Spotlight TEDx Talk: Why I live a zero waste life

Lauren Singer at TEDxTeen (Photo: TEDxTeen)

Lauren Singer at TEDxTeen (Photo: TEDxTeen)

Lauren Singer can fit all the trash she’s produced in three years into a jam jar. At TEDxTeen, she explains what has inspired her mission to produce as little trash as possible — or no trash at all — what she calls a zero waste lifestyle.

“To me, living a zero waste lifestyle means that I don’t make any trash,” she says, “so no sending anything to a landfill, no sending anything into a garbage can and no spitting gum on the ground and walking away.”

Singer’s change of lifestyle came in college when she started to take note of how much plastic she threw away each day. One night, making dinner, she had an epiphany: “I opened my fridge and noticed something I had never seen before: Every single thing in my fridge was one way or another covered in plastic.”

That night, she decided to quit plastic. It wasn’t easy, she says. “When you think about your everyday life, you wake up in the morning, you brush your teeth. What is your toothbrush made of? Plastic. What is your toothpaste packaged in? Your face wash, your moisturizer, your contact solution, so many things that are in our everyday lives are covered in plastic,” she says, “so I realized that if I was going to move away from plastic, the only way I was going to be able to do that was by learning to make my products myself.”

After quitting plastic, Singer went a step farther — she decided to go zero waste. She learned to make toothpaste, lotion, deodorant. She stopped buying new products — whenever possible, she bought items secondhand. She bought less things; she ate only food without packaging; she downsized her possessions.

For more on Singer’s zero waste mission, watch the whole talk below:

Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:

The speaker delivers a clear, straightforward talk on her idea — recognizing the realities of how much waste each of us produce daily and how that affects the environment — using her experience of deciding to cut back on her own personal waste as an example. She has a background in environmental studies and uses her knowledge of this to support her talk.


  1. Eric Ostlie

    I think that this is a superb idea. Just as it states in the article, it takes a lot to do something of this nature. Learning to make and crate the things we need so our hearts mission is continued.

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  3. Low income

    Sadly this isn’t possible for a low income household. Food shopping when buying cans and packages $300. When buying only non packaged items $1,600

    I wonder where the savings is she is talking about?

    • Lila Holmen

      This really IS possible. I know that the effort required is daunting and maybe you just can’t squeeze another hour into your day to do this. I grew up on a farm where my parents and 9 children survived on dairy, meat, produce and baking from scratch but as we can’t all live on farms, there are bulk stores where you do not have to use expensive organic products. Mine weighs my glass containers and subtracts the weight of them for the food price. I feel your pain of low income and can only suggest that you read up more and learn about buying non packaged food. Good luck!

    • Lauren

      what a defeatist reply. where did you get those numbers?

    • Eric Ostlie

      I wonder how many of these house hold you are describing are places with back yards, where with a little WORK and very little cast someone could produce there own food in a garden and save almost all there money on produce! Leaving a bigger amount to buy the other requirements of the home? Just a thought! Biggest problem is space and that hing WORK! Gardening is not easy!

  4. Iin Retno

    Absolutely amazingly inspiring young lady – will definitely try to implement some of her ideas – unfortunately, still not all yet, but am striving to do so…
    Thank you, as always, TED Talks!

  5. Its a good idea, and I would love to try it, but making your own products and stopping other plastic products is really difficu;t. I love how you have overcomed all this issues and are leading a complete zero waste life! Kudos

  6. chaaaaaaa

    This young lady gave a good idea and she wants to save our environment and earth. Thanks for give an inspiring talks. good job .

  7. Carol

    I live in a two-person household with a $400.00 a month food budget, and for us it absolutely is possible. A long time ago I pondered the question “where is ‘away’?” when we throw things in the trash. The reality is, I know. I try to imagine if there were no trash collection, and I had to put my waste in my own back yard and live with my choices everyday and for the rest of my life. And I’m old enough to remember a time before plastics, recycle bins and styrofoam containers were commonplace. So a few years ago I purchased some organic cotton string bags and mesh produce bags on the ecobags website, and I haven’t looked back. Two thrift stores are walking distance from where I live, and even when I could afford to spend so much more, I chose to shop there. “It’s only new once…one man’s trash…etc…etc…” This way of life fits my values to the core, and finding a way to make it work for me wasn’t an option, but an odyssey. Long ago I saved and reused Lorina glass bottles to refill with water, discovered Anchor Hocking glass containers were still being nade, and happily discovered what a tiffin tin was. I voluntarily made slow but sure, conscious changes to my life, and thanks to others on this zero waste journey, I not only believe in what is possible, I am living proof that is practical.

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  9. That’s good idea , i also want to do it, but it’s difficult. But you make me believe i can do it :))

  10. Jam

    so does she make her own makeup? And how does she wipe her ass?

  11. Liza

    Do not the items she uses to create her own products come in packages? I have never seen package free baking soda? This is a great concept, but I am still suspect about the jam jar thing.

  12. ole

    Until government realizes she represents a threat to garbage collection big business and arrests her like the guy in Oregon for collecting rain water. WTH owns the rain?. To good to be true.

  13. thank you Lauren, I am living almost zero wastlife myself. its very good to do with low income. like myself. because i live with little finance and with this way of live i have a rich live now. Thank you for your enthousiasm, it incorridge me to go further and the hope youngones see how it must be done.

  14. I think that a ” zero waste life” is a wonderful choice, that all of us should make, this would probably be a much better world if we all did….
    I chose to contribute my grain of sand by recycling plastic bags into artwork and design.

  15. Econ

    Making your own products should be economical. Taking the labor and shipping out of your purchases. Good for her.

  16. Mireille

    My trash was something I had not thought about or even considered but it will be receiving my close attention and scrutiny from this point forward. Does anyone know of any websites for recipes of lotions, toothpastes, deodorants, cleaners etc that you can recommend? Thank you. A welcomed eye opener.

  17. Jenn

    I’ve been doing this since I saw No Impact Man around 2009. Yes it is difficult, but once you get on the track, it gets easier. I fell off for a few years but Im back on now. So embarrassed at how much trash just buying cereal or strawberries cost. For instance, this weekend I went to 3 grocery stores and the farmers market and all the berries were in plastic. I had to go without berries. That was my decision.
    I used to make my own laundry products, shampoo, creams, lotions etc…I still make my own body scrubs and body oils. That can get expensive, but it is do-able. It’s all do-able, we just have to get into an “enough” mindset. Meaning, I have enough. I don’t need more. Good for her! She revived my inspirational juices to keep moving towards zero waste. One step at a time.

  18. iisa

    Hi lovely lauren! Thanks for the inspiration. Just a quick question: making your own products you often need baking soda. How do you buy that without plastic package at first place? Much love xx will look into this and defenetely start making my own products. Already made that toothpast. How easy!

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  20. Galen

    Three years of waste in a small jam jar?


    How much waste did she help produce travelling to the TedTalk?

  21. Harriet

    Very interesting story. Would love to hear more into detail

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  23. All you need is a dedication and proper preparation! I admire her because she not only quit her lifestyle, but also because she embrace a complete zero waste living. And that’s a tough one!

  24. Amethyst Rose

    Thanks for the toothpaste idea. Another video interview showed her making it, I’ve been tossing around the idea of reducing my fluoride consumption. Off toptic but it answered a question in my mind.
    Reducing my personal waste seems like a great idea. Just put a compost spot in the backyard too.

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  26. Ezra

    Wow I mean just WOW it’s awesome how big a charge 1 person can make my class is doing a zero waste project over brake

  27. April

    What about cleaning supplies? Laundry soap?

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