Dumpster diving is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash to find items that have been discarded by their owners, but which may be useful to the dumpster diver. Dumpster diving is known as “skipping” in the UK; the term “dumpster” is American.The practice of dumpster diving is also known as bin-diving, containering, D-mart, dumpstering, tatting, or simply, recycling. A similar term is “binner” and is often used to describe people who collect recyclable materials for their deposit or resale value. Whatever we call it, these people are saving us from ourselves by keeping useful materials out of landfill.
In Germany people use the term “food sharing”, which highlights the end result of using food destined for the trash. Most of the people who food share there are not driven by poverty, but a moral imperative to reduce and reuse what otherwise would go to waste. In 21st century style, German food sharers have created a online catalog.
Do you have any experience with dumpster diving in countries other than Canada, or know someone else who does?
The sign they are holding reads “I wish less [too small to read]”
This person from the USA made a post on their Tumblr which shows the issues dumpster divers often face.
“They slashed SO much food and mixed food with trash, smashed food, poured out liquids, put WIRES over the trash to “try” and keep us out, pretty much attempted to destroy and destruct all edible food by slitting, smashing and stabbing foods. Like what the hell?! Sorry but I’m pissed off. Never once did I leave a mess at their dumpster so why go out of their way to make an intentional mess inside their own dumpster?”
Speaking as someone who both liberates food and has worked in the food industry, I’ve seen destruction of “trash” from both perspectives. As an employee, I was told to lock up the garbage bags, but that was to keep racoons out. Any edible food which could not be sold was taken home by employees. We tried to use all the food we could to lower food costs, but stuff that could not be eaten (like the inside of a pepper or moldy lettuce) was placed in the green bin to be taken away by the city. I couldn’t destroy food but some people would be willing to do so, especially if they were told to by their boss.
This is also a reminder of why it’s important to be respectful of the space where you are dumpster diving, because even if you do keep it clean you could be seen as a problem – but I think the bigger problem is all the food that is going into the trash instead of into peoples cupboards and fridges.
“It’s worse enough that they aren’t donating their food, but destroying it so nobody can have it, well that’s just selfish!”
This reminds me of the destruction of the Toronto Occupy Garden the day before harvest.
It may look like a peaceful picture of people working, but these are City of Toronto Parks and Recreation employees destroying food.
Some people in Halifax have approached the government in hopes of seeing less food in the dumpster. This may seem surprising, but for those who dumpster not out of need but purely for political or moral reasons, they see it as a way to reduce waste. Find out more here.
“You can actually take it into your own hands and say if that is still good food, it should not be wasted”
If you want to get involved in the Halifax dumpster diving community, check out the Scavanger Society.
Vancouver has a very vibrant dumpster diving culture, borne from an active knowledge about food politics and a drive to be more environmentally sustainable.
This article shows how people in Vancouver go dumpster diving. It also takes on the issue of information sharing versus protection.
“I was approached more than once by the freegans there telling me not to photograph or expose the location of the dumpster or store it is behind.”
It’s important to be mindful that not everyone who goes dumpster diving has as much agency. Some people do it because their only other choice is getting food from a shelter or drop-in centre. This group created a harm-reduction pamphlet, focused towards people who dumpster dive out of sheer need. One of the tips they provide also brings up the topic of information sharing.
“Share with your friends, but don’t overly advertise your good spots, as it could bring too much traffic and disturb the business.”
Where do you stand when it comes to sharing spots?
In Ottawa dumpster diving is not legal, to protect against identity theft. Seeing as the nations capital has a high likelihood of people engaging in this activity compared to other places, being concerned about identity theft is legitimate – but I do not see how placing a law against dumpster diving helps meet this end. People who engage in white collar crime are not going to be stopped by a by-law which only really results in hurting the poor and those who want to reduce waste.
In spite of the illegality of dumpster diving in Ottawa, there are still people who not only do it but show others how to as well. Here is an article showing the awesome work being done by activists from OPRIG (Ontario Public Interest and Research Group)
Have you ever had run-ins when dumpster diving? How have you handled it? Has the concern about getting caught dissuaded you from dumpstering?
Calgary tends to be overlooked, at least by people in Toronto, but there are dumpster divers all over Canada.
This article includes a video showing someone who found a whole tin full of bruschetta and over a bakers dozen worth of bread in a Calgary dumpster. He’s part of a collective called YYC Dumpstering, and explains how he started dumpster diving in this interview.
“The fact that it’s going to landfills instead of going to needy or hungry or homeless people, where it could be serving a lot better purpose; so I feel… that it’s disgusting.”
“Getting knee deep in garbage for a cause may be crazy, but he says he’s more put off by the waste.”
Does any Calgarian know what YCC stands for? I tried searching online but just got results for the airport.
This is the beginning of several installments about dumpster diving in different Canadian cities.
I’m amazed at the generosity of other dumpster divers in sharing their spots. When I started dumpster diving I wanted to keep it a secret between me and some close friends, in fear that too many people would find out – or the wrong sorts of people. I live in a large city, and part of city life is dealing with people who don’t care about how actions like throwing trash all over the place affects others. Over time I’ve realized that those people are going to create issues whether you tell them about “that store that doesn’t pile trash ontop of the tomatoes” or not.
This is an awesome website about dumpster diving in Montreal and here is a list of Montreal based places to find stuff. In sharing fashion, I can attest that Atwater is a great place to get huge boxes full of food.
How do you feel about sharing the best places for finding food? Do you consider yourself part of a Dumpster Diving community, and if not would you like to create one?