I first met Shelby Singletary in line at the Bold Bean Roastery in the heart of Murray Hill on my very first day of work at MOMNI, just over six months ago. With her affable demeanor and bright smile it didn’t take long for her to make a lasting impression as the friend I know her to be now: kind, honest, and fiercely passionate. Countless almond milk lattes and americanos later, we sat together at the espresso bar to chat about her intriguing lifestyle as a zero waste human.
Shelby, a 22-year-old Riverside resident and graduating senior at UNF, has been living zero waste since December 23rd, 2015. Now if you’re like me, you may not have been familiar with the term “zero waste” until reading this, or meeting Shelby yourself. The web definition is “…reducing and eliminating the amount of trash that is sent to disposal,” or as Shelby defines it herself, “refusing what you don’t need.” She has no trash can, composts all of the food she eats, and buys only recyclable packaging that is gravely necessary (i.e. vegan dog food in compostable and recyclable bags). It all started with an earth-friendly attitude, an inspirational Instagram post and a few weeks of obsessive research and viola she was hooked.
“The hardest part is getting yourself to start,” she tells me. Our world has become one of convenience in place of consciousness, and our waste is a huge contributor. Fifty percent of all plastics we use just once before throwing away, and every year that’s enough plastic to circle the earth four times. All of that could be reduced by bringing our own reusable containers and utensils (like the ones on this website) with us to opt away from one use straws, forks, and to-go containers. Shelby not only does this, but she avoids buying any food or produce with packaging by bringing her own bags and buying in bulk with her own mason jars.
“It takes a strong personality to persevere,” she says, and I believe her. I ask her if she considers Jacksonville a welcoming city for her lifestyle.”It’s not quite welcoming, but it’s on the rise. More and more places have been introducing vegan options and so many local places are open to new ideas. People need to ask continually for zero waste flexibility, and businesses will start to catch on.” It’s not a task for the weak-willed and Shelby confesses she has the right take-no-shit attitude to pioneer the movement. “If I got discouraged every time someone gave me a hard time for wanting to put my leftovers in my own tin, or told me I could never be completely waste-less, I wouldn’t be doing it still.” She holds strong in the belief that the more she does as an individual, the better example she’s leaving for others to follow her lead.
“My biggest job as a consumer is to communicate with businesses about what I want and why. Even when I get frustrated, I have to remember not to look down on others if I want to attract them to living zero-waste.” A self-proclaimed “Vegan Warlord”, she’s been a vegetarian since childhood and vegan for two and a half years and credits the choice to not wanting to contribute to the killing of animals. Her daily routine of packing a vegan lunch, making her own beauty products, and avoiding waste everywhere she goes may sound super strenuous, but she assures me she feels incredibly connected with her diet and daily living. She is noticeably healthier from not eating pre-packaged or processed “junk foods”, and eating seasonal and local produce.
When I ask her how long she’s planning on sustaining this lifestyle. “For the rest of my life,” she tells me confidently. “There’s a feel-good factor to the changes you make every day. If you’re going to last in this lifestyle, you have to do it because it’s a part of your moral code. It’s not always going to be easy, but it will always feel better to try.”
If you’re interested in Zero Waste, or about what inspires Shelby, type “Beaux Johnson Ted Talks” into Google or follow these Instagram accounts (trashisfortossers, livingzerowaste, and sustaintable). You can also look up Shelby on Instagram as the Vegan Warlord @shelbysingletary, or walk into the Bold Bean Roastery in Murray Hill to grab a cup and ask her some questions yourself.
Written by Mara Strobel-Lanka.