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23-Year-Old Hasn't Produced Any Garbage in Two Years

23-Year-Old Hasn't Produced Any Garbage in Two Years

Like most young people today, Lauren Singer is aware of her environmental impact. She pursued environmental studies at New York University and took a job as a sustainability manager for the New York City Department of Agriculture. But Singer, 23, has gone far beyond most when it comes to sustainable living. She has adopted a zero-waste lifestyle. For the last two years, Singer has amassed only a mason jar's worth of trash.

"You don't have to be a stereotype of anything to live a sustainable lifestyle. My style is the same. My taste is the same. I enjoy the same things. I just don't make trash," said Lauren Singer. Photo credit: Trash is for Tossers blog

Singer has documented her zero-waste living, which requires eschewing anything that will end up in a landfill or can't be composted, on her blog, Trash is for Tossers. She felt like a hypocrite sitting in her environmental classes listening to professors talk about the "importance of living your values" and it made her question her own environmental impact, according to her blog. Then, she learned about a family in California calling themselves the Zero Waste Home and she thought if they can do it, so can she.

Her blog documents her "zero waste journey" and she hopes it will "show that leading a zero waste lifestyle is simple, cost-effective, timely, fun and entirely possible for everyone and anyone," she said on her blog. "If I can do it, anyone can!"

This is how much trash Singer has amassed in two years. Photo credit: Trash is for Tossers blog

But the young post-grad doesn't just go without common household products like toothpaste or deodorant. She makes her own. Her blog offers recipes on everything from toothpaste to drain cleaner to cold brew coffee. She also offers suggestions of alternative products for everything you could imagine from personal care products to kitchen supplies. She lays out the problem with disposable, chemical-leaden plastic products and recommends items to buy that are reusable and compostable.

When she goes to the store, she brings reusable bags, but also organic cotton drawstring bags and mason jars which she uses to avoid plastic packaging. She recently challenged her friend, Lee Tilghman, dubbed the 'Smoothie Bowl Queen' by Free People, to make a zero-waste smoothie bowl. She documented the experience on her blog and the smoothie bowl looks delicious.

Zero waste smoothie bowl made by Lauren Singer and her friend, Lee Tilghman. Photo credit: Trash is for Tossers blog

Her lifestyle is a testament to the fact that sustainable living doesn't have to be super challenging or mean you live a boring, sad life. "You don't have to be a stereotype of anything to live a sustainable lifestyle. My style is the same. My taste is the same. I enjoy the same things. I just don't make trash," Singer told AOL.

And she says it doesn't have to be expensive. "It's so funny how that narrative caught on that living sustainably is like a 'rich white people thing,'" she said to AOL. "It's not the case at all. I spend like $20 to $25 a week now on everything that I need from the farmer's market."

The young New Yorker has quit her job at the Department of Agriculture and launched The Simply Co. She created a sustainable cleaning product line for people who want the products that she makes, but who don't feel they have the time to make these products themselves. She surpassed her $10,000 Kickstarter goal by $31,000 and she now has 1,000 orders of natural three-ingredient laundry powder to fill.

"It's not the typical business model, but I kind of wish that everyone would make their products, which is to say that I wish that my business model didn't have to exist," she told AOL. "Ultimately, my goal is for people to realize that you don't need toxic chemicals to clean your home." She acknowledges not everyone will adopt a zero waste lifestyle, but she says everyone can waste less. "It is possible to not produce trash. It's definitely possible to produce less trash. Living sustainably is so stigmatized in a negative way—but this is everybody's Earth."

Singer recently launched her own YouTube channel, where she provides "DIY recipes, Zero Waste tips and sustainability tricks in order to live a waste-free or low-waste life."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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