In 2019, it’s not unusual to bring your own canvas bag to the grocery store, sip cold brew from a metal straw or lather up a bar of shampoo in the shower. It seems living sustainably is more accessible than ever. Still, the growing zero-waste movement (the practice of eliminating your trash output completely) feels daunting. You want to stop stuffing your trash and recycling bins every day, but where on (this precious) earth do you start?
To find out, we turned to the entrepreneur who’s made living without waste her mission. Lauren Singer first gained popularity for storing eight years of trash into a single 16-ounce mason jar (here’s proof). She’s since founded Package Free, the zero-waste shop where those looking to ditch single-use items can pick up durable, eco-friendly replacements. The activist documents her journey sans-garbage on her popular content platform, Trash Is for Tossers, where you’ll find shots of fresh produce spilling out of chic netted bags, genius sustainable tricks and pics of Singer’s pup, Rosie. Inspired? Same. Here are Singer’s five easy tips for cutting back on trash:
1. Don’t get discouraged
It’s easy to assume going zero waste is a rigid, all-or-nothing switch, but Singer tells us no one has to make the lifestyle change overnight. Instead, she’s excited to see people taking any steps, no matter how small, towards minimizing trash. And for those who think cost is an exclusionary factor, Singer finds the opposite to be true. “I have saved so much money by buying non-packaged food and secondhand shopping,” she shares.
2. Start saying no
Next time you’re offered a single-use bag at the market or plastic utensils when grabbing a salad at that spot near your office, simply opt out. “Saying no is free and has a big impact,” says Singer. Why let a plastic spoon go to waste when you’ve got 15 metal ones at home? Plus, a growing number of food chains, like Starbucks and Just Salad, now offer discounts for customers who bring their own reusable goods. Score.
3. Scope out your trash situation
The answer to living sustainably might be hanging out in your trash can. That’s right, Singer suggests looking at what you’re throwing away most to find out which reusable solution is right for you. If your bags are loaded with plastic water bottles, for example, investing in a steel version might make the most sense.
4. Ease into it
Singer advises making one small change at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. If you’ve decided to trade Ziplocs for glass containers, take some time adjusting how you incorporate them into yours or your kids’ lunches. And if there’s something you’re excited about a few months later (hello, bamboo toothbrush), go for it.
5. Waste not, well, you know
When you’re mindful of your trash, you may find yourself questioning what you’re bringing into your home, too. Do you really need another red lipstick or a beaded dress you “might wear if a Gatsby-themed soiree presents itself”? Singer has welcomed this newfound minimalism since changing up her waste habits. “I realized that it’s not about using as many products as possible. Consumer culture has led us to believe that we need to have lots of products in order to feel our best, but I realized through living zero waste that it is about choosing each product based on how I feel using it.” (Spoiler: doing what you can to help out the planet feels pretty damn good.)