Lauren Singer loves the earth. She recalls childhood memories of playing outside, pretending to live off the land, connecting with the earth in a potent, meaningful way from the time she was able to take her first steps across its surface. This love for our planet is at the forefront of everything she does, and it’s what led her, nine years ago, to begin her journey of living a zero waste life. In the time since, she has held a popular TED Talk on the subject of living sustainably, started her wildly popular blog, Trash is for Tossers, and created Package Free Shop, which caters to selling basic necessities that are constructed kindly and without plastic. She is a pioneer of the zero waste lifestyle and someone we’ve looked up to for so long. We were overjoyed when she agreed to talk with us, and came away with so much appreciation and awe for her commitment to Honoring Mother Earth.
Lauren wears The Bergen Dress in Autumn Leaves.
Your personal and professional life pivot around sustainability and honoring Mother Earth - we love it! Was sustainability a big part of your experience growing up? Or was it only after your “ah-ha” moment that these things took the lead?
I spent most of my time as a child playing outside, whether with neighbors or running around in the leaves alone pretending I was living off of the land. No matter what my life is like, good or bad, up or down, being outside makes me feel safe and at home so I think of what I do as not just honoring the earth, but as doing everything I can to protect my home.
Speaking of your “ah-ha” moment - we know your journey began when you looked into your fridge and noticed that almost everything in there was packaged in plastic. Have there been more moments like this since?
Definitely. Most recently it was the fires in Australia. I spent time crying looking at photos of the damage and feeling helpless. Then I started to think about why these fires were happening in the first place, and a major contributor is climate change. What causes climate change? Choices that I, that we, choose or don’t choose to make every day like using plastic, eating animals, and reducing energy usage. So I realized I didn’t have to feel helpless, I could do something today by reducing my personal impact on the climate. I now think, ‘if you don’t want fires in Australia, stop using plastic’. It’s all connected.
It can be scary sharing so much of your journey on social media! What has been the most rewarding thing about social media? The most challenging?
When I started living a zero waste lifestyle almost 9 years ago, the community of people interested in sustainability that I had to connect with, relate to, and meet was SO small or very hard to find. Now, I probably couldn’t meet everyone interested in zero waste if I tried! Social media has allowed me to talk about my zero waste lifestyle and introduce it to people who might not have heard about it otherwise, and thus allow them to think about the options that we have in terms of the ways we can live and the impact we can have on the planet exponentially speeding up the rate of adoption and potential positive impact we can all have. I am so grateful for social media in that regard: how quickly messaging can be spread and action can be taken to do something positive like lessen environmental impact and reduce plastic.
Lauren wears The Simone Dress in Cream Embroider
What remains the most difficult part of living a waste-free life? Is there something in particular that you love but choose not to buy or consume because of its negative impact on the environment?
I never feel like I've sacrificed anything to live a zero waste lifestyle, in fact, I feel like I've gained so much. From saving money to eating healthier, to living in alignment with my values. Had I not started to reflect on my personal and day to day impact on the planet, I wouldn’t have started Package Free, wouldn’t have met any of the wonderful men I have dated in the past (yes, living my values has TOTALLY helped me meet guys!), wouldn’t have so many of my friends, and wouldn’t have realized that I, even as just one person, have the power to make a positive impact.
You’re at the helm of a celebrated and pioneering sustainable company, Package Free Shop! What’s been the most rewarding part of that experience? What do you envision for the future?
For me, it’s all about the impact. Since launching, we have kept over 100 million pieces of trash out of landfills which blows my mind every time I think about it. I used to think, I'm just one person, what can I do, but it goes back to the idea that one person truly can make a difference, and after building an incredible, predominantly female team of over 50 people now, that positive impact will only continue to scale which I am amazed, humbled, and energized by every day.
Another really rewarding moment was when I closed my round of fundraising. Did you know that only 2.2% of venture funds went to women in 2018? That’s a number that definitely needs to change, and I feel really proud to be a part of that change.
As a sustainable fashion company, we of course have to ask what’s in your closet! What are your thoughts on sustainable fashion versus second-hand clothing?
My closet is predominantly secondhand clothing because I like to extend the life of items that are already in the waste stream or that have been manufactured. The truth is, it’s really hard to find sustainably made clothing that is also flattering, aspirational, timeless, and makes me feel sexy. Christy Dawn is one of the few companies I can think of that checks all of those boxes.
What’s in your bag when you leave the house? It must be tough to prepare for a waste-free day in New York City!
It’s actually really, really easy to have a waste free day in NYC! Especially at my office. I head into the office with my bag filled with a few essential makeup items (refillable blush, lip moisturizer), a reusable coffee cup filled with what is probably already my 3rd cup of coffee, my cellphone, and wallet. If I bring my lunch, I have it in one of our stainless steel containers from Package Free! That’s it! When I get to the office, I have my refillable tumbler for water, and we have bulk snacks and reusable silverware for any food!
For anyone foraying into the world of sustainability, what’s one thing they can change about their day-to-day that will have the most positive impact?
I always say that any positive step towards reducing your waste is positive, so just start! I typically don’t suggest one place to start because what might be easy for me, might be hard for you and vice versa. My blog, Trash is for Tossers, has so many different ways to reduce your waste, so I recommend scrolling through, finding something you like or that looks interesting, trying it out, incorporating it into your routine, and then trying something else! To me, sustainably reducing your waste so that the changes stick is a process that takes time. It’s all about the baby steps!
So many people look up to you, and a search of your name returns so many inspiring videos and interviews to read! Has this ever felt overwhelming, or does it feel like second nature to you?
The internet is funny. Since most of the work I've done is digital, my life from a day to day perspective feels exactly the same because I'm not realllly aware of the reach my content has had. Plus, I just feel like I get to talk about what I love all day, so if anything, I'm more amazed that I'm able to do what I love and I feel so lucky about it! Rose (my dog), on the other hand, definitely has an idea of the reach because she gets recognized in the street all the time from my social media, and I try to tell her not to get a big head, but she loves it :)
Who do you look up to? You’ve mentioned Zero Waste Home as being an early source of inspiration to you (we love that family, too!), but is there anyone you’re looking to now for fresh ideas?
I don’t believe in sitting around waiting for the world to change. We, as individuals are SO powerful and have the ability to make such a positive impact. So to me, anyone who sees a problem in the world, no matter how big or how small, and takes personal responsibility to do something about it, is a hero in my book.
It can be tough, in our current climate, to stay inspired and excited about the state of things. With that in mind, what would you say is the most inspiring thing about humanity?
I always remind myself that the planet would be fine without us as we are the most destructive species on earth. Truly, we are the only species on the planet that has the capacity to destroy it for everything else that lives here. So when I fight for the planet, for my home, I'm also fighting for my family, our species, because humans, even though we’re capable of so much bad, so much destruction, we’re also capable of creating so much good, positive impact, and beauty. We feel SO HARD and that feeling creates magic. What makes us so unique is our ability to communicate our infinite spectrum of feelings: love, anger, hate, excitement, euphoria, pain, etc., by making art, films, paintings, books, buildings, airplanes, spaceships, FIRE! We’re hungry to express and learn and grow and build and it’s incredible and unique to us. The question I ask is, how can we be all of the amazing things humans are, in a way that also protects all of the perfect that the planet is?