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The Green Life: Why is this Professor Living in a Dumpster?

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March 06, 2014

Why is this Professor Living in a Dumpster?

Professor Dumpster at homeThey call him Professor Dumpster, and no, this is not a put down. Dr. Jeff Wilson of Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas literally (or litter-ally as he likes to spell it) lives in a dumpster. 

It's all part of The Dumpster Project, an experiment in sustainability that sees Professor Dumpster and students at Huston-Tillotson retrofitting a dumpster to meet sustainable and livable standards. "Science needs to be juiced up a bit," said Wilson. "I have been an environmental science teacher for the past six years, and I'm tired of kids falling asleep in class."

The Dumpster Project has certainly gotten people's attention. Dr. Wilson and his students recently hosted a "dumpster warming" party to mark the start of what will hopefully be a long a fruitful endeavor for all involved. Around 250 people came to the event, which was accompanied by student presentations related to the project.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Dumpster Project is its symbolic nature, as Wilson will be conserving resources where they are normally discarded. Nevertheless, Wilson believes that facilitating dialogue is more important than metaphorical meaning. "The end game is that the dumpster becomes a conversation," said Wilson. "For some people it'll be about sustainability, for some people it will be about less is more, for some people it will be a business proposition. We just want a conversation."

As of now, the dumpster is still in what Wilson describes as the "primitive camping" phase. This means that Wilson is essentially camping, except that his tent is a dumpster. But Wilson plans on transforming his humble abode into an "über dumpster" equipped with solar powered electricity while at the same time using only 1% of the energy and water used in a normal American home.

"This is an experiment to show that one can have a pretty good life using limited resources." While initially trepidatious, the administration at Huston-Tillotson is now fully supportive of the project. But not everyone is as enthusiastic, as some bizarre and misdirected criticism has come his way. "I've been accused of telling people that under Obama we have to live in dumpsters," said Wilson.

Though the project has undeniably provoked discussion, the educational opportunities that it provides is perhaps its most tangible effect. For the students at Huston-Tillotson, an historically black college, this aspect of the Dumpster Project is invaluable.

"What's so cool (about the project) is the students," said Wilson "Over 90% are first generation university students, and for them to have exposure to global experts is an amazing opportunity."

Wilson particularly highlights the contributions of Green is the New Black, a student group at Huston-Tillotson that is committed to transforming the environmental conversation within African-American and Latino communities.

You can follow the Dumpster Project's progress on Professor Dumpster's Twitter and Instagram pages.

--Image courtest of Jeff Wilson

Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. he recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.

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