For the next 30 days, I'm going to be wearing every single piece of trash that I create. At first that might sound crazy, but anybody who knows me, knows that I am indeed crazy ... crazy in a good way. My biggest goal in life is to inspire people to think about how our little daily actions affect the world around us both near and far.
Most Americans realize that we create an unfathomable amount of trash. You've all probably seen the horrific images of landfills bursting at the seams, bodies of water littered in trash, and animals killed or badly injured from plastics.
Car Engine Cover, Fishing Net and #Plastic Bucket Found in Stomachs of Dead Sperm #Whales https://t.co/UUbrAkwWxN @EcoWatch— Plastic Pollutes (@Plastic Pollutes)1459713307.0
Many of us have wrapped our heads around the massive global issues we've created with our trash, but I think we fail to put more emphasis on the role we play in this tragic situation. How are we as individuals contributing to these problems and what positive changes can we make today to live out a life that is in harmony with our beliefs? We need to put our actions front and center, and inspire positive change.
The average American creates 4.5 pounds of trash per day, a statistic that's hard to visualize especially as it adds up. So for 30 days I am going to live just like the average American. I'll eat, shop and consume just like millions of us are accustomed to doing every day. By the end of 30 days, I'll be wearing upwards of 135 pounds of garbage. To make this possible, I had a special suit designed to support the weight and make it visible by Nancy Judd of Recycle Runway. Everywhere I go I'll be a walking billboard of American consumerism.
Rob Greenfield in New York City's subway wearing all the trash he's generated.YouTube video
Rob Greenfield on day eight.Gary Bencheghib
Living on One, a non-profit production and impact studio that uses immersive storytelling to create films that inspire action around pressing global issues, and filmmaker Gary Bencheghib are helping me to create an unforgettable and shocking visual of the amount of trash that most of us create each day. Throughout the month we will be producing videos that put trash front and center, and go behind the scenes to show why this issue matters and how we can be part of the solution.
If you are on the streets of New York City, keep a look out for the guy covered in trash and come take a selfie with me using the #TrashMe, or follow along on my website, Facebook page and/or YouTube channel.
Five years ago I decided I had to turn my life around and take some drastic measures.
There was no moment of clarity or a profound realization. There was no near death experience or loss of a family member. I was actually beyond happy with who I was and what I was doing with my life. My business was a success. I was traveling the world. I was healthy and I had just moved out to San Diego, California from my homeland of Wisconsin.
So what happened? Well, the reality of the 21st century struck. I started to watch a lot of documentaries and read a lot of books and quickly learned that many of my daily actions were causing serious environmental and social destruction. The food I ate, the water I drank, the gas I pumped into my car, the trash I was creating and the electricity I was using all had much greater stories behind them then I had ever cared to look into. Just by living what could be considered a fairly normal American life I was responsible for so much pollution, destruction and inequality. The documentaries and books really hit home.
I could have thought that the task ahead would be too huge to take on. I could have decided that I didn't have to change because the people around me were doing the same thing. I could have felt overwhelmed or unempowered by everything I learned. But instead I was actually really excited. Excited to uncover the truth and live the truth. Excited to take my life back from the corporations and misleading advertisements. Excited to feel proud about my life rather than have a pit of anxiety in my stomach.
I knew it was going to be a long task ahead of me so I took it one step, one week at a time. I hung up a list of changes that I wanted to make in my kitchen and each week I had the goal of checking off one thing. It ranged from small things like ditching plastic bags and removing any disposable items from my life to big things like selling my car and going pedal powered. There were hundreds of small and large changes that I set out to make and with each checkmark I felt more empowered to tackle the next one. Each change also had a multiplying effect on other goals I had. For example one of my goals was to start shopping locally and ditch the big box marts like Wal-Mart. I sold my car to stop using gas and to stop wasting money but not having a car also prevented me from going the distance to Wal-Mart and not having the trunk to fill up made me stop buying more stuff than I could fit on my bike. It all went hand in hand.
I decided that changing my life wasn't going to be a burden. Instead it was going to be fun and an adventure. To really engrain these changes into my life I decided to go on a wild ride. I set out to cycle across the USA, putting everything I had learned into practice and leave as little of an impact as I could for the entire journey. What that meant was eating 100 percent local, organic, unpackaged food or wasted food, drinking water only from natural sources (or wasted sources), creating no trash and carrying every piece I created to the finish line, towing solar panels to create my own electricity and pedaling the entire way without using any fossil fuels.
In 4,700 miles of cycling across America I used just 160 gallons of water, burned less than one gallon of gas, never turned on a light switch, created only 2 pounds of trash and ate nearly 300 pounds of food from grocery store dumpsters! That is 80 times less water, 200 times less trash, 600 times less fossil fuels and 1,000 times less electricity than the average American uses. It was a very extreme adventure but I've come to find that the average American life is also quite extreme and I was just living out the opposite end of the spectrum both to see if it was possible and to prove a point.
I did some wacky things like live off a leaky fire hydrant in Brooklyn for five days, pedal through a record setting heat wave surviving on dripping faucets, ride 700 miles with no bike seat to “stand up for sustainability" and eat out of hundreds of dumpsters across America. I also immersed myself in sustainability by visiting farms, grassroots environmental non-profits and staying in the homes of fellow Americans all along the way.
There were definitely people who thought I wouldn't live to tell the story but I indeed did. I wrote my book, Dude making a Difference, about this journey in hopes that it would inspire people to reexamine their relationship with the Earth's resources. The great news is that you don't have to do the crazy things I did in this adventure to transform your life. It comes down to simple changes in your life that can be done right at home, in your community and with your friends and family. It can be an incredibly rewarding and exciting journey, and I hope that my book will inspire you to take that leap of faith.
One hundred percent of the proceeds from this book are donated to environmental grassroots nonprofits. Get a copy here.
Installing solar panels is a great option for homeowners who want to reduce their power bills, and the payback period can be just a handful of years with favorable conditions. However, renters and apartment owners cannot use a typical solar power system due to the lack of space, and renters in particular must also negotiate with their landlords. A miniature solar system that is portable and easy to install can be a better option in these cases.
Rooftop solar systems can greatly reduce your electric bills, and you can add solar batteries to store solar energy for use at night. However, because most systems are tied to the power local grid, you must meet many technical requirements and get a permit to put solar on your property. The initial investment and paperwork are not a problem when installing solar panels in a home you own, but they're a limiting factor for renters.
If you don't own your home or apartment, you may have little incentive to invest in improving someone else's property. Even if your landlord gives you permission to install solar panels, the decision only makes sense financially if you plan to rent for a very long time — longer than the solar payback period. Also, consider the following factors:
- When your lease ends, your landlord may not be willing to purchase the solar panels you installed.
- Moving rooftop solar panels to another home is difficult, and you will need a professional installation and another permit for the new property.
There are many types of miniature solar systems that can be installed without the complex requirements and permitting procedures of more permanent structures. These systems are an excellent option for renters, since taking them to another property is as simple as relocating your TV.
Solar Benefits for Non-Homeowners
Solar panel systems offer a common benefit, regardless of their size: they generate electricity from sunlight, reducing the amount of electricity you must pay your utility company for each month. Solar power also lowers the environmental footprint of your home, especially if you live in a region where most of the grid electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Homeowners get a few extra benefits when they install a traditional solar system, including:
- Their property becomes more valuable, and many states don't charge increased property taxes for the portion of home value that corresponds to solar panels.
- Homeowners also qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit as well as any additional incentives from state governments or utility companies.
- There are permitting and grid connection requirements to meet, but once the solar PV system starts operating, it provides electricity for decades with minimal maintenance.
While mini solar panel systems may not be eligible for these perks, they have their benefits compared with rooftop systems. For example, they are much easier to install, with no permitting involved, and any maintenance is much simpler. Small-scale solar systems also have a lower price, and they are easily relocated.
The power bill savings achieved by a rooftop solar system are much higher, but that's because they're much larger. Many homeowners use solar PV systems that have capacities at or above 6 kW (6,000 W), while miniature systems often only generate up to 100 W. As you might expect, the corresponding cost of solar panels is very different: A 6 kW solar system can cost around $18,000 (before incentives) to install, while a miniature 100 W system might cost less than $300. However, each dollar invested is earned back multiple times over in both cases.
How to Utilize Solar Energy When You Rent
There are several options for renters who want to use solar power. These include:
- Plug-in mini solar systems
- Off-grid solar and battery systems
- Portable solar panels
- DIY solar setups
- Appliance-specific solar panels
Plug-in mini solar systems work exactly like rooftop PV systems — they connect to your residence's wiring and synchronize with the voltage and frequency of your grid power — just at a smaller scale. The power generated by a plug-in mini system is usually enough to power several electronic devices and LED bulbs, but not high-power devices like air conditioners and washing machines.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a solar plug-in mini system is right for your rental property:
- Plug-and-play solar panels are not subject to the permitting requirements and interconnection procedures of a traditional rooftop installation, and they can be simply connected to a suitable power outlet.
- NOTE: When using plug-in solar panels, you must make sure that the power outlet used has a circuit with enough capacity to carry the current, as well as an adequate breaker. Otherwise, you can cause an electrical fault.
- Because this type of panel connects to the electrical system of the property, you should ask your landlord for permission before investing in one. You should also ask an electrician to check the power outlet you plan on plugging the panels into to make sure it has adequate capacity.
Off-grid solar panels and solar battery systems are completely disconnected from the grid, which makes them a popular option for remote or rural sites with no electric service. In these types of systems, one or more solar panels are used to charge a battery or solar generator with USB charging sockets and power outlets for small appliances. These off-grid systems are also a viable option for renters, because they are entirely self-contained and don't connect to the utility grid.
Portable solar panels are popular for camping, but they can also be used by renters to power small devices. These are some of the smallest solar panels available, and they only have a few watts of capacity. Their main purpose is charging smartphones, tablets and other tiny USB devices, and many of them have built-in LED flashlights.
DIY solar panel setups are also an option. You can shop online for compatible solar panels, inverters, batteries and solar charge controllers, and then build a custom system according to your needs. However, keep in mind that you must have at least basic knowledge about electricity to safely and successfully install a homemade solar system.
Appliance-specific solar panels are also a viable option for renters. You can find many devices with built-in solar panels, which don't depend on a power outlet to operate. For example, you can install solar-powered outdoor lights for your backyard or balcony, or use a solar air conditioning unit or fan to provide extra ventilation during the hottest hours of the day.
Pros and Cons of Small Solar Units
Miniature solar systems have advantages and limitations like any device. They have a lower cost than traditional rooftop systems, plus they are easier to install and relocate. Just keep in mind that they can't power larger appliances, which means their power bill savings are small.
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of the most common types of miniature solar systems:
|Renter-Friendly Solar System||Pros||Cons||Typical Price|
|Plug-in solar system||
- Easy to install
- Can be plugged into a normal power outlet
- Can only operate when connected to the grid
- You need a dedicated circuit and breaker of adequate capacity
|$1,500 for a 600 W solar system|
|Off-grid solar system||
- Can charge batteries or generators to be used after sunset
- Fully independent from the grid
|- Batteries increase the system cost significantly if you want a high energy storage capacity||$400 for a 100 W solar panel with a 24,000 mAh battery|
- Easy to carry
- Can be used for camping and other trips
|- Limited use: Charging smartphones and other small devices||$100 or less for a foldable 30 W panel|
|DIY Solar||- You can create a custom system that meets your needs||- Basic electrical knowledge is needed to set up a safe system||Variable, depending on the components used.|
- Easy to install
- The solar panel is often included with the price of the device
|- You can only use the solar panel to power one appliance or device||Variable, depending on the appliance|
Miniature solar power systems are designed for small, low-power devices such as LED bulbs and electronic gadgets. If you're a renter and would like to increase your savings beyond what is possible with small solar kits, you can consider joining a community solar project near you.
- These projects normally have two membership options: purchasing a share or paying a monthly subscription.
- In both cases, you will be entitled to a portion of the kilowatt-hours produced by the system, and this portion will be subtracted from your bill.
Another advantage of community solar is that you can move freely to another apartment or home. Since the solar panels are not physically located where you live, you can usually re-assign the electricity savings to your new address.
Products to Help Renters Maximize Solar
There are many brands of miniature solar kits, but you should look for a reliable provider like Sunboxlabs. Since you're dealing with electricity, purchasing high-quality products is strongly advised to avoid accidents. Before purchasing any solar panel or a related component, make sure it has an electrical certification mark such as:
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- ETL (Intertek)
- CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- CE (Conformité Européenne)
You can look for a solar kit that includes all components, such as this WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit. Alternatively, you can buy compatible parts separately, and build your own system. The following are some recommendations:
|Solar System Component||Recommended Product|
|Solar Panel||Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Battery||Mighty Max 12V Battery|
|Solar charge controller||ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller|
|Inverter||BESTEK 500W Power Inverter|
Keep in mind that you will also need wiring to connect all components together, and make sure you read all instructions carefully to ensure safety.