Living in a dumpster

Spanning just 33 sq ft, the converted garbage container (left) has a sleeping area (far left) and electricity, but no running water.
Spanning just 33 sq ft, the converted garbage container (above) has a sleeping area and electricity, but no running water. PHOTOS: NEW YORK TIMES
Spanning just 33 sq ft, the converted garbage container (left) has a sleeping area (far left) and electricity, but no running water.
Spanning just 33 sq ft, the converted garbage container has a sleeping area (above) and electricity, but no running water.

A garbage bin has been converted into a cosy pad in Texas

NEW YORK • How does one get students thinking about their environmental footprints?

Dr Jeff G. Wilson and his students at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, retrofitted a 33 sq ft garbage container into a cosy pad that he lived in for an entire year.

It was, he says, "a radical experiment in what it would mean to live on, and in, less". He moved out last February.

Nine educators have since taken up residency for up to a week to see what it is like to live without running water. Cooking is on a camping stove.

But there is electricity. To battle interior heat of sweltering summers, the bin had to be connected to the grid so air- conditioning could be installed.

Dr Amanda M. Masino, a biology professor and co-director of the Dumpster Project, says: "There were a few who grabbed the spirit early on, like they were camping.

"And then there were some who brought two pieces of luggage and realised they didn't have room to open them in here."

Dr Masino has developed a curri- culum in which students design workable technology for the space - such as using sheep wool as insulation, water filters and solar- powered installations.

More than 1,400 people have visited the container, which also travels to science and art exhibits across the state to share its sustainability message.

As for Dr Wilson, also known as Professor Dumpster, he had his dislikes (school gym as bathroom) and likes (mobility, scaled-down possessions). He has left Huston- Tillotson to funnel the lessons learnt into an urban living experiment: pre-fabricated apartments of only 225 sq ft (seven times the size of his previous residence) that fit onto a rack and can be transported. Austin gets the first rack of four units in April - rent is about US$600 (S$840) a month - with other cities to follow.

Dr Wilson concludes: "A lot less can bring a lot more to your life."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Living in a dumpster'. Print Edition | Subscribe