(Modified version of Charlie’s blog post after the 2015 tour)
Dumpster diving (also called skipping in Britain and recycling in Spain) 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 89 million 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!
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.
In 2015 the bike tour had success dumpster diving in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland – the bins fed us well! So well that we were 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.
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.
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 its expiration date it’s 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.
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! This also lowers the chance of the supermarket seeing it and locking their bins as a consequence (which might be really bad for local people relying on dumpster-diving). But stories of people having trouble for looking in bins is almost unheard of anyway.
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!