See the Guy Wearing 30 Days’ Worth of Garbage Around NYC

Instead of throwing his refuse away, Rob Greenfield is turning himself into a human waste bin.
Sep 29, 2016·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Stopping at a favorite café for a caffeine fix is a morning ritual for plenty of people, and most of us toss the disposable paper or polystyrene cup into the garbage once we’ve downed enough coffee to wake us up. You might not give that cup a second thought all day, not even if you’re the one taking out the trash. But your awareness of just how much waste is generated by those cups—and everything else you eat or use all day—might increase if you had to wear it for a month.

Not ready to take that fashion plunge? No worries—activist Rob Greenfield is doing it for us. Since Sept. 19, he’s been roaming the streets of New York City wearing every single piece of rubbish he creates as part of his project, Trash Me.

RELATED: Shrink Your Waste

Greenfield, who has previously biked across the United States eating only from Dumpsters to raise awareness of food waste, told TakePart that he wanted to come up with a visual way to get people thinking about how much trash they create.

“The whole idea is that garbage is out of sight, out of mind. We put it in the garbage can. The garbage truck comes and picks it up weekly, and we never really have to think about it ever again,” Greenfield said. Even if people have seen pictures of landfills or read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, “the problem is that people don’t see their responsibility for that. They don’t think they’re part of that.”

The production and disposal of the packaging on an item as seemingly innocuous as a bag of potato chips has deep implications for the environment, Greenfield said. “That bag might last for five minutes of eating—five minutes of enjoyment. But the thing about it is, to get that plastic packaging to you, that meant that there had to be mining of virgin materials from the Earth. That had to be shipped around the world, created in a manufacturing center—all of that taking fossil fuels, electricity, and emitting greenhouse gases and pollution.”

Rob Greenfield wearing his trash on the subway. (Photo: Courtesy Rob Greenfield)

Then, once you eat the chips, the packaging “goes to either the landfill or the ocean. To get it to the landfill, garbage trucks need to drive around using fossil fuels; those trucks get three miles to the gallon,” Greenfield said. “Once it gets to the landfill, its life isn’t over. It’s going to live for about 500 years. Or possibly eternity.”

RELATED: NASA Video Reveals How 35 Years of Trash Turned Into Ocean Garbage Patches

As seen in the video above, Greenfield’s suit of clear trash bags has compartments that hold all the refuse. He rinses items or triple bags them to avoid smelling like a walking garbage bin, and he only wears the suit when he’s out in public. “Originally my plan was to wear it for every waking moment. But I just realized that I think that would’ve been unbearable, and I might’ve seriously injured myself,” he said. On Tuesday, day nine, the sheer bulk of the rubbish—everything from coffee cups, food packaging, and paper and plastic bags—began making it tough for him to get through subway turnstiles.

“I know the statistic is out there that the average American creates nearly four-and-a-half pounds of trash per day. So I knew that it would quickly become a lot of trash,” Greenfield said. “But the thing was, I just thought at the beginning that it would be one or two little garbage bags hanging around my neck. I didn’t realize how quickly it would add up just doing normal things. I’m already having a hard time fitting through doors, and just getting home last night was a bit of a challenge. So I know it’s going to get a lot harder.”

From Times Square to Central Park, people on the streets of Gotham are eager to take selfies with Greenfield. “Everywhere I go, people are laughing and smiling, and everybody’s stopping to take pictures,” he said. That gives him a chance to talk about why he’s wearing garbage. But the average passerby might not “realize what I’m doing is just wearing my trash and showing people how much one person makes. So the challenge is communicating that. But as far as people’s reactions go, they’ve been great. They don’t always know exactly what I’m doing, but they know that I’m trying to make a statement about trash.”

If there’s anybody else out there who wants to wear their trash, given how tough it is to get around in the suit, Greenfield suggested sticking with a shorter time frame. “A day or a week at the most,” he said. “But it would be a way to really get you to be conscious of how much trash you’re making.”

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