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Q&A With Lauren Singer of Package Free

Name / Occupation: Lauren Singer / Founder and CEO of Package Free, and Founder of the blog, Trash Is For Tossers.

Finish this sentence - I’m a woman on a mission to create a positive environmental impact.

How do you define “zero waste” and what does it mean to you?

I define Zero Waste as sending nothing to landfill. I focus my energy on reducing landfill trash because landfills are one of the top 3 drivers of methane emissions — a greenhouse gas that is significantly more powerful of a warming gas than CO2. I mainly do this by saying no to disposable single use plastic items (reusables from Package Free help me do this!), composting, recycling, shopping second hand, and advocating for change within my local community.

FEED x Package Free: The Little Carryall

From a well-read blog, to a line of homemade, sustainable, household cleaning products, to a zero waste brand with two store locations in NYC, your career path is pretty incredible (and we get the sense you're just getting started). Tell us your story and what inspired it.

Back in 2012, I was studying Environmental Science at NYU and I spent much of my spare time protesting against fracking and big oil. In one of my classes Senior year, a classmate of mine would bring takeout lunch every day, and at the end of the class, she would throw away the plastic clamshell, bag, and utensils on her way out the door. I watched this happen over and over again, and one day I remember thinking to myself, “How can you care about the environment and still create so much waste?” That night when making dinner, I opened my refrigerator and realized that I was doing the exact same thing: EVERYTHING was packaged in plastic. I kept looking around my apartment — in my bathroom, my beauty cabinet, my cleaning products, and my closet — and realized that everything was plastic in one way or another. I realized that I wasn’t living in alignment with my values, and that my daily actions were subsidizing the very industry that I had been protesting against. That night I decided to change my consumption habits and eliminate plastic and excess waste from my life.

I launched the blog, Trash Is For Tossers, to document my Zero Waste journey. I wanted to share recipes and DIYs for plastic free products, and to show that reducing your individual waste can be simple, cost effective, and fun! In 2014, while working as Sustainability Manager at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, I received feedback from my Trash Is For Tossers community that people wanted Zero Waste products, but they didn’t have the time to make them themselves. This led me to launch my first company, The Simply Co., a 3-ingredient Organic, vegan laundry detergent powder that is safe for our homes, our bodies, and the environment. Shortly after, I gave a TED Talk that helped spread the message of Zero Waste and connected me to other sustainability enthusiasts and people on missions to solve environmental problems through products. In 2017, I launched Package Free to create a united space for these makers of sustainable products that help reduce waste and make the world less trashy!

What is the one thing you wish everyone understood about living a zero waste lifestyle?

That Zero Waste can be easy, cost effective, fun! You don’t need to fit all of your trash into a jar like me to have a positive impact on the environment, every small step is a positive one. That can mean saying “no, thank you” to a plastic bag at the store, starting a compost, or remembering to bring a water bottle with you so you don’t have to buy a plastic one on the go. Reducing my waste has also helped me save tens of thousands of dollars over time, because I make many of my own products in bulk (it’s fun, trust me!) and invest in reusable items that last significantly longer than disposable options and don’t have to be replaced as often.

How do you think living and working in a major city has impacted your zero waste journey?

Easy access to bulk stores, second hand stores, and great farmers markets with package free produce are definitely bonuses of living in a major city. Before COVID hit, wide access to public transportation was definitely a plus for me as well. But that doesn’t mean you have to live in a major city to live more sustainably. For example, my family who lives upstate takes steps like growing their own vegetables and herbs, carpooling when possible, cooking lots of items from scratch, trying out DIY, and composting in their backyard.

We love how you’ve played a role in “rebranding” the idea of living sustainably and doing everything with the planet in mind, proving that it is possible to love fashion while being very mindful! What are your top tips for shopping & accessorizing sustainability?

I buy most of my clothes secondhand. Secondhand clothes are already in the waste stream, but are still wearable, so shopping second hand gives them a new life and prevents perfectly good products from ending up in landfill. When I shop, I look for classic, versatile pieces that can be endlessly styled, and worn many ways so I don’t have to buy new clothes to wear new looks. I also only wear natural materials like Organic cotton, linen, hemp, and wool rather than synthetic materials.

If I ever want something new, I evaluate my closet and see if I really need it. If I do, I try to see if there is anything that I can sell to replace it with. I like to keep a small wardrobe, and I only invest in things that are absolutely necessary — aka I never impulse shop!

This might be a hard one, but what’s your go-to, can’t-live-without, item from Package Free?

My menstrual cup! Close to 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year—which can take centuries to breakdown. The average menstruating person uses over 11,000 tampons over their lifetime, and the applicators leave behind waste that lasts way longer than their lifespan. Did you know that tampon applicators are amongst the most common plastic items collected in beach clean ups?

My menstrual cup has seriously changed my life. It’s helped save me so much money, it’s a comfortable solution to period waste, and the best part is, it lasts up to 12 hours so you don’t have to worry about cleaning it while on the go—life saver.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced building your businesses and contributing to the growing zero waste movement?

I wish I could go faster. We have less than 10 years to mitigate the climate crisis, and while I feel that we have made great progress at Package Free, and as a global community, we still have a lot of work to do, and quickly!

What’s next for Package Free?

At Package Free, we aggregate the best sustainable alternatives to the products that people use daily. We will continue to grow our assortment and work with our customers to understand what sustainable solutions they are looking for, and then help to bring them to life!

FEED Fire Round with Lauren Singer

Coffee or tea? Coffee.

Minimalist or maximalist? Neither - I have 50 plants but one cup I like to use every day. For me, it’s about balance and having items in my home that I love, align with my values, and that make me happy.

The FEED bag that’s so me is: The market tote - I’ve used it for traveling upstate and for big grocery hauls. It’s so versatile, and I love when the items in my life can be used for more than one thing!

The #1 thing that gets me up and out of bed in the morning is: My puppy rose and I go outside first thing in the morning, and the fresh air charges me to take on my mission to create large scale positive environmental impact.

Early bird or night owl? Both and neither. I love an early morning and a super late night.

Manhattan or Brooklyn? Brooklyn!!

Three things I always have in my bag: Dog treats, Package Free hand sanitizer, and the Meow Meow Tweet lip balm from Package Free.

Giving back for me, means: Empowering positive change through business, supporting the community, and working to leave the planet better than I found it.

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