‘Bin’ Shopping Lately?

Filed in Blog by on June 9, 2011 8 Comments
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Perfectly edible food dumped in skips and landfilled

Perfectly edible food dumped in skips and landfilled

I’m thrilled to be sharing a guest post today from Davina Dean.

Davina has the courage to do something I’ve never done and her courage pays off because it means she gets to eat for free!

Imagine that?! Imagine having your food bill reduced by 100% AND being able to help save food waste at the same time…

Have you heard of the nationwide chain of stores where entry is at the rear of the establishment, there are no disabled accesses or helpful members of staff, and all items are FREE? Well, welcome to the world of the ‘dumpster diver’.

The businesses who fill these giant skips, with useful items, are definitely not taking a leaf out of Mrs Green’s ‘My Zero Waste’ ethos!

Dumpster diving is not just for freegans and anarchists. There is nothing stopping us everyday folk from taking a little peep into the skips at the rear of stores, ranging from supermarkets to charity shops.

There may, however, be something stopping us from taking items from said bins, and saving them from landfill, and this is the 1968 Theft Act and the crime of ‘Theft by Finding’. This law is currently being tested in the case of Sasha Hall, who took some food from a Tesco bin. Hall appeared before magistrates recently where she entered no plea to the charge and chose to stand trial in front of a jury.

This case will set a precedent for those folk who save waste from landfill, reducing CO2 and Methane emissions and generally make a statement that ‘throwing food and other useful items away is morally wrong’.

We’ve been liberating items from dumpsters for a few years now. It started when my husband saw some lettuce being thrown into a bin at the back of our local supermarket. He retrieved the lettuce for our guinea pigs, and also found 5kgs of ground coffee and 20 rolls of kitchen foil! The food and other items then came thick and fast, on an almost daily basis and it was always exciting to discover, each day, what we would be eating. We have never been ill from any food consumed from supermarket bins. The nose knows ……

We then discovered that our local bakery threw their unsold bread into a dumpster, every day! And, our local charity shop should have be ashamed of itself for throwing away beautiful books, toys, clothes and crockery.

I was once stood in a bin behind a charity shop, boxing up beautiful books, when a lady came and threw some rubbish in beside me! I don’t know who was more embarrassed and I have to say that it wasn’t one of the highest points in my life. She was from a different store (and was throwing away ‘real’ rubbish, if there is such a thing), and we both agreed that it was shocking to see the books headed for landfill.

Our food finds were shared with ‘enlightened’ friends , who would return a portion to us in the form of deliciously cooked meals. The household items, that we could not use, were offered on our local Freecycle. This was all, however, not in England. So, we wait, in anticipation, for the decision of Sasha Hall’s jury, on her charge of ‘Theft by Finding’.

According to a report by the Guardian ‘The study, which is published in today’s New Scientist magazine, shows that the production of 1kg of beef releases greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4kg of carbon dioxide’. And that doesn’t even include the Methane emitted from the meat rotting anaerobically in landfill. One evening my husband returned with 65kgs of beef from our local supermarket bin!

Penguin Books inform us that ‘A 500-page paperback will typically account for around 2.5 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per copy. Over the course of a year there are 130,000 titles published in the UK, which generally means over 240 million books are printed. The sums speak for themselves.’  I have pulled hundreds of books from charity shop bins and found new and loving homes for them. Some particularly beautiful art books were even donated to our local library.

And, although Gordon Brown is now moved on, he did illustrate that the government does care about food waste.  In this article ‘Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, said: “We agree completely with Gordon Brown that everybody should be doing their bit to reduce food waste – at Tesco we’ve been working hard for years to do just that.’ So, why is Tesco taking Sasha Hall to court?

I believe that it is morally wrong for shops to throw away, to landfill, food and other items that are not ‘waste’ at all.

I am horrified that Sasha Hall is facing a large fine or possible imprisonment for saving food from landfill, particularly when, according to the United Nations over one billion people, on our Planet are starving today!

A little bit about Davina Dean:

Davina Dean doesn’t now live in a small West Country village, where she would be just a little bit uncomfortable with the neighbours knowing she had got ‘stuff’ from bins!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

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  1. Julie Day says:

    I know this is a movement/company that actually gets their foods from stores dumpsters and gives it to the homeless, I think. There was a programme on TV either earlier this year or last year with famous chefs who did this and showed that food that has been dumped can be edible still and made into meals. I think Richard Corrigan was one of the chefs.

  2. Susan Davies says:

    Well thats a pretty inserting perspective i must say but things dont always work as per the rules always so

  3. CarSue says:

    Lovely sentiments. I’ve heard arguments against dumpster diving, from those who say. “No one will come into the shops to actually buy goods if they know they can just get them from the bin for free,” which I believe is absolutely ridiculous! Think of all the pretentious, uptight people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the market without make-up on and hair styled…do you really think they would “lower” themselves to retreiving goods from the dumpster? I think not. If businesses are going to PAY to have their dumpsters carted away, I believe it is not only moral, but frankly good business sense, to let the hungry and the environmentally conscious take what they want first.

    Nice article. This draws more attention to an important topic.

  4. Francesca says:

    I am jealous. Here in lil ol’ Tasmania I am pretty sure this doesn’t happen. At least I know with the bakeries, The City Mission ( a charity that helps the homeless and penniless ) comes and collects the leftovers at the end of each day to feed them at their daily food hall. I think it sounds like fun, I would certainly do it if I could ! Great post.

  5. Attila says:

    A friend of ours works at a country auction house and regularly saves items from landfill that are from house clearances and unsaleable or that haven’t sold in the auction. He rents part of an old WW2 airfield and stores his rescued items in his sheds there. Every couple of years he has an afternoon for his friends who go and have a picnic and take whatever they want away with them. He just asks they give whatever donation they see fit to his favourite charity.
    This time we brought home a bike rack, an old meat safe (which I’ve put on top of the fridge to store tea, coffee etc), a Lloyd Loom laundry basket (that I need to paint), another cupboard that will probably go in my shed), a jug for my collection, some pens, pencils and a ruler, a picture and an enamel bowl “which the fox drinks out of”. A friend got a fabulous old screen which she is recovering, and others got a shoe rack, bookcase, the other bike rack, bedding etc etc.

  6. Some shops have taken fighting back against “dustbin diving” way too far: They slash unoped packets and pour anti vandal paint, or blue dye over the produce making it inedible!
    Lucky for me, my local tesco’s havent caught on yet, and My friends and I make regular trips to their treaure filled trash cans!
    Im also lucky enough to work in a local farm shop, where I am allowed to take things that are perfectly edible and past their sell by, as the owners hate food waste as much as me!

  7. Jane says:

    Once you know Best Before End isn’t the same as Use By you have made a great step forward!

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Julie Day: Hi Julie – I remember seeing the programme on chefs who created a VIP banquet from ‘waste food’ – was that the one? It was very inspiring (and depressing at the same time)

    @Susan Davies: Hi Susan, thanks for taking time to comment. You’re right, things don’t always work out, but it’s great to see people making use of a valuable resource instead of it being wasted 🙂

    @CarSue: I agree with you Sue – there are FAR more people who would not go near a skip. Love your idea of it being good business sense; I guess it is…

    @Francesca: It’s great that your bakery is on board; these businesses can do so much good if they put their minds to it 🙂

    @Attila: What a fantastic idea Attila; if he ever feels like writing for us; I’d love a guest post 🙂

    @Michelle Morgan: I’ve heard of this procedure too where companies render waste food inedible. How great you can take things from your farm shop!

    @Jane: Yes, good point. I think the ‘best before’ dates *might* be on their way out – let’s hope so!

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