Professor will live in Dumpster for a year

When you think about sustainable living, things like solar panels, rainwater collection, or planting a garden may come to mind.

But one Central Texas professor is taking it to a whole new level by moving into a Dumpster for the next year to demonstrate how easy sustainable living can be.

Dr. Jeff Wilson, an environmental scientist and associate professor at Huston-Tillotson University in East Austin, will begin his year-long experiment inside a 33-square-foot Dumpster Tuesday night.

He dreamed up the idea while sitting in a Starbucks.

“I was revising a journal article thinking about how could I make my research more applicable to student learning, and then I looked out the window and saw the Dumpster and thought, ‘That’s it,’” said Wilson.

“Professor Dumpster,” as he’s referred to on campus, sold off all of his earthly possessions in order to properly conduct the experiment.

Because the Dumpster is 1 percent the size of the average American home, it will be a tight squeeze for sleeping.

“The Dumpster is 6 feet by 6 feet, and I’m 6′ 1”, so that’s a little math problem. I’ll be sleeping diagonal,” said Wilson.

Throughout the next year, the Dumpster will transform into three different types of living space. It will start as a camping site.

A negative-15-degree-rated sleeping bag will keep him warm.

“So, hopefully the temperature won’t drop below that,” said Wilson.

It will then become an average American home with appliances.

“For example, we’ll have a washing machine out here that will use 40 gallons on the average wash, so I will be getting my water from Town Lake. So that’s eight five-gallon buckets I’ll have to haul up the hill,” said Dr. Wilson.

And finally, a space capsule.

“It will be the ultimate small space ever designed,” said Wilson.

Each phase will be designed and tested by students in elementary school through college.

“They will propose different solutions, go do some research, and run it by experts. And we’ll test out solutions,” said Wilson.

And in the end, Professor Dumpster hopes to answer this question.

“Can you have a pretty good life living in 1 percent of the average new American home with 1 percent the energy, 1 percent the water, and 1 percent the waste?”

As for drinking water, Wilson plans to filter it from Lady Bird Lake.

In the beginning camping phase, he’ll use the gym to bathe. But by the end, he imagines a complete self-sustaining Dumpster.

The Ford Foundation has given $75,000 toward this experiment.

There will be a Dumpster Warming Party on campus on Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to check out the space. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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