If you’ve ever fancied the notion of converting a large waste receptacle into an amenity-filled micro-home but find the idea lacks a solid academic component, allow me to introduce you to Professor Dumpster, an environmental science professor and dean at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas. (
Influenced by the philosophies of Thoreau, Diogenes, and Dr. Seuss and taking fashion cues from both Bill Nye and Mrs. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus," the good professor (real name: Dr. Jeff Wilson) is heading up a year-long experiment in sustainable living dubbed The Dumpster Project. And, yes, Wilson will be taking up residence in a 33-square-foot abode — 1 percent the size of the new American home in 2011 as the Dumpster Project website points out — fashioned out of an authentic used dumpster. Speaking to Co.Exist, Wilson lists off the necessities he packed for the big move: “A suitcase filled with dumpster-ready essentials, a Sun God totem from Kazakhstan, and a pair of lederhosen.”
While Wilson’s adventures in dumpster dwelling may initially come off as a heavy-handed statement about poverty and the housing crisis, that's not the aim at all. Rather, it's a “playful and imaginative” educational experiment and conversation-starter zeroing in on how we as a society can make do with less as we move into the future: consume less, waste less, live with less. The (sanitized) used dumpster will not only serve as Wilson’s new home address but also double as an interactive teaching lab. And as the Dumpster Project website points out, Wilson and his team could have easily opted to convey a similar message from a converted shipping container or a tiny house but, in the end, opted to use a dumpster: "the perfect symbol to present themes on waste and consumption in an engaging way.”
Here’s the plan: the Dumpster Team is developing a sustainability program for a variety of grade levels based on the broad topic of ‘less is more.’ Professor Dumpster will provide an entertaining context for the program by taking up residence in the dumpster for a full year beginning in fall of 2013. During that time he’s going to need a whole lot of help to make the dumpster habitable in the Texas heat…and that’s where the students come in. Through a series of three program design challenges, students will help Professor Dumpster monitor the conditions of his dwelling space and outfit the dumpster with everything he needs to live comfortably.
“I might say, ‘Looks like that drier is really hogging a lot of energy; What would happen if I just sold that on Craigslist and made myself a clothesline?’" Wilson explains to Co.Exist.
While Wilson’s experimental dumpster digs will be based at the East Austin campus of Huston-Tillotson and used to further promote the small, historically black school’s “groundbreaking” green initiatives, the Project Dumpster teams also plans for the project to be a mobile one, embarking around the state — and even the country — on educational tours. Equipped with a K-12 curriculum and Wilson’s zany Professor Dumpster alter-ego, the converted garbage bin would travel to different schools and communities while in “stealth mode” — that is, all the dumpster’s bells and whistles would be tucked away while in transport.
“This will allow us to do some interesting experiments, [like] dropping it on a kid’s playground and seeing what happens. Because they’re going to open the door and see an Xbox, a bed, a shower, all these things,” Wilson tells Co.Exist.
From the standpoint of someone who attended a lot of sub-par elementary school assemblies (magicians, acrobats, various people telling me not to do drugs, etc.) as a kid, if some dude sporting a bow tie and Lewis Skolnick glasses arrived on my playground with a secret dumpster house equipped with an Xbox in tow, I'd probably go absolutely bonkers ... and want to learn more.
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