Here is the full transcript of Lauren Singer’s TEDx Talk titled “Why I Live A Zero Waste Life” at TEDxTeen event.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
Lauren Singer – Environmental Studies major
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 of chips, and she would eat all of this, and then class after class, would just throw it in the trash. Now 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, you go into the bathroom, and you brush your teeth. What is your toothbrush made out of? Plastic. What is your toothpaste probably packaged in? Plastic. 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 be able 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 kind of 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 that I could 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.
So 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 into 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 could get your teeth cleaned 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 over time 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 was easier to clean.
And when you have fewer things you realize that you take better care of them. Right? So 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 of 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. And so I don’t go shopping all the time now and you know just buy things on impulse. I only have what I really need.