Dumpster-diving

( This blog post is set to the sound of this song – https://zdradapalki.bandcamp.com/track/dumpster-diva )

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Dumpster+Diva – Dumpster Diva definition

Noun: A gorgeous dumpster diver possessing excellent diving skills. A teacher and leader in the movement against waste. Someone who brings the truth of horrific waste to the forefront of the movement against poverty. Usually has a side-kick with her so she can carry more and dive safely in dark places.

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Copenhagen trash finds!

I want to write a bit about one of the ways this years bike tour (I’m not sure about the previous ones, this was my first year) has fed itself for the last 3 months – dumpster diving.

Scandinavia was a treat! So much glorious food left in supermarket bins just waiting for 20 enthusiastic cyclists to strap it to the back of their bikes, pile onto the trailers, stuffed into the end of rolled up sleeping mats (this was a really good way to keep peaches safe..) whatever we could carry, we found a way to take with us on the bikes!

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redistributing waste – bananas pulled out the bins, with a sign offering them for people to take away with them

But lets backtrack a bit and introduce dumpster diving a bit for those less familiar with it. Dumpster diving involves taking the food from supermarket bins which has been thrown away. Maybe it’s not so obvious if you’ve never looked in a supermarket bin before – but supermarkets throw away a massive amount of food every day, most of it still fresh and edible. Some statistics: an estimated 89m tonnes of food are wasted every year in the EU, and some reports say that 1/3 of the worlds food is wasted. Why does so much get wasted? One reason is high supermarket standards and  unnecessarily strict sell-by dates – in this consumer driven competitive world, everything on the shelf has to look super perfect all the time.You’ve probably noticed how over-packaged everything in supermarkets is – avocados in plastic trays, covered in plastic wrap – and these have expiry dates printed on them, which means once that date is passed it has to be thrown away – even if the avocados are fresh and sometimes not even ripe yet!

A fine selection of pine kernels, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. On the left is a stack of coffee packages from the bin as well

A fine selection of pine kernels, pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. On the left is a stack of coffee packages from the bin as well

So… how do you dumpster dive? Easy! Find a supermarket – go around the outside until you find their bins – open them up and dive in! Some supermarkets even have separate biodegradable fruit and vegetable waste.  A good starter resource is http://trashwiki.org/en/Main_Page, but there are often far more than are listed here. Facebook groups also have up-to-date info as well.

This year the bike tour had success dumpster diving in Denmark, Sweden and Norway – the bins fed us well! So well that we used using supermarket waste as our main source of food most day – generally the route took us past a few supermarkets each day, we made short stops, load what we could carry onto the communal trailers and peoples bikes, and bought what we couldn’t dumpster dive. We generally find quite a variety of fruit and vegetables each day – often fancier fruits than we could afford to buy! – and often also some bread and other things, and then we bought staples such as rice, beans and lentils.

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sorting through the ‘trash’

It’s amazing what we found – on the one side, it’s really good, personally I try to spend little money in my everyday life, and like to use whats already available, so dumpster diving is great because I don’t feel like I have to consume more and I’m getting fed with food I couldn’t otherwise afford to buy, and it’s exciting because sometimes there is really good stuff in the bin! But also it’s bad to see how much is carelessly thrown away, especially when there are people everywhere who don’t have enough food to eat. I think it’s also tied in with consumer culture where we expect perfect fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets. There is also this idea that as soon as something has passed it’s expiration date its automatically bad for you – I think that not everything in the bin is necessarily good to eat but its obvious when you look that most of the stuff in the bin is perfectly edible – sometimes it’s not even ripe yet! – and the expiration dates are over cautious.

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making good use of the spare luggage straps to make sure we took all the potatoes..

Dumpster diving is also a useful tool to make public events more accessible– one of the social centres we visited at the beginning on the tour was dumpstering regularly, and then cooking big community meals for donation – the result is less reliance on money and more accessible to people who don’t have so much money.

As for the question of legality – the trash in Sweden belongs to nobody so it is not illegal to search through it, but I am not sure about other countries. Anyway for me, it is quite criminal that it is allowed to throw so much stuff away, but still I try to take stuff without drawing so much attention to what I’m doing, or go after the shop is shut so there is nobody to see it anyway! But stories of people having trouble for looking in bins is almost unheard of anyway.

Some of our favorite 2015 bike tour dumpster moments were:-
– All of Copenhagen! We shared everything with our hosts who also dumpster dived a lot, there was so much food all the time! We would go out on these old post delivery bikes with racks on the front and back and come back through the streets at night with fully loaded bikes!

– The bin full full of potatoes – so many potatoes one of the bike tour participants got inside the bin and swam in potatoes (sadly I can’t find the photo of this anymore)

– The bread factory bin, kneeling in bin bags of uncooked bread dough to get to the fresh tasty baguettes at the back

– Chocolate muesli balls – in Jonköping we dumpstered 6 big boxes (12kg!) of white chocolate muesli balls! Of course we didn’t eat all the these in the 3 days we were in the city and for some reason we didn’t want to put them back in the bin, so they went on the trailers, but by now everyone who was eating them before was really sick of them because there was so many of them, so they just went on and off the trailer until we started giving them away as presents to hosts, and eventually, gave them back to a bin!

– In Göteborg we found another bin diver! After almost filling our bikes at one shop, we stopped by another, which had a large container. But there were noises coming from inside. We soon guessed that there was another person inside but we didn’t want to scare them so we sat a bit away. Then we saw a hand come out the top and pushing bags of vegetables from the top out.

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The first night in Norway, we filled an entire picnic table with our collective bin finds..

– Near the village of Uddebo – we skipped so many chickpeas! – precooked, in tiny tetra packs  – so much packaging!

– Our first night in Norway was amazing bin diving – including some chocolate bars  called Troike -that everyone hated but still we didn’t learn our lesson after the muesli balls, and carried the Troike bars around for a few days while nobody ate them. More appreciated bin highlights from the same day was bags of hazelnuts and walnuts about 50 packets of dried figs

– Bin people and bin truck coming when we were at a Hemköp – we were cycling in quite a big group into a town – about 10 of us.  Hemköp was probably one of the more exciting dumpsterable supermarkets in Sweden. We all went round the back and dived in. As we were digging, a bin truck came around the corner, and started taking the bins one at a time – we were still grabbing things out as they wheeled the bins towards the truck…

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The bin truck arrives, and we grab faster. They start taking them away, but we still carry on diving, until finally they take the third one away. but still, we got a lot of food!

We also had luck dumperstering non-food shops as well.. some top finds included fake grass flip-flops and fake flowers that people decorated their bikes with.

So… dumpster diving… cheap (actually… free), fairly accessible way of getting food whilst reducing the amount of money we give to big corporations, and making use of things that would otherwise be wasted, and also exciting!

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