Photos by Sasha Israel
NOT MANY PEOPLE CAN PULL OFF COMPOSTING WHILE WEARING CHANEL, EXCEPT FOR LAUREN SINGER. Singer, most known for her pioneering blog Trash Is For Tossers, could be described as the poster girl for zero waste lifestyle and is pulling it off quite fashionably. In case you’re not familiar, zero waste is described by Wikipedia as ‘a philosophy that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. No trash is sent to landfills or incinerators. The process recommended is one similar to the way that resources are reused in nature.” Translation: no trash. Seem impossible? Singer is proof it’s not. “It’s actually super easy to live this lifestyle,” says Singer perched on a barstool in her sunny home in Brooklyn. “I’ve become addicted to not having stuff and being minimalist. It made me realize I don’t really need stuff.” Indeed, her apartment is certainly free of clutter, but equally well-appointed with chic memorabilia: a longboard, an easel and a plush couch strewn with Mongolian-hair pillows. As for signifiers to that zero-waste life: a compost bin on the terrace, a nearly empty freezer and an enviably bare bathroom vanity save a glass jar of homemade toothpaste and a wooden toothbrush. It’s this marriage of style and substance that has made Singer a muse for a new generation interested in both aesthetics and the environment. Just ask her Instagram followers, which are over 83K and counting. So it comes as no surprise that when she launched her first product, a toxic-free laundry powder detergent dubbed The Simply Co., it was a major hit. Below, we sat down with Singer who talked traveling, tacos and toothpaste.
How has going zero waste changed the way you eat?
Since I started going zero waste, I get all my food from the farmer’s market or purchased in bulk. I eat locally and seasonally and that’s helped me feel a lot better. That means anything that’s not processed and nothing packaged. If I want something that’s considered junk, I go to the ice cream shop or I go to Marlow and Son’s and buy a pastry. If I’m eating junk food, then it’s something that’s local and fresh and made recently and it’s not crap that has preservatives.
Has that affected the way you shop for food or cook meals?
I’m always trying to plan out what I’m going to make but the farmer’s market really dictates my meal plan. During the week when I’m by myself, I like to steam vegetables with brown rice and I make pasta once a month. I’m really obsessed with making tortillas. I’ll make a week’s worth of tortillas and just have those in my fridge.
I was hungover one day and really wanted breakfast tacos and could not for the life of me get up and leave the house and go get tacos. All I had in my house was hot sauce, eggs, kale and flour. I was like, what can I do with this? So I made simple flour water tortillas. It worked and I was like, this is awesome.
What’s the hardest thing about being zero waste?
The hardest thing I did was trying to find alternatives to everything. Before I shopped at the farmer’s market, I didn’t know how to buy package-free. I didn’t know how to cook seasonally and I didn’t know what to do with a pile of vegetables. That took some time. Being regimented helped and being sure I go to the farmer’s market every Saturday and having all the ingredients to make my own beauty products.
Wait, you make your own beauty products?
I make everything except for makeup.
My toothpaste I make out of baking soda, coconut oil, stevia or peppermint essential oil. I buy the stevia in bulk. Sometimes you can buy it in a box so I’ll compost the box. For my face, I use a bar soap that my friend makes called Meow Meow Tweet. She makes a great shampoo bar too. For moisturizing oils, I’ll use jojoba or almond oil. For exfoliant I’ll use almond flour or sea salt. I package that in a mason jar.
Where do you source all of your containers from?
There is a website called Life Without Plastic and they have everything from stainless steel ice tray and stainless steel tins when I bring food to my office. They have compostable dish brushes and even bamboo toilet brushes, everything that you want completely plastic free.
What is the worst thing about using plastic?
From an environmental perspective, even just the process extracting the oil is really environmentally detrimental. You need millions of gallons of water, there is a lot of energy, a lot of truck trips, so you’re using more gas and oil. We know what happens with oil spills and what’s happening with tainted water with gas in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Just that extraction process is really bad.
Is there a personal health issue in using plastic goods?
Plastic has a lot of potentially toxic chemicals. Plastic leaches toxins in hot acidic environments and often times that’s when people put coffee in a plastic cup or microwave something. One of the biggest things I focus on is ocean plastic pollution. Plastic can be up to a million times more toxic in the water. What happens when plastic is floating in the ocean, the sun and the salinity in the water break it down to smaller more brittle pieces that are all carrying those toxins. Fish then mistake them for food. It starts low on the food chain. A small fish will eat a bite of that plastic and internalize those chemicals. The plastic stays in the stomach and bigger fish will eat the small fish. There is a process called bio-magnification where those chemicals just build up as you get up the food chain until they get to our plate.
So do you avoid seafood?
I do. I don’t really eat meat unless I know who killed it. The only animal products I really eat are dairy, eggs and honey. Meat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
What are easy ways that someone can go zero waste?
If you’re going to do anything to help the environment, not using plastic, not making trash or not eating meat are some of the easiest and biggest things you can do. Meat is expensive too so you save money.
Are there certain tools or tips people can use to help live lower waste?
There are simple things. Having to-go containers like stainless steel ones or mason jars to bring lunch instead of buying lunch. You save money and you eat healthier most likely because so much lunch takeaway is garbage. A reusable coffee cup is a good one. Refrigerator storage containers like vintage ones that you can find on Etsy. One of the first things I did was transition out all plastic material from my kitchen. I got rid of anything that was Teflon. I slowly transitioned out. I found a cast iron skillet at a Goodwill. My friend Chelsea Miller makes all my wooden cutting boards and my reusable bags are from a company called Ambatalia, which are all organic cotton and linen. They’re based on a folding method called furoshiki. It’s just a way to fold things where you can make a bag out of any fabric.
What about about shopping for clothes?
I buy everything secondhand. There are some really badass people who have companies with all organic and sustainable materials and are local. If I support them, I support the economy. But I mostly live at Beacon’s Closet and Second Time Around. There’s a novelty about digging for something.
How do you filter your water if you don’t drink bottled water?
I use a charcoal filter water. Charcoal is a natural filter.
Do you have any tips for traveling zero waste?
I’ll bring my reusable forks and always pack snacks. I also bring a mason jar with lemons so when I get on a plane I ask for hot water in the mason jar.
What inspired you to launch your laundry detergent line?
When I started to looking for products in stores, beauty products were definitely something I could find an alternative for. Cleaning products, however, were a different story. I started looking into the main brands and I learned there are thousands of industrial chemicals that are used and most of them are not tested for safety. In the U.S., it’s not mandatory for cleaning product manufacturers to disclose the ingredients of their products on their packaging. Even if something is labeled as sustainable or green. There’s no legal obligation to be transparent. I had been making my own laundry detergent at that point for three years and I knew it worked, I knew it was effective, it had 3 ingredients and was super sustainable. I decided to leave my job and start a laundry detergent company to everyone in my family’s dismay.
Were you successful at first?
I did a Kickstarter and I didn’t know if I would do well but I achieved my $10k goal in under 48 hours and ended up raising $42k to start the company. We deserve products that aren’t going to make us sick. We at the very least deserve to know what we’re poisoning ourselves with. I want to be the next best thing to everyone making their own products.
Lauren’s Easy Flour Tortilla Recipe
Tacos are my favorite because they can be the best vessel for cleaning out an end of the week fridge. You can put in leftover roasted vegetables, steamed vegetables, cabbage, fresh greens, avocado, lime juice, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, onions, and black beans and top with pickled spicy peppers and sour cream. I also love adding some queso fresco, which I can get package free at my local cheese shop. My favorite way to serve tacos is to let people make their own combination of ingredients, so I’ll put everything in bowls and let people build.