YOU! To say THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me and us this past year and even before I FIRST wanted to give you all of my love and SECOND, a gift. We've lined up a weekend full of incredible promotions that we're starting today! ❤️ Today you can head to www.packagefreeshop.com for 10% off all online purchases! Happy Thanksgiving! xx Lauren

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If you’re trying to get your sustainably-incredulous coworker to live a more zero-waste lifestyle, what would be the most convincing argument you could make? 

 You, yourself, are the most convincing point you could make — being a champion of living a zero-waste lifestyle is what will inspire others to do the same. If you’re someone that people want to look up to, they’ll naturally want to do what you do. You can inspire others through your actions, rather than your words. It also comes down to understanding others’ motivations for making their decisions. One person may only care about their bottom line; another could have children. I like recognizing other peoples’ value systems and then seeing how my experiences can help them live a sustainable life. The worst thing that I can do is telling someone they need to change. I talk from my own experience. 

 

Some may argue that living a zero-waste lifestyle is a privilege. Do you think that others less fortunate can also live sustainably? 

As someone who has been in this industry for over 10 years now, when I started there were about 15 people talking about it in pockets of the world. There are now thousands of people all over the world rallying for it. Change doesn’t happen overnight…Our goal [at Package Free] is to make sustainability as accessible as possible for as many people as possible. We need more people taking little steps every day, which will eventually create access to sustainability to people all over the world. Leading a sustainable life is a basic human right.