Going Green

Four years’ trash, one jar … zero waste

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Story highlights

Lauren Singer has zero-waste lifestyle

Stores four years of plastic waste in a jar

New Yorker avoids packaging "at all costs"

CNN  — 

Meet Lauren Singer, a regular New Yorker with one key difference – a zero waste lifestyle … and she’s got a jar to prove it.

“Within the past four years all the trash that I’ve produced can fit within a 16 oz mason jar,” says Singer, whose blog Trash is for Tossers shines a light on how to live sustainably.

She says compared to the average American, who produces on average around 4.5 pounds (two kilos) of trash per day, she’s saved over 6,000 pounds (2,720 kilos) of it from going to landfill sites.

“I do compost and recycle but only as a last resort – I try to avoid packaging at all costs,” says the 25-year-old.

Saying goodbye to plastic

It all started when she was studying Environmental Science at New York University, when she discovered her passion for sustainability was limited to the classroom.

Read: BPA-free plastic alternatives may not be as safe as you think

“One day I went home after class and opened my fridge to make dinner, and I realized that every single thing that I had in there was packaged in plastic.”

singer zero waste tz
How to keep four years of trash in one jar
03:05 - Source: CNN

It was a light bulb moment for Singer, who quickly decided to make some changes – first by going plastic free, and then by committing to a zero waste lifestyle.

‘I’m incredibly lazy’

With plastic bags, bottles and cutlery becoming part of everyday life, it may feel like drastic changes have to be made in order to “go green,” but Singer believes anyone can do it.

“I am incredibly lazy – I would never live a zero waste lifestyle if it meant spending extra time doing things to live this lifestyle. Contrary to what people think or might assume it’s actually very easy.”

It’s about making small changes. For example, if you order a drink at a bar, just ask the bartender to not put a straw in your drink, Singer suggests. When you go shopping, take a cloth bag with you. And if you can’t find toothpaste that doesn’t come in a plastic tube, make your own.

“Everyone thinks it’s really hard to make your own toothpaste but I think it’s hard to go and buy my own,” says Singer.

“I would have to get dressed, walk to the store, buy toothpaste, walk back - and I’ve spent $8 and wasted 30 minutes of my day. Whereas if I make my own toothpaste, it’s three ingredients, I can do it naked in my kitchen and it takes me 30 seconds and doesn’t cost more than 50 cents.”

So … what’s in the jar?

From ditching packaging to making her own products, Singer has become an expert in living waste free. But she still accumulates the odd bit of plastic – even if it’s only enough to fit in a 16 oz jar.

Little stickers on fruit and veg can’t be recycled, and although Singer only buys clothes in secondhand stores, the bits of plastic connecting the price tags also go straight in the jar.

“It’s plastic that no one will recycle … I like to collect my trash just because it helps me see what problems are difficult to avoid.”

Check your trash

One of the ways Singer hopes to solve the landfill problem is to inspire people to cut down on their waste.

She says the easiest way to begin a sustainable lifestyle is just to start. Whether it’s drinking from a reusable bottle or visiting the farmers’ market, you have to make a first move, no matter how small.

Read: How trash in the ocean is littering Hawaii’s beaches

Second, go through your trash and see what you’re throwing away. If there’s lots of food waste consider doing small, regular shops to avoid food going moldy.

Third, change the products you use. Try brushing your teeth with a bamboo toothbrush, washing with hard soap rather than bottled products, and cleaning your house using vinegar instead of commercial chemicals. You may even find these options work out cheaper.

It won’t break the bank

Not only has Singer saved lots of money, she’s also eating a lot healthier, and has come to love her minimalist lifestyle, which she says is not just for the privileged few.

MORE: Ocean plastic ‘at tipping point’

“People assume you’re talking about upper class white people that have the money to buy organic products. It’s a really funny comparison. Living a zero waste lifestyle has afforded me a lot of things.”

So whether you want to save money or save the planet, the zero waste lifestyle might be worth a try.

“I’ve changed my lifestyle and prevented thousands of pounds of trash going to landfill,” says Singer. “I believe that one person can make a difference, it’s just having a desire to do so.”

Look out for environmental news and features this July during International Desk (14.30 GMT) and The World Right Now (19:00 GMT) or visit our Going Green web pages