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Top tips for living a zero waste lifestyle

Top tips for living a zero waste lifestyle
Lauren Singer with her homemade, zero waste toothpaste
For many of us, living a zero waste lifestyle is an inspirational yet unreachable goal. So many of the products we consume are packaged in unrecyclable materials – most commonly plastic or something combined with plastic – that committing to producing zero waste would be virtually impossible, right? Well, not according to Lauren Singer, a 25-year-old Environmental Studies graduate living a Zero Waste life in New York City.

Singer, who has been living her waste-free lifestyle for four years now, is able to fit all the waste she has produced over the last four years in a single mason jar. To help others who would like to follow in her footsteps, she has launched a popular blog,, documenting her zero waste lifestyle and providing advice to those who wish to cut the amount of waste they are producing.

We spoke to Singer to find out her recommendations for reducing the amount of waste we produce and making a transition towards a zero waste lifestyle.

The three first steps to living a zero waste life

When asked what the first steps we can take to living a zero waste life, Singer suggested three things.

The first step is to identify what exactly you are throwing away. “Just… identifying and creating a benchmark for when you start helps you pinpoint what problems you want to focus on first,” she says.

For Singer, this self-audit found that most of her trash was made up of food packaging, product packaging and food waste. To tackle this, she began shopping at farmers markets and buying in bulk in order to move away from the vast amount of packaging used on food products. In order to deal with the issues of product packaging, Singer began producing her own products, such as toothpaste and deodorant. Finally, to reduce food waste, she learnt how to compost.

Once this has been done, you’re ready for Singer’s second step: pick at the low-hanging fruit and make little one-time changes in your routine that create a positive and long-term impact on the environment.

As Singer says: “That can be anything from saying no to single-use plastic straws at restaurants and bars to using a reusable bag instead of a plastic bag.

“It’s a process, it’s baby steps. It’s like integrating little changes one step at a time. So if you find something that looks interesting and you start doing it and you achieve it and it becomes part of your routine, then you can move on to another thing and it’s a lot more approachable and a lot more palatable than trying to take on zero waste all at once.”

Top tips for living a zero waste lifestyle
The trash that Singer has generated in the last four years fits in a mason jar
The third step is to begin doing it yourself. According to Singer, making your own products rather than buying them not only reduces waste but can also save you money. A number of the different recipes for personal care products that Singer uses are on the blog, including a recipe for toothpaste, which can be made in “literally 30 seconds” from coconut oil and baking soda without any of the packaging. Once you start looking into these things, she says, you will be shocked at how easy and effective homemade versions of “mysterious” scientific things like toothpaste can be.

That sounds great, we say, but how do you find the time?

“Wouldn’t you have to go to the store and buy your deodorant anyway? How I think about it is that it’s one trip to the store to get all of the ingredients, or you could order them online if you wanted and then you have the ingredients in your home for the next six months of products. To have all the ingredients I need to just make something in my house within one minute is so convenient and so much faster.”


On her blog and during a TED talk delivered a few years ago (below), Singer mentions that another key step for beginners transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle is downsizing. By reducing the amount of stuff we have we can focus on the things that we really need, and then opt for more sustainable and reusable alternatives. By having fewer material commodities, we are able to really pay attention to the products that we use and throw away.

Singer also recommends acquiring multi-purpose belongings.. For example, cotton napkins can be used for storing and transporting foods as well as drying utensils. Similarly, mason jars can be used for storing and transporting food, as toothbrush holders and as lotion dispensers.

‘Recycling is a really great last resort’

For Singer, zero waste means putting nothing in the ‘trash’. While this means sending nothing to landfill, she fastidiously lives to the waste hierarchy, saying that for her recycling is a “last resort”.

“There are some things that I just can’t get plastic-free currently, due to the constraints of industry,” she says. “For instance, I wear contacts and so I have to buy my contact solution in a plastic container – that is the only thing they have available right now anywhere. Right now I have to buy it like that and recycle the container, but it is 100 per cent recyclable, but currently that’s until something better comes along.”

‘In Europe it’s so much easier to live a zero waste lifestyle’

Singer spends a lot of time travelling to give talks and spread her knowledge on living a zero waste lifestyle; she tells us that if she can live a zero waste lifestyle in New York City, we can certainly make significant reductions in the waste we produce over here in the UK and other countries in Europe.

“In Europe it’s so much easier to live a zero waste lifestyle compared to America… Americans are so freaking afraid of germs, it’s insane.

“So, when I go to France and I’m like ‘Can I have a baguette but just in my hand?’ they’re like ‘Sure, whatever.’ Here they’d be like, ‘We have to put it in a plastic bag and put on gloves and a full body suit.’

“People are really afraid of contact with germs here [in America] and in the UK and France people are much more open to just selling things in bulk and handing you an ingredient.”

Zero waste alternatives

The hardest part of starting a less wasteful life is not actually doing it, but finding out how to do it, says Singer, and the growing zero waste community is helping with this. She says that there isn’t anything she has found really challenging to cut out to reduce waste, but the hardest part for her was researching zero waste alternatives.

“For me, when I started living this lifestyle, there was maybe just one resource for zero waste living and so finding solutions to problems was like you have to ask the internet, which is like diving into the ocean trying to find a grain of sand.”

Singer told us that this was the reason she started her blog, to make it much easier for people researching ways to transition to a zero waste lifestyle.

She uses the blog to highlight zero waste alternatives and make it as easy as possible to discover and discuss ways of lowering your waste footprint. Some examples include:

  • Using organic coconut oil and reusable cotton rounds in place of disposable make up wipes.
  • Using unwrapped bulk soap bars rather than body wash sold in plastic bottles.
  • Employing old newspapers and biodegradable twine in place of wrapping paper for birthday and Christmas presents.
  • Using mason jars for transporting food rather than plastic tupperware.

Singer believes that transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle is “actually pretty simple if someone wants to do it now”, adding: “Just pick something up and start from there.”  

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