Zero waste isn't just for hippies anymore

Lauren Singer and Daniel Silverstein founded Package Free, a shop online and in New York that sells sustainable products.

Story highlights

  • Package Free, a shop opening May 1 in New York, sells sustainable products
  • It's part of the zero-waste movement, which aims to reduce the amount of trash in landfills

New York (CNN)You'd be forgiven if you mistook the place for a nightclub or a gallery.

It has concrete floors, high ceilings and neon lights. And it's tucked away in Brooklyn's coolest neighborhood, Williamsburg, where alternative lifestylers, work-from-homers and celebrities pay an arm and a leg for apartments just one stop from Manhattan on the L train.
    But look closely: Instead of bottles of Mezcal lining the shelves, there's laundry detergent. Instead of fine art, there are shower curtains -- and everything is a tool to becoming zero waste.
      This is Package Free. And when the shop opens May 1, its goal is to give Brooklynites (and online shoppers) access to products that can help them inch toward being trash- and plastic-free. This means cloth produce bags, silicone menstrual cups and bamboo toothbrushes.
      Sound like hippy-dippy, tree-hugging nonsense? You're wrong. The zero-waste movement has teeth, and it's coming to a city near you.


        The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash every day. That means, every person in the US, on average, produces more than 1,600 pounds of garbage per year.
        About half of it ends up in landfills.
        Zero-wasters aim to obliterate that number. So, instead of sending trash to the dump, they refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.
        Bottles and jars line shelves at Package Free, a New York store that aims to reduce package waste and sell sustainable products.
        It's hard to say when the lifestyle movement started. Going Zero Waste blogger Kathryn Kellogg and others point to Bea Johnson as the mother of the movement.
        Johnson, a Frenchwoman who lives in California, has been living trash-free with her husband and two children since 2008; she published a book on the subject in 2013. When she started, zero waste was a term only used by the government and by companies that wanted to differentiate themselves from organizations they saw as less environmentally friendly.


        But the idea of zero waste and waste prevention in the US dates back to President George H.W. Bush. Under him, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act which angled to prevent or reduce pollution whenever possible and in turn spend less on controlling pollution.
        Bush's take, says NYU environment studies department chair Dale Jamieson, was: "If you don't create pollution and waste, you don't have to clean it up."