One night I was heading to an ice rink with my youth group for a fun night of snowballs, skates and falling over. Half way to Paradice the young guys in the back said they hadn’t had dinner, so I smiled and told them cheekily I knew a place on the way where they could eat for free. I pointed it out to the youth leader who was driving, we pulled into a parking lot and I told them I’d be back for a couple of minutes. A couple of minutes past, and I came back with a black plastic bag full of donuts. “This isn’t super nutritious, but it will fill you up for sure,” I said.
“Where’d you get this?”
“From the rubbish bin behind Dunkin Donuts.”
One thing I know all young adults want more of is more room in their budget. Especially if they are students living the flat-life. If you need to find ways to spend less, whether you are saving for something big, trying to find extra money for coffee with the girls, or just trying to make ends meet, something I highly recommend you try is dumpster diving, because it hits the biggest expense in your budget after rent: food.
As the video above demonstrates, dumpster diving involves retrieving perfectly fine goods that stores have thrown out from their dumpsters and using them for yourself. You can drive to the dumpsters. You can bike to the bins. You can even run. Either, way you hit up a local grocery store and go shopping, with a difference.
It might sounds crazy or seem to most people to be incredibly hipster, alternative and hippie. But the more we think about it, I think the more we will realise it’s really not as out there as it seems. For starters, in every bin behind a supermarket there is almost always perfectly fine food that has been thrown out by accident or for cosmetic reasons only. And no one I know of has gotten sick from dumpster dived food, and I know a lot of dumpster divers. But something more important to think about is this: the western world throws out so much food that ¼ of it could end world hunger – which is a lot of hunger to end. That means we throw out a lot of food; the majority of which will end up in landfill, and to me that is crazier than jumping in a bin for some kai: especially if you, yourself, are in need of saving any dollar you can.
Here is a picture of one night’s haul from two grocery stores last year:
Another night I got a text from a mate who was desperate for food. He’d run out of money for groceries and was between jobs so he had no income. He asked me to take him dumpster diving, so I picked him up around 9:30 and we hit the bins. In one dumspter we stumbled upon 100 bottles of V and about 30 cans of coke and sprite, 5 Kg’s of rice, 2kg’s of pasta, a few loaves of bread, 2 bags of lollies, yogurt, cheese, ten cans of diced tomatoes, a few cans of chickpeas, some lentils, bananas, a few bottles of beer, pita bread, and dish-washing liquid. It was an incredible haul. We hit up one more bin, gave half of what we found to another flat of mates, and called it a night.
Naturally, some nights are better than others, and some weeks are more fruitful than other weeks. You won’t always get incredible hauls, however as long as you supplement what you’ve got from the rubbish bins by paying for the additional groceries, you will still be able to consume a healthy diet, for very cheap every week, all year round. And if you know how to go about it right, you could live entirely off dumpster dived food, freeing up a significant amount of your money.
Here are some things you could do with the money you’d save dumpster diving: pay rent; save; buy a coffee for a mate; redistribute your new-found wealth to someone who needs some help, like a kid waiting to be sponsored or the family next door who is praying for a miracle; invest in a young kid at church and take them for a drive to the coolest place you know on gas you can now afford; get out $20 in 10c coins throw them at people on the bus just for fun (probably don’t do that one); or save up to buy a bike so you can cycle round the city, consume less fossil fuels get hella fit. If everyone in the Grace Collective had a little extra cash to go round, we really could do a world of difference.
But before we get carried away, I should specify that there are issues involved in dumpster diving. Bear mind that any bin is fair game, but most supermarkets lock their dumpsters, so you will have to learn over time which stores are worth your while. Naturally, there are things in rubbish bins which are rubbish, and there is sometimes broken glass and other obstacles to deal with so wear covered shoes and gardening gloves if you can get your hands on them for extra protection, and only take what you think is worth taking. In the interests of others, don’t take more than you need. Wash everything, and repackage it well in Tupperware or something similar. And I always recommend going in a group for simple practicality purposes.
The group of New Zealanders diving in this video demonstrate well many of the challenged faced when eating food from bins, however they also discuss why for them it’s worthwhile.
If anything, dumpster diving is great simply because it raises a lot of questions. It causes us to challenge the waste of our society, to question the fascination we have with perfect goods, and the tendency we have to biff whatever doesn’t meet our unrealistic expectations. It causes us to ask if being so disconnected from where our food comes from is really such a good thing. Are there other alternatives like dumpster diving we can explore? Should we try growing our own food in our gardens, so we don’t throw away so much just for the convenience of having fully stocked supermarkets all of the time. It makes you ask questions about the wealth of western nations, such as how we can justifiably throw away so much when so many starve to death everyday?
But it also makes people ask a lot of questions about dumpster diving itself. Many people question whether or not it is a sustainable alternative to our waste problem. The short answer is no. Supplying the food to food banks, shelters, and non-profits are probably far better uses of the food in the bins. However, there is a lot of good food in the bins of New Zealand, and whether you dive and save money and use it to help someone out, or set up a means of redistributing waste to people who need it, you are participating in a Kingdom that is not of this world, and you are following our King Jesus in his revolution of simple love. And either one is good in my book.
I hope that in reading this you will be inspired, or intrigued enough, to give dumpster diving a go every once in a while, or atleast to look into it more. If not for necessity, at least for kicks.
If you are, I’ve provided some links below for further thought. And if you would like someone to go with who can show you the ropes, feel free to contact me on email@example.com or talk with me at the next Grace Collective event.
God bless, and happy dumpstering.
Links for further thought: