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Dumpster Life: US Project Shows Less Can Be More

  • George Putic

A Texas college professor wanted to teach his students how people could live with much less than what the average American consumes, so he decided to set up living conditions for a year - on a rotating basis - for one person in a space of about three square meters. It's in a metal dumpster that is typically meant for trash. His experiment is attracting a lot of attention.

Jeff Wilson, an environmental science professor at Houston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, is known as 'Professor Dumpster' for teaching his students how to live while making a minimal impact on the environment.

"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," said Wilson.

The course is divided into three phases, the first one being basic camping. Every day, either Wilson, one of his students or a member of the community spends a day in the dumpster.

"They use sleeping bags, filter the water from a nearby lake and wash with wet towels. For a toilet, they use bottles or the college restrooms. They also grow vegetables in a small garden," he said.

In the second phase they will use energy-efficient appliances, while in the last phase their “home” will get solar panels and a composting toilet.

In the beginning, some students were skeptical. Others say they liked the idea from the start.

“He explained about the dumpster project and I told him, 'that's so weird that it's awesome.’ So I got right on board,” said student Angelica Erazo.

Wilson said three square meters is slightly more than one percent of the average new American home. He wants to see if it’s possible to live with only one percent of average energy and water consumption, while creating only one percent of the average home’s waste.

The experiment will last for a year, during which the residents of the tiny home will carefully track energy and water usage, as well as the amount of generated waste.
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