A friend who heard about my zero waste lifestyle suggested I go dumpster diving...or "dumpstering" as the pros call it. I'm usually picky about the food I choose to eat; I prefer organic/vegan/gluten free...some would say I'm a picky eater. I also live for new experiences, so the novelty of sifting through tossed food scraps trumped my overly moody palate.
Being zero waste was one of my main concerns when I thought about dumpstering because I assumed that there would be mostly packaged items close to, or past, the expiration date. I envisioned mountains of hummus filled plastic containers. My first thoughts were about plastic and things I would have to toss because I'm very aware that plastic doesn't break down and is toxic, and is obviously waste.
What about the food?
I began to really think about the food itself as waste. I did some research and learned that over 40% of food production in Canada doesn't get eaten, 33 million tonnes of food makes its way to landfills each year and only about 3% of food waste was actually recovered and recycled in 2010. Food waste is increasing every year. I think the issue of food waste needs to be discussed and I was ready to dumpster! I was hoping to get a first hand look at what some local places throw out. I brought jars and eco bags to pack up all my future goods. I decided to do my dumpstering by bike, figuring that would be the most convenient way to bring everything I found back home. I really had no idea what I would find or how much.
Where to go?
I started to cruise through my neighbourhood, in the West End (downtown), Vancouver but quickly learned that a lot of the dumpsters are locked up - and I was not going to try and pick locks. I did a quick google search on my phone and found an excellent website, a Freegan website.
"Freegans practice strategies for everyday living based on sharing resources, minimizing the detrimental impact of our consumption, and reducing and recovering waste and independence from the profit-driven economy. We are dismayed by the social and ecological costs of an economic model where profit is valued over the environment and human and animal rights."
I learned a whole new philosophy and I hadn't even touched a dumpster yet. One of the things that struck me about Freeganism is how the movement is in reaction to waste. Their practices reduce waste and lessen the destruction that happens as a result of producing materialistic goods. The Freegan movement is a movement I can definitely support. The Freegans led me to the Granville Island Market just in time to start dumpstering!
I got there around 6:50 PM and bumped into another dumpsterer (is that what we're called?), she was friendly and told me that today was an okay day. I didn't mind, it was sunny and I was in a whole new world.
As you can see, not much hummus, pretty much all the food I found was unpackaged. There were a few bags of tomatoes. I took them out of the plastic, put them in my jars and biked to the Whole Foods to give them the plastic bags to recycle. I figured this was better than the bags ending up in the landfill. Yay for WF having a recycling program for plastic bags! I think Safeway also recycles plastic bags.
While I was scrounging, the fish guy came to discard his leftovers from the day. He asked me if I was done with the bin and I said I was and asked him how good his scraps were. He replied that they were still decent. I was so getting in on that! I grabbed some fish scraps for my little feline companion, Mooji. He's definitely a Freegan; he squats, eats for free, and repurposes any items I leave laying around.
If you are intrigued by dumpstering but not quite ready to take the plunge, you can try some "food waste" at a free lunch tomorrow in Vancouver, at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The lunch is going to be composed of food that would have otherwise been thrown out. It's on from 11:00-1:30pm, here's the link to the page for more details: Feeding the 5000
I am definitely going to go dumpstering more often, I got some good finds and it feels like "negative" waste to me.