Sunday 22 October 2017

Professor lives in a rubbish bin

Bin charges are set to be overhauled
Bin charges are set to be overhauled

In the heart of Austin, Texas, is a man who lives in a 33 square-foot rubbish bin (about three square metres).

He's been likened to the green Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch, but this is Dr Jeff Wilson, who calls himself "Professor Dumpster".

Wilson is an associate professor of environmental science at Austin, Texas' Huston-Tillotson University. His plan is to transform his living space from a sparsely furnished rubbish container into a sustainable home over the course of one year. All in the name of education.

"I can't say as a child when we were asked to write goals, that I wrote down that I wanted to live in a dumpster," says Wilson.

It's called "The Dumpster Project", and Wilson incorporates this hands-on initiative into his "Dumpster 101" course at the university.

Project rules dictate that the dumpster must be occupied every day over the course of the year, so Wilson, his students, and occasionally, community members stay the night in the container to show how we can all be more efficient wherever we live.

"We want to teach issues around sustainability, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, living on less, to a much broader audience than you might just reach in one small environmental science class," says Wilson.

Wilson says that the average new American home is approximately 2,480 square feet (230 square meters), so his space accounts for about 1% of this amount. He says he wants to learn whether it's possible to live on 1% of the average energy and water consumption and generate 1% of the waste of an average new American home.

To find out, Wilson has divided the project into three phases.

Phase one, which is just finishing, is basic camping. Wilson and his students filter their own water from a nearby lake, sleep on a sleeping bag at night, and take simple towel baths. Bathroom breaks, according to Wilson, involve using a bottle in the dumpster or using the university facilities.

Phase Two is called "the average American home," whereby the team will outfit the dumpster with normal appliances found in an average American home.

During the last phase, which Wilson calls "uber dumpster", the trash container will feature solar panels, energy efficient appliances and a low-flow compositing toilet.

"It'll be a totally tricked-out dumpster. It'll have solar panels, it will pop up. It will have a low-flow composting toilet. All of the very latest technology," says Wilson.

The students will help Wilson track the total energy, water, and waste throughout the three phases of the project.

Every five to 10 days, Wilson says he or his students will walk one mile to the nearby lake, collect water, bring it back and filter it. They are also growing their own vegetables in the adjacent garden so as to reduce their carbon footprint.

"And I'm not going to lie. At first, I thought, 'what's wrong with this dude? He's a PhD man and he wants to live in a dumpster?", says Michael Esuruoso, student and "dumpster executive officer".

"He explained about the dumpster project and I told him, 'that's so weird that it's awesome." So I got right on board," says Angelica Erazo, student and "dumpster governor".

The only times when the dumpster is unoccupied is in cases of severe weather, such as lighting, since Wilson says they do not have the funds to install lightning rods.

A few years ago, Wilson posted a message on Facebook that he was going to be selling every item in his home for 1 US dollar apiece. An hour after the sale started, everything was gone, except for a few necessities like some clothes and a backpack.

Wilson's girlfriend, Clara Bensen, says they met when Wilson was in the planning stages of the dumpster project.

"Yeah, there's no self-help manual for how to date a guy living in a dumpster, you know. I've looked. There's nothing," she laughs.

Wilson hopes that his living experiment will demonstrate how less really is more.

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