December 1, 2011 / 10:20 PM / 7 years ago

Professor is dumpster-diving urban Robin Hood

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - University professor Jeff Ferrell is something of a U.S. urban Robin Hood, although what he gives away is not stolen but the result of dumpster diving.

The Texas Christian University (TCU) professor of sociology sifts through dumpsters and gives the vast majority of what he finds to the needy or to friends.

He has also managed to furnish his living room with what is left, filled a tool shed with a collection of everything from screws to power tools and never pays for a bar of soap or office supplies.

Ferrell, 57, has been known to give scrounged food to friends, in the form of prepackaged, never-opened cocktail nuts. And because he gathers the goods on a bicycle, most of his finds are from dumpsters near his home.

The energetic, lanky professor with spiky hair is passionate about the ill effects of consumerism on society.

“I think it’s appalling on the level of just sheer waste and full landfills,” he said in an interview at his house. “I think it’s also profoundly disturbing given the level of need in our society.”

Ferrell’s wife, Karen, buys groceries and not all her clothes come from the dumpster, and some of their furnishings did not come from the trash. But Ferrell says he never buys clothes for himself.

Scrounging is his word for what he does. When he moved to Texas 10 years ago from Arizona, Ferrell decided to live off other people’s discards.

He blames a rushed culture for the habit of throwing things away instead of donating them to charity.

“That stuff needs to be put back in the rhythm of our society,” he said. “When a new iPhone comes out every six months, that absolutely causes iPhones to be thrown away.”

The same goes for new styles and colors in fashion. He stretches out a leg clad in good-looking jeans.

“I found these. These are low-cut. Who cares?”

Ferrell, who is also a visiting criminology professor at the University of Kent in England, has written nine books, including “Empire of Scrounge” in 2006.

He said he detects a “meanness in our society toward the poor.”

“We don’t think they’re deserving,” he said. “That’s where I come in,- to intervene in that process.”

Phil Harvey, a longtime friend who has gone along on scrounging trips, said Ferrell searches with an almost scientific precision for things that have value.

“You want to think that sometimes it’s just Jeff looking under rocks and trying to find beauty when there’s just a bunch of earthworms,” Harvey said. “Nine times out of 10, it’s that we’re just a bunch of wasteful buffoons.”

Ferrell sorts his findings in a room at the back of the house. He knows what is needed where.

A stack of thick wool blankets is for the homeless shelters, which also need backpacks and blue jeans. A small shop near his home gets small appliances and other items.

Once he supplied a group of immigrant students at TCU, who were learning how to service their bicycles, with sets of tools for each of them.

Still more is stored in the shed behind his house, where every wall, the floor and the ceiling are covered with hanging tools and parts.

His friends also get clothes. Ferrell keeps track of shoe, shirt, blouse and dress sizes and shops for them.

He has seldom had problems with police or store owners.

“I’ve found that being a good community member and being kind resolves all problems,” Ferrell said. “I try to leave a neater situation than what I come to.”

Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune

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