By Kevin Sullivan
The chair on the deck is normal by most standards. Its wooden frame has four legs and a back. The only exception is that it doesn’t have a seat. In place of a seat there is a gaping hole with a dirt-stained, white, cylindrical bucket underneath it. On top of the bucket is a smaller white pail holding coffee grounds within.
This is what 22-year-old Devin Hinshaw uses to defecate in.
“Turning what others consider waste into something that’s not wasted but to better my immediate environment,” is what Hinshaw says inspires her.
Hinshaw believes that using the sewer system pollutes our water. This is one of many philosophies Hinshaw lives by that makes her self-sustainable.
Hinshaw grew up in Boulder, Colorado and was raised with her younger brother by a single mother. By the time Hinshaw entered freshman year of high school she lived with her friends and started her career in the work force while her mom and brother moved out west.
“When other people were worried about grades, or sports, or whatever, I was worried about paying rent,” Hinshaw says.
After earning her G.E.D., she wound up coming to the West coast to be with her mother in Seattle. Later, she found a home in Eugene and fell in love.
At Lane Community College, Hinshaw was the chapter chair for OSPIRG and became interested in the process of waste disposal after taking a certain class. Despite her fondness for learning about waste, her overall experience didn’t suite her and, ultimately, she dropped out.
“I kinda realized they were brainwashing me,” Hinshaw says.
Hinshaw took up permanent residence in an alternative community living space called Maitreya, located just outside the Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene. Within the fencing of this mini-village, there are many houses, including little huts made out of materials found in dumpsters. The yard is stacked with leaves, welded bikes and plants of all sorts. Walkways connect houses as people cross paths with each other from living space to living space.
“In this front house there’s a lot of—I don’t want to say hippies—but very subversive non-conformist people,” Hinshaw says.
In this community, Hinshaw has the opportunity to practice what she preaches regarding waste sustainability.
Every time she has to use the bathroom, she follows a simple process. After using the bucket, she sprinkles the coffee grounds on top of her waste and puts it in the Biogas Digester, an invention created by Waren Wieseman, which aerobically turns her waste into methane gas. Then, when her or her house mates want to cook, she uses that methane gas for the flame of the stove. Her housemates don’t seem to mind. In fact, one of Hinshaw’s housemates uses the Biogas Digester as well.
“I have a pretty high tolerance for weirdness,” housemate Jennifer Rose says. “It saves like a gallon of water.”
Hinshaw’s bright eyes light up and she smiles as she talks about her own experiences. Wearing a grey beanie and a hooded green sweater, her brown curls fall into her face as she talks. She lets out a nervous laugh between sentences but does not give the laugh time to resonate before going on to the next point.
“There’s a lot of underlying effects from our actions that we don’t account for,” Hinshaw says. “Corporate America is unsustainable at its roots.”
For the first year that she lived at Maitreya, Hinshaw was unemployed, something that was unusual for the young adult who had worked to pay off rent for the previous four years.
“I was work trading here and doing, like, odd jobs. Helping, like, plaster walls for Rob,” Hinshaw says. Rob Bollman, an alternative builder, along with his wife, who was interested in community living, built Maitreya together.
“I kinda feel that we have a low cost of living and a high quality of life,” housemate Skip Fibbers says.
, an organization that advocates for peace while feeding the homeless community of Eugene.
“As an affluent society we spend most of our money on military protection, yet we don’t take care of the people at home,” Hinshaw says.
Every Friday, Hinshaw cooks in the Lorax for Food Not Bombs and afterwards straps the food to her bike and takes it the feed in downtown Eugene. But her main passion is working with and learning more about waste and how to prevent pollution.
Despite the fact that she is in the minority of living her life to such an extremely sustainable fashion, she has hope for the rest of society.
“Every person is on their own time frame and will get there at some point,” said Hinshaw.
Hinshaw’s trust that the Biogas Digester will spread to other communities took a positive turn recently when Wieseman created a Digester for a hog farm. This one is roughly three times the size of the one in Maitreya.