For those of you who don’t know I’m a dumpster diving geek. This means that I jump into dumpsters near grocery stores or other shops and search for things to eat or use. I tend to get a lot of questions about why I do this and the purpose behind it when I talk to people about the issues. I figured since a recent article that came out in Calgary’s Avenue Magazine about featuring me I would include the article and also provide further information. I would encourage you to read the article and provide comments if you want.
Food Quality / Other Issues
One of the biggest questions and concerns that I get is that the food quality that I am recovering is quite bad and could potentially cause me harm or that there are other issues associated with these practices. I’ve tried to break down the common questions that I get from people to answer all the questions (and would encourage more from people).
- Isn’t the food completely gross and sketchy (read: super gross and moldy) - Nope. Seriously. Take a look at that picture below and the quality of that food that we recovered. Did you know that stores will throw out veggies because they don’t look like you expect them to look? Yep veggie discrimination. It kinda make sense though cause we live in a demand created culture and thus we expect high quality food.
- What do you do with the food after you recover it? I take it home and eat it. Well that’s not entirely true. Some of the things I donate to Food Not Bombs and most things I take home, clean with bio-degradable soap, dry, and eat later. Pre-packaged things just get checked (bad parts removed) and then stored for later consumption.
- Aren’t you taking food away from homeless people? I think this is a fair question really and I’ve had a few people ask me about this. The question I like to rebutle is the following – “Why would a homeless person deserve or want to eat food out of a dumpster? Why wouldn’t they want to head to a shelter and get some fresh warm cooked food there?” I think it’s an assumption that the food is there and that somehow I’m stealing it from someone else that needs it. But you have to realize that everyone sees this food as waste and not as food. Also, there is so much of it that I end up not taking all of it home with me anyway.
Umm what have you found
This question I get a lot and most people figure that the things that I found are far and few between. I can guarantee that most times if I head out on a dumpstering mission I’ll find a load of food whether it be a bunch of bread, fruit/veggies, or things I can use. It is a bit of a hit and miss mission because sometimes you’ll find nothing like any expedition.
- Last nights score – Last night we hit up this fruit and vegetable shop in Newtown. They had an entire bin filled with tomatoes, avocados (still ripe), peppers, carrots, mangos (huge HUGE mangos), and plenty more. All of this goodness went into a stew to be used on cereal for many mornings to come.
- Skates/Rollerblades/Helmets – One night I was in a dumpster near my parents place and came across a bin filled with old skates, rollerblades, and other things being thrown out. Don’t ask me why the shop nearby threw that out but I was pretty appalled. I mean we live in a society where some people don’t even have access to these things and we are throwing it out. Not to mention the resources needed to make all of this stuff. I packed all the gear up in a hockey bag (how convenient it was also in the dumpster) and carted it down to a local school in the inner city the next day. Perhaps I’m bragging perhaps not. The women working there told me that some of the parents and students had never skated on ice cause they don’t have money to buy skates. So now they had skates to wear, helmets, and all the other gear! YESS!
- Box of Vegan Sausages (Organic) – There was like 20 packages (each worth $5 – $6) inside the box and were going to expire within the next day. We split them up and used them at a local Iron Chef put on by Food Not Bombs.
- Unused Sleeping Bag – While in a outdoor store I scored a sweet light weight sleeping bag (unsuitable for Canada weather but perfect for OZ) that was thrown out. I also managed to snag some inflatable mattresses they had cut (to make them not self inflate) that I gave to some homeless guys sleeping on the ground that night.
- And more …
I’m not doing this for bragging rights, to stir things up, or anything of the like. I personally can’t deal with all the waste that our western cultures think is acceptable. I think that when we stop throwing away so many things, be more responsible, and reuse more things then I’ll end up stopping this practice of dumpster diving. I have joked with several friends about this technique and I feel that one of my professions is that of waste diversion officer.
It all comes down to the math really. Think for a second about all the energy that went into growing the fruit or vegetable on your plate. Then think about the amount of energy required to ship that to your local grocery store. All that could end up in the dumpster if it appears to be not suitable for customers, contain a trace of mold (that could be removed), or returned by someone. I can’t confirm the statistic but I heard that around 40-60 % of the vegetables / fruits that we produce as a society is thrown out. There is an interesting article by the USDA about food waste if you are interested.
- 10-15 % in the growing process
- 10-15 % at the city distributing site [if there are a few moldy pieces of fruit in a box of fruit they are known to throw the entire box out -- I'm not joking here]
- 10-15 % at the grocery store
- 10-15 % at your home
I feel that by recovering this food and including it in my daily food source I am having some impact on not wasting it all. It’s crazy to me that we are throwing away food that people in other countries would die to have. That other people in other countries would remove the bad bits and then eat the remaining healthy parts. I’m not nuts just practical and I do realize this practice isn’t for everyone out there. What is real is that our current western lifestyles aren’t sustainable long term and this is something that I can do to make a difference and keep my footprint on the earth down.
What would you do differently?
I’ve been thinking about this for sometime now and I think that there are things that we can do as a society to try and stop this western throw-away society from progressing. If you aren’t interested in diving for your food then you might be interested in taking on some of these challenges.
- Don’t buy it unless you really want it – Our reliance on the ability to return pretty much anything is handy but not so great for the earth. Why you ask? Because most of those things you return are concerned not resalable and as a result end up in the dumpster in my hands (sometimes if I’m near the store you returned it). I’m not kidding you on this one cause I’ve found lots of working things in the dumpster that have been returned (including the return bags from stores).
- Buy really good quality items- Invest in something that is really good quality so that you don’t end up having to buy 3 or 4 of the same thing, because it keeps breaking down and makes you cry. Yah it costs more but in the end you save and Mumma E is happy too!
- Eat those solo bananas – In talking with a produce clerk I found out that stores throw out solo bananas because no one ever buys them. So give them some love, put them in your cart, and buy them.
- Buy locally – Buying locally will help reduce the waste because local farmer’s are less likely to waste as much food merely because they can’t afford to just throw away heaps of produce they have grown.
- Smaller stores (or non-chains) are better – I’m convinced that supporting smaller stores is better in the long wrong. I find that A) if they notice you picking out the more “hard done by” produce they might give you a break in price B) waste less C) supporting more local again.
- Dive in another way – If you aren’t interested in diving but don’t like the waste be brave and head into a local grocery store near you and ask if you can take a box of their throw away food away. It’s fun to try and cook new things with all that food.
- YO Dumpster Dive – Yah if you are keen do it! Hook up with some peeps in your communities that are down with diving and get them to teach you the ropes. It’s not hard and once you get the hang of it there is an entire world out there.
What businesses can do differently to force a change
These are just a few ideas that I have thought about over time to help encourage less waste and ensure that we are using everything to it’s full extent.
- No more refunds – I think that one of the worst deals that we as consumers get is the right ot return goods that we have purchased. We could change the rules so that certain things can be returned and exchanged but others things cannot be returned. I have found return bags with shampoos have used with a note stating that they didn’t work as a reason for return. Why are we giving full returns for items like this anyway? Sometimes the customer isn’t always right!
- Sell your produce – I’ve been to a few grocery stores that have a shelf with more sketchy produce and I think that’s a really great thing! We need that in a more wide scale practice all over. Even bakeries could have some special where you could take as many loafs at the end of the day for a certain price right?
My terms for Dumpster Diving
More as a joke I keep trying to come up with new names for dumpster diving. Like binning, diving, dumpstering, …
I’d love to hear your response on all this! I think that it is a pretty important issue and something that requires a bit of discussion and understanding perhaps. I feel a lot more support knowing more and more peeps that really do the same thing as me.