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Sunday, 2 July 2017

Confessions of a Dumpster Diver

I’ve been dumpster diving for almost the entire past half year in Ontario now. But I started dumpster diving about four years ago and have been doing it off and on since then. This has become more than just another hobby for me. I’ve gained a lot of insights about myself, and about society. I've occasionally dived for non-edibles, but I will be focusing my blog on edibles, as food waste is such a big issue.


Gees Louise! Kashi cereal, Kettle chips, granola bars, and more

Dumpster diving is a journey in itself. When one begins there is a feeling of fear and shame, quickly replaced by liberation. When I started doing it, I was afraid of being caught, afraid of people judging me, and feeling a bit like a bum. After awhile though, my shame gave way to freedom, and then enthusiasm.

The enthusiasm has multiple dimensions to it. Obviously, free stuff rocks! Then, every time I open a bin, I feel the thrill of never knowing what I'm going to get. Sort of like playing the lottery or, as Forrest Gump said, opening a box of chocolates. Some days I get nothing, some days I score big and I feel like I won the lottery!
Found these chocolates (not expired) shortly after Valentine's Day and Easter.

Then there's the realization that most of the food I find is actually in good shape. Packaged goods are typically thrown out due to exceeding the 'Best Before' date, although I've discovered a variety of other trivial reasons, such as torn or dirty packaging, or going out of season, such as holiday chocolates.

With produce, such as fruits and vegetables, a surprising amount of what I find looks completely fine, like something I would buy in the store. Some produce may have soft spots, or some surface imperfections, but are otherwise perfectly edible.
Apples. Lots of apples. And they're all perfectly fine.

Various fruits and veggies

The bread basket. I simply avoid the products touching the sides of the bin

Most spots are free and clear. Occasionally though I run into other divers!

This realization triggers elation for my tummy, but disgust for the food industry. Every time I dumpster dive I lose a little more faith in our economic system.

Economics can be a cruel game, and for grocery stores, it means throwing out perfectly good food is better business than reducing prices or donating it. A lot of stores use just-in-time stocking to keep up with the competition. There is a constant flow of goods in the back and out the front, such that the shelves are bulging with no wiggle room. On top of that, strict government regulations combined with liability risks discourage most stores from donating food, even if they have good intentions.

After all, what staff feels good throwing unsold food in the dumpster? You can't blame them - business is business. It makes me wonder about that food waste statistic - 40%. How much of that waste occurs at the supermarket level?

Although I really try not to blame the staff for their complicity, it's hard to justify why they don't bother to recycle properly either. Usually half of the waste I see in the garbage bin is cardboard and paper products, waste that belongs in the adjacent blue bin. I suppose if I were closing up shop at the end of the day, I wouldn't want to linger around longer than I need to in order to properly separate the waste.

Coffee, pasta, random knick knacks, and lots of granola bars

I've reached a crossroads with dumpster diving, where I want others to know about it and benefit from it. I want to spread the word about it, however, this is risky business. How much do I tell?

Exposing the businesses won't force them to stop wasting. It will only cause them to lock their dumpster. I will only mention one store by name because they are easy to pick on. Sometime last year, Walmart was called out in a CBC investigation for food waste, where they sifted through their dumpster at a particular Toronto location. After that episode aired, that location started locking their dumpster. In fact, it was around the same time that episode aired, that the Walmart location I regularly dived at in Vancouver started locking theirs too, so it may have been a corporate wide response.

Thus, I hope you understand why I choose not to expose the names of the stores I dumpster dive at. However, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself, I'd be happy to tell you via private message.

I am thinking about taking a page out of activist Rob Greenfield's book, and displaying all my goods out in a public place, such as along a busy sidewalk, giving them away for free, and starting conversations about it.

Okay, so this is non food, but still worth showing - toothbrushes!

Sour patch kid heaven. I gave all of these away
In terms of my personal transformation through dumpster diving, I feel empowered by rescuing the food and reducing my own demand on the food system. But I also think I've developed a twisted form of entitlement. I feel entitled to free groceries, and try to dive in the back before going in the front, and sometimes I don't even go in the front of the store at all, and eat through my shady pickings.

I think this tactic has reduced the overall quality of my diet. I am generally a healthy eater, so will avoid candy such as the ones in the image above. But I still indulge myself now and then on processed and convenient foods, something I wouldn't have done if I bought food like everyone else.

I'm also still not quite sure what the nutritional quality of some of the food is. But I figure you can't go too wrong with fruits and vegetables. I do draw the line at mould though (for certain foods it is safe to scrape the mould off).

You might not know many dumpster divers but I do know a few. That's because I'm getting people into it! My sister and brother-in-law were all for it. And, though resistant at first, my parents and even my grandma support it and are willing to let me share certain items with them.
I've introduced diving to a few friends too
I still feel that what I am doing is a noble cause. Or maybe I'm foolishly justifying my actions as nobility, when really I'm just a cheap bastard. I'll let you decide that. At the very least, I'm not hiding it like a bad rash.

I've got some far off potential ideas for the future based on my dumpster diving experience. I'm seeing more and more food rescue programs and non-profit businesses pop up, and it inspires me to try something like this someday, perhaps a pay-what-you-can restaurant serving salvage cuisine. I read about a guy in the US who as a hobby dumpster dives electronics, refurbishes and resells them, making tens of thousands of dollars per year.

If there's a moral here, it's that looks can be deceiving - too easily people see something in a garbage can and make the connection that it's useless. Or if they think it might actually be useful, are too ashamed to be seen reaching into a garbage can. But the saying rings true that one man's trash is another man's treasure. Sometimes you gotta just reach in. Because you might just find a box of chocolates.

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