Dumpster diving 101: Frank eats out of bins

15 July 2015

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO), roughly one third of food is wasted globally.

When you take into account the energy, land, water, effort, transport, fuel and packaging that make up the modern food industry – it’s clear our wasteful practices have a massive toll on the earth.

Dumpster diving 101: Why would you eat out of a bin?

In Western countries, much of our food waste occurs as a result of poor composting practices, wastefulness, cosmetic selection by farmers and supermarkets, and inefficient supply chains – all of which are avoidable.

Australians waste $8 billion worth of food every year

There’s plenty we can do to stop food waste after we purchase produce, but we can also make an effort to stop waste on a larger scale.

What is freeganism?

Freeganism is the practise of finding, reclaiming, consuming and distributing food that has been discarded. Often, restaurants, supermarkets and other shops throw away food and products they aren’t able to sell for aesthetic purposes, or because of minor defaults.

Around the world, people are finding food and other products in great condition in dumpsters and using it. In Australia, dumpster diving can be illegal (for example, if you’re on private property without permission). Different councils and areas could have different rules and restrictions, so make sure to do your research if you’re dumpster diving and don’t want to break the law.

Freeganism in practise: The story of Frank Deveson

To quote Koala (Warren Oakes) who I believe coined the term ‘freegan’, in his 2000 zine ‘why freegan’, “there are two options for existence: 1) waste your life working to get money to buy things that you don’t need and help destroy the environment, or 2) live a full satisfying life, occasionally scavenging or working your self-sufficiency skills to get the food and stuff you need to be content, while treading lightly on the earth, eliminating waste, and boycotting everything.”

The first time I heard the word ‘freegan’ was a few years after this through a good mate from school, who was keen on the phrase ‘vegetarians ruin barbecues’ He was quite dismayed to have me call myself a vego to excuse myself from the offer of a Woolies snag sanga at a barbecue of his. Then he discovered the term ‘freegan’ online and was very pleased to be able to redefine me as one when I had him round for a road kill roast!

I’ve since had many people refer to me as a freegan. I’m not so keen on labelling myself with such terms, but my lifestyle could clearly be defined as a choice, rather than out of necessity ( I’m pretty sure it’s necessary we all cut back our consumption if we’re going to survive as an ecosystem for much longer). As far as I’m concerned I’m just doing what hunter gatherers have been doing for millennia, surviving by making do with what’s around.

I think gathering feeds a primal desire the way a fire or sex does, which makes it very fulfilling. Be it mushrooms from the forest or beer from a bin, the satisfaction of the find is always rewarding. I recently hauled a garbage bin full of boutique beers, wines and ciders from a recycling centre skip while looking for empty jars for jam! I was lucky enough to be brought up with these possibilities made clear to me, but it never ceases to amaze me what can be rescued from a landfill fate.

I guess it’s anti-consumer or anti-capitalist but I don’t find the need to make a point of this – certainly not make a fashion statement out of it! I actually think I dress flashier and eat more indulgently as a result of being a scavenger than I would if I were a shopper. This may seem unlikely but in fact this stands to reason to me. It often saddens me that this is the case, when I know what goes to landfill while so many go without.

The Pope’s recent encyclical enlightened me that in Leviticus 19:10 it is written: “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”

In a world where ‘gleaning’ was an accepted practice, it seemed logical that this should have been allowed for. Unfortunately, in our society this reminds me of all the things I’ve found in bins that I assume are there just because they fell from the shelf or ended up on the wrong one. While today’s gleaners might make use of these things, they certainly haven’t been intentionally left for the poor. In fact, the bins are locked up because their contents are still the property of their disposer – it’s illegal to take them. Or worse they are doused with chemicals to discourage would-be ‘waste thieves’.

Now once something has been compromised it is no longer considered saleable and therefore no-one should be allowed to make use of it. Rather its loss will just be covered by increasing the price for the rest, and may be written off as a tax deduction.

It often seems like the ‘reduced to clear’ idea is just too much hassle, or it goes against brand images like ‘the fresh food people’. However, as food distributors, I think supermarkets have an obligation to distribute the food products they have monopolised. Reducing items appropriately so that they don’t end up in the bin or being ‘rescued’ by charities, who, while doing great things, may also be a part of a perpetual cycle of dependency, can empower us all to ‘rescue’ the food for ourselves.

I do feel that things are changing though. I feel that dumpster diving is becoming a known and accepted thing to do, and I can almost assume that people will be into the idea. I also feel like this is because most people understand to some extent that the system is broken. Swapping and sharing initiatives seem to be on the rise, and campaigns about food waste are receiving big attention. The laws recently passed in France by the National Assembly, making it illegal to throw food out, look set to spell the end of the need for dumpster diving. I don’t see this is as the end of freeganism, however, more that we are all realising that we can live meaningful lives without excess.

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