Talking Trash with Lauren Singer
Meet Lauren Singer - the voice behind the zero waste blog Trash is for Tossers and the CEO of the 100% sustainable goods store Package Free here in Brooklyn. To celebrate Plastic Free July, we chatted with Lauren on living a zero waste lifestyle, the impacts of Covid-19, and, of course, side hustles.
HUSTLE: You’ve been living a zero waste lifestyle for nearly a decade now. What was your initial path to it like?
Lauren: I originally went to NYU to study journalism and realized it wasn’t for me and switched majors to study environmental studies. I became really passionate about fighting against the oil and gas industry, particularly hydrofracking because of all of the environmental and human rights associated with it.
Hydrofracking (hydraulic fracturing) is the process of drilling deep into the earth in order to increase the flow of oil or natural gas to make it easier to extract fossil fuels.
In one of my classes, there was this girl who would bring this plastic bag full of food and then she would throw it all in the trash, which seemed like such a disconnect between what we were learning and what she was doing. So after class, I went home to make dinner and opened my fridge and saw that every single thing in there was packaged in plastic. And I felt like a huge hypocrite. So I made a decision to stop using plastic.
H: You mentioned that you went to NYU to study journalism and later got into environmental studies. What sparked this interest? Was it from your upbringing or were you always just a lover of the world and nature? Was there a specific moment?
L: It’s so funny. I was born in the city, so I feel like I have the city microbiome, which is why I think I’m so happy here. But when I was five, I moved up state to about an hour north of the city and I spent most of my time playing outside, by myself or with friends. I always imagined myself building my life off of the land. My favorite books were The Swiss Family Robinson or the Boxcar Children and it’s basically just individuals making these beautiful lives out of rocks and landfill waste and trees. I just thought it was so amazing.
This native way of living was always so inspiring to me, so I think that’s how I first got deeply connected with nature and then I think just system science really interests me and how it is kind of like art and it’s creative. You have to put these pieces that don’t necessarily go together to understand why something is the way that it is. When you look at nature and you realize it is so amazing and so beautiful and then you start learning about all the things that are destroying it and you have to ask yourself, what are we doing here? And for me, I inherently like to be a problem solver. This is the biggest problem I see our world facing and I just felt like I had to do something about it.
H: So besides co-leading the zero waste movement, what are some of your side hustles that people might not know about?
L: I’m obsessed with food. I love cooking. If I didn’t have Package Free, I would go to culinary school and open a restaurant.
H: What kind of food?
L: I love Italian food. I like cooking Italian food the most. I think it just makes you feel really warm and full.
I spend a lot of time with my friend Henry, who owns a bunch of restaurants here in New York and I’m inspired deeply by my friend Doug, who has a zero waste restaurant in the UK.
Food is my biggest passion that I do really nothing with.
H: Well it’s perfect for Covid! Speaking of, we know you spoke to this a little bit on your IG but how has the pandemic affected or challenged your lifestyle?
L: In the beginning, like everyone, I stocked up on food that was packaged in plastic because I made the decision that I’d rather be safe and respectful for myself and safe and respectful for other people and just stay inside rather than try going to the grocery store every few days to get everything I needed. Now we have more knowledge so you can go with a mask and whatever and you can buy fresh produce more easily. But back then, it was a big question mark. Like the farmers market, it was a question of should I go? So I just stocked up and used plastic but besides that, I feel like the world is operating differently but a lot of the systems still exist. I still get fresh fruit and vegetables and I go to the farmers market. There’s even a fresh produce section at the grocery store.
I have changed a little bit of what I’m eating. I’m eating less bulk stuff because obviously you can’t go to bulk bars anymore or that section of the grocery store but that’s pretty much it.
The cool thing about the way that I live is that I have all the ingredients that I need to make most of my beauty products and to make my cleaning products so it’s not like I need to go to a store and buy all of this stuff. I have everything here really. I just need some vinegar, baking soda, and coconut oil and I’m pretty much good to go.
H: Given that it is Plastic Free July, we have to ask––what are your top three summer essentials from Package Free that can help others reduce their waste too?
L: Sunscreen! We have a sunscreen that I’ve been using for years now called Raw Element. It comes in a tin. I love that because I love biking and I don’t love my legs and my arms being twenty different shades.
Shampoo bars are great for me in the summer especially if I’m going around and trying to take day trips or go swimming somewhere and want to shower off quickly and easily after. I just take a little chunk of a shampoo bar in one of the travel tins that we have and that makes it really easy.
We also have a face oil that I love but I have to give props to our menstrual cups. They’re amazing for summer. I know period products in the summer can be really stressful for people like having a tampon string come out or wearing a pad. Menstrual cups are so amazing because you can swim in them, you can exercise, and they’re just a very summer-friendly period product, so I would say menstrual cups are kind of my summer hero product.
Let me also say, we also have our pivoting head razor from this company called Leaf Shave. The thing about work from home is that you don’t have to shave your legs but when I do, I’m grateful for that because I was using a fixed head razor for awhile which we sell and I still love but I think the pivoting head is great for the bikini line and knees and those places that are definitely more summer places to approach.
H: Lastly, we want to know if there’s anything exciting that you want to share or looking forward to, whether that be personal or with Package Free or the blog.
L: We’re revamping Trash is for Tossers. We’ve been doing it in iterations. It looks like something right now but in a couple of weeks, it’ll look really different again. We’ve been updating it slowly to be more functional, which I’m really excited about.
I’m just excited that our team has been able to operate and just transition beautifully to work from home. I think something that I love is a lot of my team is getting pets so I’m really excited about seeing all the pets on Slack.
I’m trying to get nature time as much as possible. I think something that I just realized from working so much and also work from home is that you do realize you live in a city and I think that makes it very evident how badly I need to get out into nature.