Eco Activist Spent 30 Days Wearing His Trash — And by the End of the Month It Weighed 72 Lbs.

Environmentalist Rob Greenfield is trying to save the planet, one piece of trash at a time

Rob Greenfield wearing his trash suit for his 30 days of trash project in Los Angeles
Rob Greenfield. Photo: Rob Greenfield

Rob Greenfield is all about extremes when it comes to letting people know how our actions are threatening the future of the planet.

The 35-year-old Wisconsin native has ridden a bamboo bike across the country with no money, lived in a 100 square foot, solar-powered "tiny house" he built out of repurposed material, and eaten food he grew and foraged himself to show people that living sustainably is doable.

The stakes are as high as they can be, he says.

"If we don't have soil, water or air, then we can't function anymore," he tells PEOPLE.

His latest attention-grabbing and thought-provoking stunt came this spring when he donned a plastic "trash suit" for a month in Los Angeles, filling it with everything he'd thrown away each day. The message? To show people just how much waste we each produce.

During Greenfield's "30 Days of Wearing My Trash" campaign, he stuffed about 2.5 lbs. of trash per day into his suit.

According to the EPA, the average American throws out 5 lbs. of trash a day, 150 lbs. a month — and a whopping one ton per year.

"So just imagine creating one ton of garbage per year, and now imagine 10 years, and now imagine a lifetime," he says. "Basically, each of us can leave behind a small mountain of trash for future generation."

For 30 days, Greenfield ate out, shopped, and walked around Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Los Feliz in his eye-catching suit, which he filled with discarded shopping bags, water bottle, coffee cups and other garbage.

"To create a visual example of waste and not be smelly," he swapped raw food waste with the equivalent amount of dry rice — and every day that went by, the suit got heavier.

"On day one, I was carrying just a few pounds of trash," he says. "Day two, it was probably six pounds."

"By the end I was wearing 72 pounds of trash," he says.

The suit got so big that he could barely fit through doors. "I would catch myself in the reflection of windows sometimes, and all I could say was, 'This is absolutely ridiculous.'"

Maybe so, but it was a surefire way to get people thinking and even better, start to make environmentally-friendly changes.

"The whole idea was to create a ridiculous looking thing that you couldn't help but notice," he says. "I was trying to come up with a way that just really would catch people's attention that also directs people in a meaningful direction."

For more about Rob Greenfield's quest to encourage everyone to use less waste, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

He adds, "I wanted people to look at this and say, 'Wow, is that what my trash suit would look like if I had to wear all my trash for a month? Is that how much trash I create?'"

Trash that sits in landfills emits methane, one of the potent greenhouse gases that heat up the planet, making the climate crisis and everything that comes with that — drought, flooding, stronger hurricanes, more wildfires — worse.

All that garbage has other, less obvious costs as well.

"Behind every piece of trash, there's the whole production cycle — from extraction to production to distribution to then consumption to then disposal," he says. "So my goal is actually to get people to look deeper."

"I don't want them to just look at their trash," he says. "I want them to question, where do things come from? How does it get to us? What's the impact that it has on Earth, on our fellow members of humanity and our fellow plants and animal relatives?"

Wearing the suit, he says, is "about so much more than just trash."

"It's about how our society is designed in a way that's literally destroying the earth with almost every action — and how we turn that around to be regenerating the earth with all of our actions," he explains.

From Spending Lots of Green to Becoming the King of Green

As a kid who grew up without much money, Greenfield said he chased the American dream hard as an adult. "I wanted the nice house, the nice car and the nuclear family."

He adds, "I saw that as my way of belonging in American society."

At 25, he was on his way to becoming a millionaire, thanks to a thriving marketing company he started.

"In 2011, I was living a pretty typical lifestyle," he says. "I was a consumer. I was very focused on material possessions and financial wealth."

Life was good, he says.

"I was happy," he says. "I was successful."

Or so he thought.

He began to rethink the way he was living after watching documentaries, including The Story of Stuff, and reading books about the climate crisis and sustainability.

"I realized that almost everything that I was doing was causing destruction to the planet and to other communities around the world," he recalls. "I said to myself, 'I might live another 50, 60 years. I'm not going to do this for the next 50 years.' "

Determined to change, he began "weaving a new web, one in harmony with the earth, humanity, and all of our plant and animal relatives."

In 2011, he dissolved his company, gave away most of his possessions and lives a minimalistic, environmentally friendly life below the poverty line. Now, he's spent the last 10 years spreading his message of sustainability, food independence, conserving water, transitioning to renewable energy sources and zero-waste living.

Rob Greenfield Tiny House
Rob Greenfield. Sierra Ford

In April, he also published a children's book, Be The Change: Rob Greenfield's Call to Kids Making a Difference in a Messed-Up World, which is a "lively guide" to sustainable living, his website says.

"I've tried to take my whole life and turn it into a radical statement of simplicity to show people that you can exist happily and healthfully and be a contributing member of society while breaking free from consumerism," he says. "I'm constantly focused on solutions."

"I've found a way to take my whole life's message to an extreme where I can ideally rattle people with just my very existence," he adds. "That's my goal."

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