Why I live a zero waste life | Lauren Singer | TEDxTeen

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Translator: Bob Prottas Reviewer: Leonardo Silva

This is all of the trash that I've produced in the past 3 years.

When I say that, people think that I'm crazy, or that I'm lying,

or they'll ask me questions like:

"Hey. So, how do you wipe your butt?"


I live a zero waste lifestyle,

and I have for the past 3 years.

Now, zero waste, that's a pretty big idea. Right?

So let me define it for you.

To me living zero waste means that I don't make any trash.

So no sending anything to landfill, no sending anything in a garbage can,

and no spitting gum on the ground, and walking away.

Right? No trash.

This is a big concept, and this all started

when I was an environmental study student at NYU.

My senior year, I was taking a course called:

"The Environmental Studies Capstone course",

which is the culminating course that all environmental study students need to take

in order to go out into the world, and make it a more sustainable place.

Well, there was a girl in this class,

and every class she would have this big plastic bag,

with a plastic clamshell full of food,

a plastic fork and knife, a plastic water bottle,

and a plastic bag a chips,

and she would eat all of this,

and then class after class, would just throw it in the trash.

This was really frustrating, because here we were

these environmental study students trying to make the world a better place,

and there she was, throwing all this stuff into the garbage.

One day after class,

feeling still particularly upset about watching her throw everything away,

I went home to make dinner,

and I opened my fridge,

and noticed something that I had never seen before.

Every single thing in my fridge was in one way or another packaged in plastic,

and I couldn't believe it.

You know I was getting so mad at this girl for making so much plastic trash,

and it turns out that I was just as bad.

I was that girl, and so I made a decision in that moment.

I was going to stop using plastic.

Well, quitting plastic --


not so easy of a thing. Right?

When you think about your everyday life,

when you wake up in the morning, go into the bathroom, and you brush your teeth.

What is your toothbrush made out of?

(Audience softly) Plastic. LS: Plastic.

What is your toothpaste probably packaged in?

(Audience) Plastic.

LS: Your face wash, your moisturizer, your contact solution.

So many things that are in our everyday lives come packaged in plastic,

and so I realized that if I was going to move away from plastic,

the only way that I was going to do that

was to learn how to make my products myself.

Well, I don't know about you,

but I certainly didn't know how to make deodorant.

I didn't have the recipe just hanging out in my back pocket,

and so I realized that I had to do some research,

and while I was doing research online, I came across a blog called

the "Zero Waste Home" started by a woman named Bea Johnson

who is a wife, and mother of 2 kids, out in Mill Valley, California,

and the 4 of them live a completely zero waste life.

When I learned about Bea, and her family, my mind was completely blown.

I thought that I was doing the best thing for the planet

by not using any plastic.

But the idea that I didn't have to produce any trash,

was so empowering, and so inspiring,

and it made perfect sense. Right?

Because I was this Environmental Studies student,

I cared about the environment, studied sustainability,

talked about sustainability, protested for sustainability.

But I realized, that I wasn't actually implementing any of those values

into my day-to-day life, and so I made the decision to go zero waste.

Let me break it down for you, and tell you some of the things

that I did in order to make this transition a little easier.

The first thing that I did was I stopped buying packaged food.

So instead of going to the store, and buying things packaged

in paper, and glass, and plastic, I started bringing my own jars,

and bags to the store to fill with bulk, or package-free items.

I also started buying my fruit, and vegetables from the farmer's market.

So, package-free.

The second thing that I started doing

was I started making all of my own products.

Before I started living this lifestyle, my boyfriend at the time,

used to brush his teeth using baking soda,

and I thought he was probably the grossest person in the entire world. Right?

There's no way that you can get your teeth clean

using something like baking soda, it's gross.

Well fast-forward, and it turns out that the first product that I made

was toothpaste, made with baking soda.

So overtime I started making all of my own products.

When I would run out of something, instead of going to the store,

and buying a new one, I would learn how to make it myself.

So when I would run out of lotion, I learned how to make it myself.

Run out of deodorant, learn how to make it myself.

Over time, all of the things I had previously purchased,

were now, ones that I made myself.

The third thing that I started doing, was shopping second-hand.

So instead of buying new clothing,

and putting new waste into the waste cycle,

I would buy things that were totally recycled, second-hand.

So not making any new trash.

The fourth thing that I did was I downsized.

So I focused on having only the things that were truly necessary,

and that I really needed.

Well this was really, really hard

because I'm the kind of person who's really sentimental,

and I can tell you as to why a toothpick needs to be in my life.

But after I really got through that process, and I completely downsized,

I realized that I had so many fewer things in my life,

my home was less cluttered, and everything with easier to clean.

And when you have fewer things

you realize that you take better care of them. Right?

When you take better care of your things you don't have this mentality like:

"If I don't want this anymore I'll just throw it out and I get a new thing later."

No, I only had a few things and so I took care of them,

and wasn't sending anything to the landfill.

All this must sound pretty difficult. Right?

I assure you, it's not that hard.

I'm just an average, lazy person,

and I wouldn't live this lifestyle if it was difficult.

In fact the benefits of living this lifestyle

far outweigh any of the negatives that you can imagine.

The first benefit is that I save money.

So I save money when I buy my food,

and the products, and when I make my own products,

because I'm not paying for the embedded cost a packaging,

so things are cheaper.

I'm also saving money by shopping completely second-hand,

because second-hand clothing is usually less expensive than new clothing.

I'm also saving money because I've downsized.

I don't go shopping all the time now

and you know just buy things on impulse.

I only have what I really need.

The second benefit is that I eat better.

When I go shopping now I don't have the option to buy processed food products,

package-free, and so now my diet consists of things like fresh fruit and vegetables,

or bulk greens, and nuts that I buy with my jars and my bags.

And so when you eat better, you feel better.

Over these past few years, I've noticed that my weight has stabilized,

I have more energy, I need less sleep,

and when you're eating better, and you feel better,

and you save money, you're happier.

But besides those things I'm happier, because for the first time in my life,

I'm living in direct alignment with my values.

And why is this important? Right? Waste.

Well, waste is a really big problem.

In fact the average American person

produces approximately 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day.

Over the course of a year, that's like taking 8.5 of your best friends,

and throwing them in the trash.


Don't do that, it's not nice.


So, if you care about your friends, and you don't throw them away,

and you think that it's possible for you

to reduce how much trash you're producing,

I have 3 simple steps for you.

The first step is to actually look at your trash, and understand what it is.

Because you can't solve a problem of having a lot of waste

until you know what is it.

So when I did this exercise,

I realized that I had 3 main sources of trash.

The first was food packaging,

and so I learned how to shop in bulk or package-free.

The second was product packaging,

and so I learned how to make all of my own products.

And the third was organic food waste, and so I learned how to compost.

And just by identifying those 3 sources of waste and eliminating them,

I have reduced my trash by about 90%.

The second thing that I'd like to suggest is picking at the low-hanging fruit.

So doing little things, one-time changes in your everyday life

that have a large-scale, and long-term positive impact.

This includes things like using a reusable bag instead of a plastic or paper bag.

Or using a stainless steel, or glass water bottle,

instead of buying plastic water bottles.

Over the course of however long, you realize that these little changes

actually add up, and make a big difference.

The third thing that I'd like to suggest is the DIY

or actually learning how to make your products yourself.

Now I absolutely love doing this because when you go to a store,

and you have to buy products you kind of have to settle,

and accept them as they are. Right?

If you don't like the way they smell, too bad.

If you don't like the way they feel, sorry.

If you don't like what they're packaged in, you don't have a choice.

But for me, since I make all my own products,

If I don't like the way they smell, I change the scent.

If I don't like the ingredients in them, I change it.

If I don't like the packaging, it's my choice.

And so by making my own products I have complete control

over what I'm putting in my body.

Now I started living this lifestyle while I was still in college.

And when I graduated, I had a real job, a real-person job in sustainability,

which is exactly what you'd think I'd want to be doing. Right?

Well, at the same time I was still running my blog: "Trash is for tossers"

and I noticed that I was getting a recurring question,

and it went something like this:

"Dear Lauren, I absolutely love the products that you're making,

and I too want truly natural products.

But because of life, family, friends, blah, blah, blah, blah,

I just don't have time to make them myself.

Do you have any product that I can buy that are equivalent?

Thanks for your help. Lots of love. Person XYZ."

So I went to stores, and I started looking at products,

and while I found that they were beauty products

that were reminiscent of the ones that I was making myself,

I didn't notice the same trend for cleaning products.

When I looked at the ingredients of cleaning products,

even the "natural" cleaning products

contained ingredient that were really harmful.

Things that were carcinogenic, and endocrine-disruptive.

You know, when I looked into it further,

I learned that cleaning product manufacturers

aren't even legally required

to disclose the ingredients of their products

on the product packaging,

and so when we go and buy a product,

we're at the complete mercy of the company,

hoping that they have our best interest in mind.

I feel that we, as consumers, have a right to products that are transparent

and that aren't bad for us,

and so I started thinking about my own products,

the ones that I've been making for years.

That are safe, and effective, and have ingredients that I use to do things

like brush my teeth, or make salad dressing.

And I realized that I had an opportunity,

and so I quit my job, and started a company.

Because I feel like we, as human beings, have a right to products that are safe

for our homes, and our bodies, and the environment.

I get comments all the time, that I'm doing this for attention.

But I live this lifestyle for myself.

I would never tell anyone how to live

or how much trash that they should produce.

I just want to provide tools,

through my blog and my business,

for people, who like me,

want to reduce how much trash they're producing.

I live a zero waste lifestyle, because to me,

it's the best way I know, how to live a life

that aligns with everything that I believe in.

And what's the point. Right?

I'm just one person. What difference can I make?

The point is simple:

I want to be remembered for the things that I did while I was on this planet,

and not for the trash that I left behind.

Thank you.