Trash Me FAQ
Welcome to the FAQ for Trash Me. Here I cover all of the questions people have been asking so far. Before diving into the questions though I’d like to explain the project in a little more depth to help you understand what I did and why.
For 30 days I wore every single piece of trash that I created while living like the average American. The average American creates 4.5 pounds of trash per day and I aimed to live the lifestyle that results in this. Normally I aim to live a near zero waste lifestyle so this is not a lifestyle that I am accustomed. But for the 30 days I went about life in a manner that is absolutely normal in the USA. I ate, shopped, and consumed like so many of us are accustomed to in this country. Everything about my life was normal and the only difference is I had to wear every piece of trash that I created instead of putting it into a garbage can. Most people never think twice about their trash, once it’s in the garbage can, it’s out of sight, out of mind. Through this project I, along the award-winning filmmakers at Living on One, and Gary Bencheghib, am out to change that by creating an unforgettable and shocking visual of the trash that we create everyday, and inspire us all to drastically reduce our trash.
Did you create exactly 4.5 pounds of trash each day?
Very early on in the project I decided that it would be more impactful to just try to float along in the breeze of American consumerism and see what I accumulated rather than try to create exactly 4.5 pounds of trash per day. This resulted in me creating just under 3 pounds of trash per day on average, totaling up to 84 pounds of trash. Some days I create just 1 pound of trash while other days I created as much as 10 pounds of trash.
How did you decide what trash you are going to make?
I did not go out of my way to create trash but rather just tried to do what the majority of Americans are doing. For example when I was asked if I wanted a bag at the checkout of a grocery store I typically asked “What do most people say?” If the clerk said that everyone takes a bag then that’s what I did too.
Did I sleep in the trash? When did I wear it?
I wore the trash everywhere that I went outside the house. I put it on before I left the house and took it off when I get home, so no I did not sleep in it. At home the trash suit sat on a mannequin so that even when I was not wearing the trash it was not out of sight out of mind. That was the plan at least until the mannequin broke under the weight just a week in. Of course then I had to wear the whole mannequin as well. Some days I didn’t leave the house at all and on those days I didn’t have to wear the trash. Other days I was outside for as much as 12 hours wearing the trash the whole time.
Did I wear other people’s trash? What about the other people in your house?
I only wore the trash that I personally created for the month. I did not wear other people’s trash because the purpose of this project is to show how much trash the average individual person in the USA creates.
What about the smell?
Anything that was at all dirty I cleaned and dried before adding it to the suit. All food waste was weighed and replaced with dry rice so that I had no rotting food on me. I want to create a visual example of how much trash an individual person makes, not a smelly example. I am happy to say that I successfully managed to not smell even the slightest like a smelly garbage can.
What did you do with food waste?
Because the average person in the USA wastes about 20% of all the food they purchased I also wasted about 20% of my food. But because it would get really stinky to wear this food waste I stored it in the freezer and then weighed it every few days and then replaced it with dried rice. The rice represented my food waste and simulated the weight without having to create any foul smell. As a nation including grocery stores, restaurants, farms, etc., we waste about 50% of all the food we produce but my aim is to create a visual of what we do as individuals so I just wasted and wore about 20% of my food.
What about recyclables?
I wore both my recyclables and my non recyclables. The statistic that the average American creates 4.5 pounds of trash per day includes recycling. I included recyclables for a few reasons. First, The EPA estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it. So the reality is that most recyclables are not actually recycled. Recycling is absolutely part of the solution to our problems and far better than the landfill, as it reduces the harvesting of virgin resources, but it definitely is not going to save us. A lot of the time what we put in our recycle bins isn’t even recycled because of contamination, inefficiencies, or just plain bad business practices. And even when done correctly recycling is a highly resource and energy intensive process. The trucks picking it up get just a few miles to the gallon, the facilities use huge quantities of electricity, and pollutants are released in the recycling process. Plus many cities in the USA don’t even recycle. To achieve true environmental sustainability we need to not only reduce our trash but our recycling too. See this video for a better understanding of this.
What about compostables?
A vast majority of Americans do not compost their food waste or yard waste. So what could have been composted and turned into soil for most people ends up at the landfill instead. I included compostables in my trash suit in the project.
How did I attach all the trash to my body?
Nancy Judd of Recycle Runway created a special Trash Me suit that was designed to stand up to the weight of 135 pounds of trash as well as contain all of the bulk. It has 12 expandable pockets so that it could slowly expand and grow as I added trash each day. The suit is made out of almost all repurposed materials and it took Nancy about 125 hours to design and create. See this Facebook live video of me putting on the suit for the first time and Nancy explaining how it works. Here’s a video of our collaboration together and some information on the suit:
What about poop and pee?
This project focuses just on the trash that we place in our garbage cans, not on what we flush down the toilet so I did be wear that waste. Poop, pee, and toilet paper went down the toilet as usual. Human waste is not included in the statistic that the average American creates 4.5 pounds of trash per day and is a totally separate form of waste. Although ultimately a lot of this waste does end up at landfills after it is skimmed off and trucked out of our wastewater treatment plants.
“I don’t create 4.5 pounds per day. There’s no way that the average American creates that much.”
This is statement that I’ve heard quite a few times. First of all I’d like to say if this is you, congratulations for creating less trash than the average person in the United States. That’s great! I don’t know anyone who’s actually weighed their trash though so I think most of us probably don’t have an accurate idea of how much trash we create. We put it in the garbage can and it’s taken away each week so we don’t ever really get a good idea of how much we create. Plus there’s those times when we throw away something really heavy such as a couch or our projects that create huge amounts of trash such as a kitchen remodel. We often look at our ideal moments and put everything else into the back of the mind. Sometimes our trashcan is lighter than others but 4.5 pounds is the national average on an individual level, not including business and industrial trash which is far larger number.
What did I do each day? What was my daily routine?
This varied from day to day but most days I just did all of the standard things that people do such as going grocery shopping, eating, riding public transportation, walking to the places I need to go, etc. I also went to some gatherings such as art exhibitions, met with friends, and spent a lot of time in busy areas like Union Square Park and shopping centers to be a walking billboard of how much trash we create. A large portion of my time was spent doing interviews with media as well as a lot of the time on my computer and working with my team on videos, research, and social media.
Did I eat fast food/ meat/ junk food?
In order to make trash like the average American I aimed to eat like the average American because that’s where a lot of our trash is made. The primary way that this trash was made was eating a lot of packaged, processed foods at home. I also ate fast food on occasion as the average American does and ate out multiple times per week. Because a vast majority of Americans eat meat I ate meat as well. In my normal life I eat a primarily whole food plant based diet but just for the month I sacrificed that to fully immerse in a consumeristic way of life.
What did you do with all the trash afterwards?
The trash suit will be used for speaking at schools and events as well as displayed at exhibitions as a tool to show people how much trash that we create as individuals and educate how we can all be a part of the solution. In 2018 the suit will be on Display at the Atlanta International Airport as part of Nancy Judd’s solo Exhibition of trash art. The original trash will remain part of the suit so none of the trash is being thrown away or recycled. The food waste that was saved in the freezer for the month was composted and a few of the dirty pieces of trash were replaced with clean pieces of trash.
What can I do to reduce the amount of waste I create?
We’ve created a resource guide for you with easy things that you can start doing today to make less trash and live a more environmentally friendly life. Check out our Take Action page! And here is a video from day 19 of the project with my top 5 tips to reduce your trash:
You are an environmental activist. Is it really worth it to create all this trash that causes environmental harm? Isn’t there a more environmentally friendly way to prove this point?
I normally live a near zero waste life and in this month I created more trash than I would typically make in many years. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think the project was beneficial to the environment in the long run though. This project has created a visual that is paying off in the awareness and education it has created for millions of people. More people than I can count have told me that this project made them deeply think about their own trash in a way they never have before. An equal number of people have told me they are already taking steps to reduce the amount of trash that they create. I believe that this project is effecting enough positive change to far outweigh the trash I created. Because of the entertaining and eye catching nature of this campaign it has expanded far beyond environmentalists and people who care about the earth and is reaching people who’ve never thought about reducing their waste or why it matters.
Here is a video on how I normally live:
How did you come up with the concept for Trash Me?
We live in an era when it’s so easy to have no idea of how any of our daily actions impact our community, humankind, other species, or the earth as a whole. I’m always looking for ways to get people to think about how their actions affect the world around them both near and far. I try to keep things very entertaining so that it reaches people whether they care about the environmental or social issue that I’m focusing on. Because we live in such a visually oriented generation I look for visual ways to make a point or grab people’s attention. For bringing attention to how much trash we create I thought what better way to than to wear it on me everywhere I go. No out of sight out of mind mentality is possible that way!