Taking advantage of a throw away culture – Cody PuckettPosted by in The YES blog
Hello, my name is Cody Puckett and I am a dumpster diver. It all started behind a thrift store. There was nothing good inside, so I went around back and took a look in the trash. Sitting on the top I found my old hockey gear that I had just donated the day before, still wrapped tightly in its plastic bag. Over 500$ worth of gear, skates, and pads: the works; a perfect starter kit for a kid. I was furious and tried to find out why no one had opened the bag to see what was inside of it, but I never found an answer. I still go to this dumpster when I’m home, bring friends, show them that the legend really exists, The best dumpster in the land! We still find unopened bags of everything: from children’s book’s, to leather jackets, to expensive outdoors gear, all in perfect shape.
It’s always such a struggle for me as I’m digging through “trash”. I find amazing pieces every time and I scream and laugh and hold my treasures above my head like I’m introducing Simba for all of Pride Rock to behold. But then I look around at all the items that will never have a second home. The items that were donated on good faith, by people doing a good thing, and sending their old possessions to be reused, recycled, and re-loved. But instead they end up in the trash and get hauled away to take up precious landfill space. Did I mention that this particular thrift store fills up at least one dumpster every day? That’s far too much for one person to pick through.
So once I became a seasoned thrift store diver, I decided to try my hand at diving for food. I’d heard about people binning for food before but all that I could picture was desperately underprivileged people searching through meager scraps and celebrating over half eaten soggy hamburger remains. I quickly learned that I was greatly mistaken.
I’ve come to think of the dumpster as a garden bed, without the soil. It still has weeds that you have to sort through (wrappers and plastic), but as you dig around, you start to pull out a plethora of fruits and veggies that are always ripe for the harvest, every time. Except this garden bed is not like the beds you’re used to. It’s chock-full of exotic fruit from far away lands, bananas, mangoes and kiwis in December! It’s a Christmas miracle! But fruit is just the beginning. This field grows food from all six-food groups; seven if you include processed candy and treats.
Onto the next question: Why is this food being thrown out?
Most of the food that ends up in the dumpster is there because it is not aesthetically pleasing to the consumer. Maybe it’s a reflection of how our culture views beauty. This has a blemish? I could not possibly want you, you hideous tomato! Give me something firmer and plumper!
But this is the reason for a large percentage of food waste. The produce may get dinged or dropped during transportation or may have something visually undesirable about it.
Another factor is ripeness. When given the option, most customers are not going to choose the fruit that is bursting with immediate ripeness and required to be consumed within a couple of days. More often than not, they are going to choose something with a longer grace period to ensure it doesn’t spoil. This is important to know if you’re ever going to try going for a dive yourself: There is a small window that you have to either cook/preserve/eat your finds or else it will be going straight back to where it came from. But we’ll come back to that later…
An additional reason things are chucked is that they are past their expiry date. I used to think that the expiry date meant that on said day, this item was going to turn from delicious and nutritious, to festering and molding. The expiry date on a package means that this is the last day that this item can legally be sold in stores. After that it must be removed from the shelf and tossed.
The next question that most people ask is: Is it safe to eat?
It’s true that sometimes there are mass recalls on certain products because of some contamination at a processing plant, but the chances of running into these are slim to none. Luckily, if you’re concerned that there is way too much of one product in the dumpster for no apparent reason, you can check this website where the Canadian Food Inspection Agency posts any food recall that has been sent out.
I’ve only checked this website a handful of times and I’m still alive…
Let’s start at the beginning:
Tools of the Trade:
- Gloves (dish gloves work great – lots of grip and no dexterity lost!)
- Clothes you don’t mind getting a little dirty
- Headlamp (if it’s a night mission)
- Hand sanitizer or wet wipes (a great alternative you jeans)
- Long stick with a hook on the end if you don’t want to get right in there
- Upper body strength (optional) to pull yourself out if your going deep (I suggest using a milk crate to get in and out)
- Bike with a good sturdy rack to haul away your loot. (Again, milk crates work great)
- A car is preferable – lots of cargo space for lots of plunder
Optional (but very helpful)
- Deep freeze
- Blender/Food processor (anyone heard of The Ninja? Pure gold!)
- Pressure cooker for canning
- CREATIVITY! (When you show up at home with two boxes of peppers, a crate of yogurt, and 50 lbs of eggplant your going to need to think on your feet)
- A buddy! Diving is much more fun and less intimidating if you’ve got a friend that’s got your back covered. (I guess that goes with most things in life…)
Alright, you’ve got all your gear, you’ve got your buddy at your side. Next, you need to scope your territory. Small markets are the best bet: Natural food stores, Ma and Pa grocery stores, bakeries. As soon as you start getting into big businesses like Save-On Foods and Thrifties, you’re going to run into a divers arch nemesis: the dreaded compactor. When you start dealing with the amount of produce that big supermarkets produce, you also start dealing with the amount of waste that comes hand in hand. The solution to this gigantic amount of waste is the compactor: A behemoth of a machine that resembles a Star Wars Imperial Walker, has food funneled into it all day and then crushes it down into tiny compact pieces.
You’re much better off sticking to the small stores.
Night is a good time to go, as you’ll run into less people, but during the day you don’t need your headlamp. Some stores are fine with people being in their dumpsters, the odd few aren’t so much. Though a confrontation is no big deal if handled properly, you should still try to avoid it. If you’re ever approached while in a bin: smile, say hello and carry on conversation as though there is nothing strange about you rummaging through their garbage. The worst thing that could happen is you’re going to be asked nicely to get out of their dumpster. I’ve had one person tell me that I was stealing from him and that I was on private property (I only agree with one of the accusations). But most places are totally fine with it; some even know me by name and set boxes aside.
Now, keep in mind, you’re in the trash and there is going to be real garbage in there as well as treasures. Don’t go berserk if you find the mother of all ice cream stashes, there could be broken glass inside and you should always exercise caution when rummaging through bags of trash.
The last step: Processing your prize!
You’ve just made a big pull, you’re high fiving with you friends, and you can’t believe what you just scored for completely free. But this food is in its prime right now…
You’ve got to act fast!:
1) Wash your goods. Run a sink of warm soapy (biodegradable) water with a splash of bleach for good measure (don’t worry, the food you buy in grocery stores is usually treated with bleach anyway unless you’re buying organic). I like to throw in some vinegar, as the acid is an effective disinfectant, deodorizer, and cleanser which also cuts grease and slows down mold and bacteria growth. (Yay vinegar!)
2) Wash yourself. Your food is clean, now you should be too.
3) Cook/Eat/Dry/Can/Freeze your goods! This is where the fun and creativity come in. Think of new and awesome ways to consume your goods. Ever tried 100% strawberry juice? Fruit leathers are rad. Soups are simple and delicious.
4) Pat yourself on the back and high five your pals once more! You’ve just saved possibly hundreds of dollars, had tons of fun doing so, and helped to divert a waste stream!
Dumpster diving can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before! But it becomes a whole lot less intimidating if you do it with company. Find someone else who is interested, or better yet, someone that has done it before to show you the ropes.
I hope this was informative and fueled you with some inspiration to be part of a global solution to a world-wide epidemic. This is something I’m passionate about and I believe can be safe and eco-friendly when done properly and with respect.
Taste the Waste!
(if you want to learn more about food waste, check out this video about dumpster diving in Quebec!)
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