Passersby in the Good Food Store parking lot crane their necks to take in the spectacle that is Robert Walker's loaded Dodge Colt. The red rig is topped by two deflating balloons, a chair, black garbage bags filled with aluminum cans, a child safety seat, skis and a cardboard sign announcing his mission. It reads: "Saving the Planet, no landfills."
Walker, oblivious to the stares, points to a white pail hanging just above his cracked windshield. "That's a perfectly good bucket," he says. "Nothing wrong with it. It's a little stinky."
The brown-eyed man with a graying five o'clock shadow and a feather hanging from his cap says people too often buy cheap stuff, use it for a spell and then simply throw it away. Landfills, he says, are brimming with items that could be recycled and reused. Just look at this camera hanging around his neck. It's a perfectly good Olympus, and he found it in a dumpster.
Walker's dumpster discoveries are not limited to raw materials. The 64-year-old experienced what he calls a "spiritual awakening" in a dumpster while employed at a Helena recycling center in 1985. It was then he was called upon by a higher power to be a positive force in the world. Since that moment, his growing spiritual consciousness has increasingly made him aware of a looming environmental crisis fueled by wastefulness. In an effort to reverse the trend, Walker snatches stuff up from garbage cans, garage sales and curbsides all across town, aiming to recycle it for another incarnation.
"People call me a hoarder, a packrat," he says. "People will say whatever. I don't care. I'm on a mission from God."
About three months ago, Walker found a book titled Saving the Planet and a new black marker. "A-ha," he said to himself. "That's it!" That's when he wrote the "Saving the Planet" message still adorning his weighted-down Dodge.
Walker knows now, after so many dumpster epiphanies, that his life's work is to trigger a wholesale change in the way people deal with "trash."
"I've actually found my purpose," Walker says. "And I was in a dumpster."