Dumpster Diving – Daring, or just Dangerous?

By Gwendolyn Tan, GLOBUS Correspondent

Like any other university student, I try to manage my finances responsibly. However, when I started to lead a greener lifestyle, I was taken aback by the costs involved in changing my diet – for example, the purchase of vegetarian, organic and local foods can be quite expensive…enter dumpster diving as a solution! 

Dumpster diving is an aspect of a freegan lifestyle (freegan: “free” and “vegan”). People who subscribe to freeganism are usually anti-consumerists who try to reduce waste by recovering wasted goods like food from dumpsters, curbside trash, or any other place where one could find things in a relatively good condition despite being thrown out (Freegan.Info, 2019). Although this might seem unappetising, it is important to remember that many shops throw out perfectly edible food simply because it is no longer aesthetically pleasing. The result? Every year, over 1/3 of all food produced globally ends up being thrown away (Olio, 2019).

It is worth noting that dumpster diving is an activity that some do out of necessity and it has been argued that privileged individuals who dumpster driving for purely environmental reasons are actually preventing the poor and homeless from sourcing food. But, considering the sheer amount of food that is being thrown out, it is unlikely that freegans are overstepping the mark; there is more than enough wasted food to go around.

However, freeganism is not as free and easy as it sounds. Some people are concerned that dumpster divers may look through their personal information, such as information contained in letters they throw out, and are wary of people who choose to dumpster drive. However, food is more often than not looked for in industrialized areas and not residential, so the risk of that happening is unlikely (Dart, 2015). Additionally, there is a physical risk of bones broken and cuts from shattered glass if care is not taken when jumping into skips. But, perhaps the most controversial point regarding the freegan lifestyle is its legality. However, if you live in the UK, there is no need to panic. A senior Law lecturer from Anglia Ruskin University, Dr. Sean Thomas, argues that freeganism is not theft as taking abandoned goods cannot be considered stealing; abandoned goods by nature have no owner and thus are up for grabs (Thomas, 2010). However, it is still possible for one to be fined or jailed for trespassing onto private property where dumpsters may be located, so it is always good to know your rights or ask for permission before undertaking any dumpster diving. 

On a more personal note, my first foray into dumpster diving took place when I was working at a startup located in a Singaporean industrial park. I saw two huge metal dumpsters twice my height filled to the brim with Kinder Buenos, and it seemed like it was the time to take a leap and try out dumpster diving – I just asked the workers if it was alright for me to take some and scaled over the side of the metal skip to get to the goods. In hindsight, it was perhaps not the smartest idea, as Kinder Buenos have milk and expired dairy products are thrown away for a reason. Nevertheless, dumpster diving is easy enough to try if careful considerations are taken with food safety and permission. Alternatively, if dumpster driving isn’t for you, a good way to reduce food waste is to focus on your own. Try to eat leftovers the very next day, share meals with friends and family, and only buy what you need!

Header image: Photo by Kevin Butz on Unsplash

References

Dart, R. (2015). Dumpster Diving and Freeganism. Discard Culture. [online] Available at: http://scalar.usc.edu/works/cultural-geography/dumpster-diving [Accessed 1 November 2019].

Freegan.Info. (2019). What is a freegan?. [online] Available at: https://freegan.info [Accessed 2 November 2019].

OLIO. (2019). 10 Food Waste Facts. [online] Available at: https://olioex.com/food-waste/food-waste-facts/ [Accessed 31 October 2019].

Thomas, S. (2010). Do freegans commit theft?. Legal Studies, 30(1), pp. 98-125.

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