How Lily Cameron Is Spreading the Zero-Waste Word

And inspiring us all to live a sustainable life.

By Sacha Strebe

Up next, zero-waste pioneer, Lily Cameron’s morning routine.

There’s nothing quite like travel to open your eyes to a new way of life and shift your perspective. For Lily Cameron, leaving her corporate job for a three-month backpacking trip through the Pacific Northwest and French countryside inspired a complete change of lifestyle, one that is zero-waste and plastic-free. The trip proved she could live minimally and eliminate unnecessary waste from her life—and enjoy it! But when she touched back down in her native California, Cameron was frustrated by the lack of low-waste options and the plastic packaging they were often shipped with.

This inspired her to start her own zero-waste store, Wild Minimalist to make it easier for people to discover sustainable alternatives and integrate eco-habits into their daily lives. Cameron’s fusion of convenience and sustainability is the secret sauce to her “wild” success, not to mention every single item in her store is impossibly chic—we’re eyeing these upcycled cotton kitchen towels and zero-waste lunch kit with coffee cup. And now she’s continuing to spread the waste-free word via her new book, Simply Sustainable.

We caught up with the eco-trailblazer to dive into her mission, the hurdles of switching to a plastic-free life, tips for getting on board, and how her morning routine sets her up for success.

On the moment that inspired her zero-waste lifestyle…

After my husband and I got engaged, we did a month-long backpacking/road trip through the Pacific Northwest. We had to travel light, only bringing what we could carry in our backpacks, and quickly realized that we didn’t need a whole lot to be happy. When we returned home, we were ready to make a huge lifestyle change. I had been learning about the zero waste movement and minimalism and to me, they went hand in hand. 

I started by going through all of our belongings that had been in storage and donated everything we didn’t need. Purging these unused items helped reset my consumption patterns and realize that I was creating a lot of unnecessary waste. We slowly used up our disposable products and started to integrate more sustainable practices, but struggled to find many of the low-waste items that support this lifestyle at local stores. And, whenever I bought things online, they were always shipped with wasteful plastic packaging which felt like it defeated the purpose. 

I knew that if I was struggling to find sustainable alternatives in the SF Bay Area, I wasn’t alone so I set out to create a one-stop-shop for people trying to ditch disposables.

My goal is to make it easy for more people to embrace low-waste living—offering a curated selection of beautiful, reusable alternatives with plastic-free shipping, so people no longer have to choose between sustainability and convenience. 

On the hurdles of switching to a plastic-free lifestyle…

I think that as people become more aware of the amount of trash they create, it can inspire them to reduce waste but it can also be daunting. I advise a gradual approach to low-waste living—starting by using up all of your disposables and replacing them with something more sustainable as they run out. 

Our store helps make it easy to find replacements for everyday disposable items, from kitchen and dining products to beauty and cleaning supplies. We help make plastic-free living more approachable and less intimidating to someone just starting out.

You don’t have to make everything from scratch or fit a year’s worth of trash in a mason jar to be more sustainable, it’s all about integrating a few low-waste practices at a time and making it work for your lifestyle.

On the most rewarding part of your day…

I wear many hats as the founder of Wild Minimalist. On any given day, I do a mix of new product research and photography, negotiating contracts with vendors, blogging for our website, sharing low-waste tips and inspiration on Instagram, and strategy sessions with my business partner (and husband!) Max. The most rewarding part of my day is when customers share how our products are helping them reduce waste. 

On her morning routine…

I usually wake up around 7:30 am when our toddler starts wiggling around and I try to get 8-9 hours of sleep at night. There are some people who can function really well off a few hours of sleep—I am definitely not one of them. 

On never skipping breakfast…

I’m big on breakfast and never skip it. During the week, I’ll rotate between oats topped with seasonal fruit, hemp seeds, and walnut butter, homemade granola with sheep’s milk yogurt, or scrambled eggs with spinach, garlic, and gluten-free toast. On the weekends, I’m all about homemade waffles and pancakes. I love this Easy Gluten-Free Oat Waffles recipe from Cookie + Kate

On the A.M. rituals that set her up for success…

After I get up, I always make the bed and do a quick tidy. I have a hard time concentrating on my work when things are out of place, so keeping a minimal, mostly clutter-free space helps (especially since I work from home). Then, I make breakfast for our son and pack his lunch for preschool. After he leaves, I brew a large pot of loose-leaf green tea and make myself breakfast. I also try to meditate for 10 minutes to clear my head and get centered before I open my laptop to start working, but some days I just dive right into emails and to-do lists. 

On how it’s changed during quarantine…

Truthfully, it hasn’t changed a lot and I know I am very fortunate and privileged to say that. Before quarantine, my husband and I were both working from home and our son was in childcare. When California put the shelter in place order into effect, we did have our son home with us full time and I had to take a step back from work. This fall, we were able to enroll him in an outdoor-based preschool, so my work life and morning routine are both back to normal(ish).

On her morning beauty routine…

My morning beauty routine is pretty low maintenance. If I’m working from home, I’ll apply skinSALVATION Safeguard SPF to my face, swipe on Meow Meow Tweet rose geranium deodorant, moisturize lips with Fat & Moon Lip Salve and twist my hair up into a clip so it’s out of my face while I’m working. If I’m going out somewhere, I’ll also put on Elate Essential Mascara and do a cat eye with KVD Vegan Beauty Tattoo Eyeliner (it’s all about the eyes when you’re wearing a mask).

And just in case you’re curious, my makeup and skincare products aren’t 100% plastic-free. I weigh a variety of factors when it comes to beauty products, including what ingredients work for my sensitive acne-prone skin, where it was made (ideally locally), and what plastic-free options are available.

Luckily, you can recycle empty makeup containers at Origins.

lily cameron bathroom

On her morning media rituals…

Lately, I’ve been reading a book for 10 minutes in bed after my husband gets up to make coffee. It’s such a nice way to wake up without reading the news or scrolling Instagram, both of which can make me anxious. 

On her favorite books…

I’ve been reading a lot of novels lately, but memoirs have a special place in my heart. Some of my favorites are Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl, Educated by Tara Westover, and The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. Most recently I read How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones and I highly recommend it. 

morning ritual

On her nightstand essentials…

A giant glass of water (or two), my iPhone, a large hair clip, and my eyeglasses. Other than that, I try to keep it free of clutter so I don’t knock things over in the middle of the night. 

On her daily uniform…

I love a high-waist, straight-leg jean paired with a crew neck sweater or T-shirt, high-top converse, and simple gold jewelry. I’m definitely embracing comfort during quarantine—I spend way more time than I’d like to admit in sweatpants and cozy sweatshirt, and I’ve been gravitating towards overalls when I want to feel comfy but cute.

bedroom design

On how to live a more present, mindful, joyful life…

I always try to get outside for some movement, most often walking or jogging around the neighborhood, hiking in the hills near our house, or gardening.

Being in nature has always been important for me, but even more so during the pandemic when I need to clear my head or get out of a funk.

I also spend a good amount of time cooking which I find very meditative and nourishing.

On the secret to her success…

I think a lot of people underestimated me when I was in school and early in my career. It motivated me to work hard. 

meditation practice-lily cameron

On how to start living plastic-free…

I would say to start small. Focus on one room in your home like the kitchen and integrate one or two sustainable habits at a time, like composting food scraps and switching to unpaper towels. Use up your disposable items like plastic sandwich bags and cling wrap and think about what you could replace it with when it’s gone.

Low waste living is about progress, not perfection, so don’t quit plastic cold turkey. Give yourself time to adjust to each sustainable change and celebrate each milestone. 

On what she’d do with an extra hour in the morning…

I would love to start my day by being in nature and doing something grounding, like hiking or yoga.

Lily Cameron morning routine

Sentence finishers…

I never leave the house without… my reusables! Being prepared with a water bottle, cutlery, and napkin helps me to avoid waste on the go.  

If there were more hours in the day, I would… take a solo hike in the hills near our house and listen to podcasts. It’s one activity I used to do pre-motherhood that I sometimes miss. I love Radiolab, This American Life, Modern Love, How I Built This, and Code Switch

Healthiest morning habit… Snuggling with my family in bed and drinking a large glass of water. 

Worst morning habit… Eating a cookie before breakfast, but life is all about balance, right

One thing I want to be known for is… being a good listener. 

The one thing I fear the most is… losing someone I love. 

When I feel that fear, I… Do a body scan, take a few deep breaths, and offer myself compassion.

The book I always recommend is… it really depends on the person and situation! Most recently, I recommended Group by Christy Tate to a friend—it’s hard to put down.  

The three traits you need to succeed in life are… compassion, resilience, and self-awareness. 

Bath or shower? And what’s your favorite shower/bath product? Showers, but I love a bath when it’s cold outside and I’m feeling luxurious. I’m super into my Ethique Heali Kiwi shampoo bar and double-edge safety razor—it gives me such a smooth shave, and zero waste!