By CHELSEA HUANG
At first glance, Lauren Singer seems like a typical 23-year-old post-graduate living in New York City. Clad in slouchy black slacks, black crop top and leather moto vest, Singer's style is congruent with her stylish one-bedroom apartment in a South Williamsburg development.
But a closer look beyond the shabby-chic decor and fresh flora revealed something unexpected. A small mason jar filled with a few colorful wrappers and bits of plastic sat behind her atop the pristine, white kitchen counter.
"It's been two years, and that's my trash," she said with a smile.
Singer has barely produced any garbage since she began subscribing to a zero-waste lifestyle, which meant eliminating anything that will end up in a landfill or can't be composted from her day-to-day –- a process she's documented in detail on her blog Trash is for Tossers.
As an environmental studies major at New York University, she felt like a "hypocrite" for promoting sustainability but having an apartment full of plastic packaging. She decided to remove plastic from her life altogether -- a drastic choice many might find impossible.
"Quitting plastic wasn't just reducing the amount I used. It actually meant eliminating a lot of the plastic that I was buying, so not buying things like toothpaste or deodorant packaging," she said.
That meant finding alternatives to everyday items and making a lot of them herself. Her bathroom is now lined with mason jars of different sizes filled with various homemade products, and her refrigerator is filled with organic, perishable items. She also makes secondhand purchases to avoid any firsthand packaging.
Despite her unique lifestyle, Singer said she hasn't really changed, even though stigmas might suggest otherwise. She's just found alternative means to live her existing life.
"You don't have to be a stereotype of anything to live a sustainable lifestyle. My style is the same. My taste is the same. I enjoy the same things. I just don't make trash."
Plus, it's not a pricy way to live, despite what many people might think.
"It's so funny how that narrative caught on that living sustainably is like a 'rich white people thing.' It's not the case at all. I spend like $20 to $25 a week now on everything that I need from the farmer's market," Singer said.
Don't expect Singer to get preachy, though.
"Being an environmental studies major you learn quickly that nobody likes being told what to do. I learned really fast to not tell people how to live because they'll never change or learn from you," she said.
Instead, Singer started her blog and a YouTube channel to present her lifestyle in a way that's really easy for people to understand, digest and "do on their own time." But she's also noticed her own day-to-day behavior spark a dialogue with friends and family.
"Even just by living my values, it's making a difference and inspiring them to make changes. I have friends who started shopping bulk or going to farmers markets or carry mason jars around," she said. "But I never asked them to do that."
She also recalled a recent date in which she ordered a cocktail with "no straw and no napkin," and her date followed suit.
Although she has already made an impact, the young professional quit her job as a sustainability manager for the New York City Department of Agriculture to "do something more."
Singer left her position and launched The Simply Co. in October 2014, a sustainable home cleaning goods line inspired by the products she makes and uses in her own home with ingredients and quality she can control.
The idea sparked when friends and family started asking her for recommendations for safe and non-toxic cleaning products. After scouring store shelves and the Web, Singer couldn't find one product that she felt comfortable recommending because most of them contained toxic, carcinogenic chemicals or were not low-trash.
"People deserve to know what's in their products that they're putting in their homes, that are touching their bodies, that are going on their clothes and into the water into the environment," she said. "I wanted to provide people with the products I make for myself because I think chemicals should have no place in our homes."
Singer has received a very positive response to her effort to provide clean, safe organic cleaning products for people who want it. Her Kickstarter campaign exceeded her $10,000 goal considerably, reaping $41,000.
The green entrepreneur now has 1,000 orders of natural three-ingredient laundry powder to fill, in addition to laundry balls, the reusable and sustainable equivalent to dryer sheets. Although the goal for any business is to sell units, Singer has a broader outlook.
"It's not the typical business model, but I kind of wish that everyone would make their products, which is to say that I wish that my business model didn't have to exist," she said. "Ultimately, my goal is for people to realize that you don't need toxic chemicals to clean your home."
As Singer continues to spread the green message, she acknowledges that diving into a total zero-waste lifestyle isn't for everyone, but small steps like bringing reusable cutlery to work and carrying a reusable bag can have a big impact.
"It is possible to not produce trash. It's definitely possible to produce less trash. Living sustainably is so stigmatized in a negative way -- but this is everybody's earth."
Check out Trash is for Tossers to learn more about your zero-waste options.
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