Trash is For Tossers: How to Live a Zero-Waste Life in NYC

From composting to simple ways to change your lifestyle, here are some tips for living green in the Big Apple


Throughout the city, it seems like unnecessary waste can be found everywhere. From one-use plastic containers to superfluous packaging on everything from corner fruit stands to Amazon deliveries, trash is accumulating when it really doesn’t need to be.

It may seem hard to live a zero-waste lifestyle, but we’re here to tell you it really isn’t. After the story of Lauren Singer successfully fitting years and years of trash into a single mason jar went viral, we were shown just how possible living sustainably is.

Singer knows a lot about trash, and how to break free from it. Here is her advice on how to achieve a more Earth-friendly lifestyle:

Nearly a decade ago, I realized that there is a difference between talking about sustainability and living sustainably. I studied environmental science in college and discovered that while I was so passionate about combating climate change, my daily decisions were in direct opposition with that. I was still using single-use plastic, buying fast fashion, using toxic cleaning products, eating packaged/processed food and meat, and was actually contributing to the systems I was deeply opposed to, so I decided to make a change.

I stopped using plastic, and ultimately started reducing my waste to align my day-to-day actions with my values for environmental sustainability. I created my blog, Trash is for Tossers, to document my journey reducing my waste almost 10 years ago. I then started my company, Package Free. Our mission is to make the world less trashy—we sell products that are replacements for single-use products or products that are packaged in plastic that you use in your everyday life.

I created Package Free with this exact question in mind: how to make it easier for people to start to lead a zero-waste or lower-waste lifestyle. We have lots of great kits, including our new Earth Day Kit, which come with a variety of items like reusable straws, beeswax food wrap and stainless steel food storage containers so consumers can start with a few key staples and gradually get closer to a zero waste life.

Leading a zero-waste lifestyle is not something you can make happen overnight, but it’s actually not as challenging as you might think.

The first step is to look at your trash and determine where it’s coming from—for me, it was primarily food packaging, product packaging and organic food waste. Then, you can start to make small, everyday swaps to reduce the amount of trash you’re creating. I bring my own jars and bags to the store to fill with bulk or package-free items, buy fruit and vegetables from farmers markets, shop secondhand clothing, compost and make my own products like laundry detergent at home. I totally understand that it might not be realistic for individuals to do all of these things, but every effort you make to reduce your waste does make a positive impact on the environment!

The reaction people have to the idea of living a zero-waste lifestyle is often incredulity.

I think when people hear the phrase “zero-waste lifestyle,” it sounds completely overwhelming because it’s such a broad idea. The average American makes 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day, so the thought of eliminating all of that waste can seem like a lot!

However, once you break it down into smaller pieces – e.g. bring your own bags to the store, avoid packaged products, compost – it’s much more achievable. Before you know it, you’ll be taking out the trash less and creating some great positive environmental impact at the same time!

If you want to remove the mystery and sense of hardship from a zero-waste lifestyle, don’t overthink it! Start small with something easy and approachable, like paying attention to what you’re throwing away and considering what you could’ve swapped to avoid creating that waste in the first place. Once you’ve made one simple change, like bringing bags to the store, you’ll have the confidence to try something else, like using a bamboo toothbrush, or a bigger and more impactful action, like composting.

Composting is a great way to live a zero-waste life. In fact, composting is one of the BEST actions you can take to have a more positive impact on the planet, primarily because it significantly reduces methane emissions that are released when food is thrown into landfills. The average American wastes about one pound of food every day, which adds up to a lot of waste over the course of 365 days. When food is thrown into landfills, it can’t decompose properly and releases greenhouse gases. Long story short: composting is more important now than ever before to decrease our contribution to landfills and to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible.

Even though we New Yorkers may not have as much space as those living in other parts of the country, you can definitely still compost in the city! One of my favorite Package Free products is our stainless steel compost bin, which comes with a replaceable Cotton and Activated Charcoal Filter so that your home stays smelling fresh. If you’re not sure where to bring your food scraps, check out GrowNYC, look for private composting pickups (it’s actually not very expensive, especially if you partner with your neighbors, or convince your landlord to do it), or even just google “composting services near me.”

NYC is filled with community gardens, farmer’s markets, volunteer groups, CSA programs and even offers commercial pick-up services with composting bins anyone can use. I’m also a big fan of GrowNYC, a local nonprofit that offers Food Scrap Drop-off sites and textile recycling throughout the city. LES Ecology Center and Build it Green also do incredible work in our community.

Make an effort to simply be aware of the trash you’re creating in your everyday life, and do whatever is easiest for you to reduce it. Once you realize how many simple swaps you can make on a daily basis to reduce the amount of waste you’re creating, it’s much easier to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but every small change makes a big difference!   ❖


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