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In 2015, Lauren Singer walked onto the TED stage with a mason jar full of trash. In her talk, which has since been viewed over four million times, she explained how she’d managed to fit all of her landfill-bound waste from the past three years into 16 ounces of glass. Gasps and applause ensued from the audience, and the talk catapulted Singer into sustainability icon status. To this day, the entrepreneur and environmental activist lives a largely zero-waste life and helps others do the same through her company Package Free, which sells low-impact products online and in a storefront in downtown Manhattan.
It’s fair to say that Singer really hates trash. Her dog Rose does too — despite being rescued from a pile of it. After being discovered in a dump in Puerto Rico, Rose jet-set to Singer’s NYC front door and has been living the good (low-waste) life ever since. We caught up with the sustainable duo to learn about how dogs can actually help us reduce our environmental impact, one plate lick at a time.
What is Rose’s adoption story?
I wasn’t supposed to have Rose originally. I had just gotten out of a relationship and I felt like I still had all this love to give. I really wanted an animal around me, and I saw Rachel Antonoff’s post about this foster organization called Safe and Sound Satos, which rescues dogs from Puerto Rico. I reached out and there was one dog available for foster but the day I was supposed to pick her up, they wrote me to tell me someone had adopted her. I was so bummed; she was so cute.
Then the next day, they wrote to me saying her sister didn’t have anyone to foster her and she was landing at JFK — in 20 minutes! They said they could put her in an Uber and send her to me. I was like, “Oh my god.” So I immediately left my office, went to the store, got all of the dog things I needed, and then met her. She showed up in the backseat of an Uber in this little carrier with a pink harness on. And she was so tiny, six or seven pounds, with no body fat and chunks of hair missing. She was just the most quiet, tiny, scared little thing. I got her and I just thought, “I cannot let you go.” Adopting her was the best thing I’ve ever done.
I can’t get over the visual of her rolling up in the back of an Uber. What breed is Rose?
She’s a mixed breed. She has the coloring of a Lab and the face of a Beagle, but I think she’s Shiba Inu because she has a very Shiba vibe: She likes you when she likes you but when she wants her space and time, she goes and takes it.
She looks so sweet and snuggly on Instagram. What’s her personality like?
She’s kind of like a cat; she likes to just sit around and relax in front of our fireplace. But she also loves running and is super athletic. She’s obsessed with other dogs, but she’s a little scared of people. They originally found her in a dump, so my boyfriend actually calls her Trash Dog. I find it very fitting that the dog I would have was found in the trash. It’s the only trash that I like, I guess!
Were you nervous about how she would fit in with your zero-waste lifestyle at first?
Honestly, I didn’t even think about it. There was no practicality to adopting her — I just needed to give love. But avoiding waste with her turned out to be pretty easy. She was potty trained within a week, but I learned afterward that there are washable pee pads sold on Etsy. I would have gotten those if I’d had a little bit more time to prepare to be totally waste-free with her. Other than that, I make her food for her every Sunday, and we keep her treats in Stasher bags. And then she just eats whatever my boyfriend and I don’t.
So she hates trash too?
I mean, it’s kind of amazing. Her whole vibe is just like, “I eat scraps and trash.” Anything on the ground, she’ll pick up. So I would say she loves to reduce waste too.
Does Package Free have any low-waste pet products she can use?
Yeah, we sell the dog poop pickup bags that I use with her, and we have these amazing stainless steel containers that I store her food in. We also have recycled rubber toys and some woven rope toys that have been selling out so quickly! There are a lot of good options.
Beyond shopping for package-free pet products, what other tips do you have for people looking to go lower-waste?
My biggest suggestion is always to look inside your trash can. That way you understand what your waste is, and what it is you're throwing away, first. Over 20% of our household trash is usually food, so I would say that if you have a composting program close to you or easily available, using that is a great place to start and it makes a huge dent.
Then, think about easy swaps. Are there any lower-waste alternatives to the personal care products, household products, or cleaning products you use? You can start with a product you’re able to run out of and make the switch. I really suggest making changes to products that aren’t super important to you, because reducing your waste shouldn't be something that makes your life any less great. It’s about little changes that have a positive impact on you and the planet over time.
What are some of the ways that going zero-waste has improved your life?
At a high level, it’s pushed me to pursue a career around my values, which is really amazing. It’s also empowered me to save a ton of money — whether it’s because I’m not buying new clothing, or I’m just consuming less overall. Using cleaner products has also really helped me understand what I’m putting in and on my body, which gives me peace of mind that I’m not being subjected to toxic chemicals. Overall, it just made me a little bit more thoughtful in everything that I do.
You said adopting Rose was the best decision you ever made. Why is that?
There’s nothing better than waking up to infinite love every morning. She is the sweetest and most pure, kind, loyal creature. Being able to reciprocate love and take care of something that is so giving and sweet is just the most fulfilling thing. And then also knowing where she came from and all the animals out there living on the streets... It’s just an honor to be able to offer her something a little bit better, hopefully.
Definitely better! She went from trash dog to like...
* The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.