In Austin, Prof. Dumpster lives the good life (pictures)

Jeff Wilson is living in a dumpster, hoping to show Americans how much energy and water they waste. CNET Road Trip 2014 stopped by to see how the Dumpster Project could lead to healthier cities.


Daniel Terdiman

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Prof. Dumpster leaping

AUSTIN, Texas -- In a world of dwindling resources, the average American lifestyle is almost certainly unsustainable. Yet most people don't have a model for how to live differently.

That's what Jeffrey Wilson, aka Professor Dumpster, wants to provide. An environmental sciences professor and dean at Huston Tillotson University here, Professor Dumpster is in the middle of a project meant to prove it's possible to live super minimally, and super efficiently.

For a year, Professor Dumpster is living in a 33-square-foot dumpster -- outfitted, of course, for civilized living. But the goal is to do that living with zero waste, and extremely minimal use of power and water.

As part of Road Trip 2014, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman came to the Texas capital to see just how comfortable one can be living in a glorified trash can. Turns out, if you're willing to let go of a few creature comforts, it's not too bad.

Please click here to read my full story on the Dumpster Project.

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Dumpster Project Phase III drawing

Currently, the Dumpster Project is in Phase I, and Professor Dumpster and his team are actively trying to raise money to proceed to the next stages of the initiative.

This document shows what the project is intended to look like when it's much further along. With multiple stories, and a developed garden, this dumpster could be sophisticated living for the minimalist-inclined.

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Prof. Dumpster laughing

Standing inside the dumpster, located at Huston Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, Jeffrey Wilson, aka Professor Dumpster, laughs and enjoys his 33-square-foot home.

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Pushing the water barrel

In its current state, the dumpster isn't connected to the grid in any way, which means that Professor Dumpster must get water the old-fashioned way -- by carrying it home. When he needs water, he pushes this water barrel, which holds 24 gallons, to Austin's Lady Bird Lake, an hour round-trip, where he fills it up. When he returns, he filters the water in order to make it potable.

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On the phone

Though the dumpster isn't connected to the grid, that doesn't mean Professor Dumpster is cut off from the world. He uses his iPhone to talk to people, and he spends much of the daylight hours at his university office, which is only a couple hundred yards away.

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Hidden compartments

At first glance, you can't tell where Professor Dumpster keeps any of his clothes, bedding, or other important supplies. Then he opens a lid, revealing several hidden compartments under the floor.

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One element of the Dumpster Project is to grow a sustainable garden alongside the dumpster. Tended by Professor Dumpster and his students, the garden is turning out several kinds of vegetables.

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As a way of demonstrating how much less energy and water he can live on than is used by the average American household, Professor Dumpster plans on installing a set of the average collection of household appliances next to the dumpster that he will use for a few months to establish an energy/water/waste consumption baseline. Then he will be able to compare his own usage to that of the baseline.

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It's bigger on the inside

As an homage to Dr. Who and the Tardis, Professor Dumpster has a welcome mat outside the dumpster that reads "It's bigger on the inside."

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Couchsurfing note

Professor Dumpster has not been the only one to live in the dumpster. Because it is a demonstration project, many others -- including his students -- have spent nights there. But he also opened up the dumpster to users of Couchsurfing.com, prompting this note from the first person to ever use that Web-based service to find a bed in a dumpster.

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Laying out bed pad

Because the dumpster's interior space is so small, Professor Dumpster must keep his bedding hidden away until he needs it. Here, he begins to set up the bed, first laying out his sleeping pad.

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'Star Wars' sheets

Befitting a geek like Professor Dumpster, he makes his bed using "original" "Star Wars" sheets.

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Mosquito net

To attach a mosquito net, Professor Dumpster uses magnets that attach to the metal walls of the dumpster. He also uses magnets to attach many other things to the walls, including drawings by his daughter and other children.

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Climbing in

Professor Dumpster climbs inside his home.

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Looking in from the top

The top of the dumpster opens and closes, and when it rains, Professor Dumpster closes it. Here, he looks in on his small home from above.

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Making coffee

Professor Dumpster calls himself a cross between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Oscar the Grouch.  Here, he makes a cup of Turkish Coffee on the bench outside the dumpster while wearing his Oscar the Grouch cap.

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On the trike

When he needs to get around, he tries to use pedal power -- meaning he rides this three-wheeled bike as much as he can.

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Prof. Dumpster and the dumpster cactus

Professor Dumpster looks over at a cactus sculpture made from the recycled metal of former dumpsters.

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This mailbox on the outside of the  dumpster is one sign someone lives inside.

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The official timeline of the Dumpster Project. On Monday, the project canceled its Kickstarter due to insufficient funding. They had been seeking $100,000, but received less than $16,000.

The project is planned out well into next year, including a wide range of expansion and educational initiatives. Professor Dumpster is now hoping people will donate funds directly through its Web site.

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