Alternative Living Spaces & No Waste: One Year In A Dumpster

Alternative Living Spaces, Austin, No Waste

On these virtual pages you’ve seen tales of folks living in school buses, in shipping containers and on trailers, but an Austin professor is taking things even further, at least for a year. Jeff Wilson, environmental science professor and dean at Huston Tillotson University, will be residing in a re-furbished dumpster.

The Dumpster

He’ll have only 33 square feet (6′ x 6′) of living space, but it should be 33 very efficient square feet, as the idea is to be net-zero, energy wise, meaning the only electricity it will use is what is generated through solar panels. The idea behind the project is to call attention to the over-consumption and waste — in space, natural resources, etc. — inherent in typical American living spaces and lifestyles, and also encourage imagination around sustainability and design.

What’s great about it, from my point of view, is that the organizers will be engaging students in conquering the challenges inherent in small-space sustainable living, working with them to address three essentials: water, energy and health. How does one get potable water and, uh, get rid of waste, in such a situation? How could you operate a laptop, a refrigerator and lighting? And what about ventilation, heating and cooling — especially in a brutal Texas summer?

We’re talking science here, folks, and an awfully fun way to teach it and experience it. The educational materials (podcasts, videos, and data) will be made available to other institutions and will be kept online (at so they may be accessed well after the project is completed.

Students and Professor Dumpster

“The dream of the project,” Wilson told me, “would be to have a conversation started and sustained (no pun intended) amongst and between groups that aren’t generally discussing these topics of ‘less is more’. The dumpster is merely a conversation and learning tool.”

Right now, there’s not much to see as the project is just beginning, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it and providing updates as warranted.

Photos courtesy of The Dumpster Project

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