Think about how much garbage you produce in a day, a week or even a month. If you’re anything like the average American, it’s probably quite a bit. In 2012, the average U.S. household produced 1,600 pounds of trash, and America as a whole produced about 251 million tons of trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s enough to cover the state of Texas in garbage 2.5 times over.
America accounts for about one-third of the world’s waste, and a lot of plastic waste ends up in our oceans. More than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year after consuming trash that they mistake for food.
Waste management is a $52 billion industry, but one 23-year-old environmentalist is attempting to put a dent in that. Lauren Singer has lived a trash-free life for nearly two years. All of the non-recyclable garbage she has produced in that time fits neatly inside one of the mason jars she carries her coffee and snacks in.
Singer began her zero-waste lifestyle after becoming annoyed with a classmate who would constantly use plastic utensils and water bottles without recycling. One day after class, she went home to prepare dinner and realized how much plastic she was using herself. “I decided in that moment to quit plastic,” she says. Singer learned how to turn away from things conventionally packaged in plastic. She began to make her own toothpaste, deodorant and laundry detergent.
As a side benefit, Singer has found that it’s been a great way to save money.
“I’m saving at least $100 on groceries, and I’m still buying organic, healthy food,” she says. “You pay a premium for packaging…before I would just go to the market and buy whatever looked good to me, now I go in with a plan because I need to buy jars and bags and be prepared.” Singer estimates she pays about $60 per week on groceries instead of the $200 or so she used to spend.
Singer is realistic about a zero-waste lifestyle; it’s not for everybody. But, she does have “low-hanging fruit,” or easy tips you can follow to reduce waste in your home.
Know your garbage
“You can’t eliminate garbage if you don’t know what your garbage is,” explains Singer. She suggests looking through your garbage can and figuring out what’s in there. Singer found she had thrown out a lot of food scraps (food makes up about 7.5% of American trash), and food packaging. Singer addressed the problem by learning to compost and shop in bulk to eliminate the problem.
Transition out products
“Instead of using a plastic or paper bag at the store, bring your own bag,” says Singer. “Or instead of using a paper or plastic coffee cup, bring a mason jar.” These simple swaps end up reducing a significant amount of waste. Singer also carries a stainless steal straw and fork with her so she doesn’t have to use plastic while out.
Another easy transition is to swap plastic toothbrushes for those made from bamboo. “This is the easiest transition…these toothbrushes are 100% compostable so you’re not sending something to the landfill every three months,” she says.
Make it yourself
This step is a bit more complicated than the other two, but Singer says families often find it to be a fun project to embark on together. She lists simple ways to make deodorant, tooth paste and more on her website, Trash is for Tossers.
“It’s a process but it’s fun and it’s nice to conquer something,” she says.
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