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Moving Toward a Zero-Waste Lifestyle With Environmental Activist Robin Greenfield

trash-consumerism-materialistic-robin greenfield
trash-consumerism-materialistic-robin greenfield
Robin Greenfield | Photos by Sierra Ford Photography

Environmental activist and adventurer Robin Greenfield is known for bringing attention to the harm caused by consumerism and wastefulness in creative ways. In 2022, he spent a month wearing all the trash he created, which eventually became a 72-pound suit.

We spoke with Greenfield about his inspiration for cutting back on his material possessions and waste-generation, and how others can do their part to limit their footprint.

How did you get so passionate about living a zero-waste lifestyle? 

In 2011, I was living a fairly typical American life. I was very focused on material possessions and financial wealth. In fact, I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 30 and I was on track for success. Then something happened and I realized I wanted to drastically transform my life.

I started to watch a lot of documentaries and read a lot of books, and I realized that the way that I was living was causing incredible destruction to the Earth, to humanity, and to the plants and animals that we share this home with. I decided that I wanted to live in harmony and that meant changing hundreds of my daily actions. 

At the center of this was the waste I was creating. My garbage cans were filling up with trash. Step by step, I learned alternatives for life that didn’t create waste and instead contributed to the health of Earth and humanity. Living a zero-waste life is just one facet of living in a deeper connection with Earth. 

Learn more about Robin’s story and his guide to living a zero-waste life

How did you go about reducing the amount of material possessions you own, and what sorts of things did you get rid of? 

I decided that one step at a time I was going to take my life back from consumerism and materialism. I was going to live with freedom at the center of my life. That meant getting rid of a lot of the stuff that was holding me back from really pursuing the life that I wanted to live. I realized that most of what I owned no longer served me and much of it I only own because corporations had sold me on this idea of buying stuff I really didn’t need.  

Robin in front of his tiny house in Florida

I went through all of my stuff and I asked myself whether the items were bringing value to my life. I also asked myself whether I was actually using the items or whether they were just taking up space and mental energy. Sometimes I did a section of my apartment, such as the kitchen or my bedroom, and sometimes I would dedicate a whole weekend to going through the entire apartment. Over the course of a few years, I got rid of the vast majority of my stuff using this basic method. 

Click here for Robin’s full story and guide to downsizing

I saw you gave a TEDx Talk where you described wearing all your garbage for 30 days. Could you tell us more about the reasoning behind this demonstration and how it went? 

For one month, I lived like the average person in the United States. Eating, shopping, consuming just like so many of us are used to — but with one big exception. I had to wear every piece of trash that I created. Why would I do this? I wanted to create a visual that would help people to understand just how much our trash adds up.

Robin wearing his trash suit in 2022

For most of us, our trash is out of sight, out of mind. We put it in the garbage can and never think about it again. By forcing myself to live the average life and wear every single piece of trash everywhere I went, I was a walking billboard for the truth behind our consumerism. Without telling anybody what was wrong or right, I simply showed the truth that is hidden through systems of industrialization and outsourcing our burdens. 

What are some tips you would give to our readers about how to reduce the amount of waste they generate? 

My recommendation to each person is to look at their own lives and start where they are. We can’t be anybody else, and getting to the point of zero waste takes many small steps. There are a lot of simple things we can do to take our lives back from the waste. 

Transition away from single-use items. Instead, use reusable items, including dishes, utensils, to-go containers, and water bottles.  

Move away from packaged foods and embrace more package free, whole foods. For this, I recommend finding a bulk section at a food co-op or grocery store where you can bring your own containers to fill. I also recommend shopping the farmers markets or local farms for local produce. 

Robin growing all the food he ate for an entire year in 2019

Saying goodbye to purchasing new items can be a very meaningful step in the direction of reducing our waste. Everything we need already exists on Earth. Shopping second-hand is something most of us can do, but we don’t even need to buy everything we need. We can embrace sharing items within our community. Get to know your neighbors!  

Of course, gratitude is one of the most important ways we can reduce our waste. The more grateful we are for what we have — and the less susceptible we are to corporate advertising — the less stuff we need to buy. And the more we are able find completeness and wholeness within, the less stuff we need and the less trash we create. 

Click here for Robin’s guide to reducing your waste 

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