Sunday, October 12, 2008

One woman's trash...

typical of a haul from the Baltimore collective

I don't know how possible this is everywhere, but some friends and I have been trying to create an infrastructure for catching useful waste before it gets to the dump. Dumpster diving is by no means new, but it's becoming more profitable and important as our businesses throw away more and more useable material. A lot of what's there to be had is edible food, but dumpsters also provide household goods, flowers, clothes, you name it.

My friend Mike started a collaborative website for Baltimore and organized a weekly collective to make the endeavor more profitable for everyone. Members meet at his house Tuesday nights, or coordinate via a listserv, to divide into pairs or groups which each go to a different dumpster. Since it's most common to find a whole lot of one kind of thing (bagels, juice, produce) at one dumpster, they collect as much as they can and meet back at the house to divide it up. That way, everyone gets a reasonable amount of each category and ends up with a balanced haul.

Of course, dumpster diving is a pretty maligned practice, which leads to some risks. The legality issue is kind of fuzzy, and one has to be especially careful of trash trucks coming to empty the dumpster. (That's another advantage of the collective: the buddy system works, and we can publicize collection times.) The most common concern is food safety, but I think most people would be surprised at how much food is thrown away in almost-perfect condition and in clean plastic containers.

So grab a buddy, empty out your car, and head on down to the local supermarket or cafe. It might take a while to find a location with a reliable source, but once you do it's amazing how much free food you can get out of a fundamentally flawed system.

ETA: my roommate Wes and I did a walking tour of the dumpsters in our neighborhood, which didn't yield much besides a nice Sunday afternoon stroll. But, I did stop in at the Subway to ask them straight-up if I could have the bread they would otherwise throw away at the end of the day. The guy behind the counter seemed dubious but said if I came back at 15 minutes to closing (9:45) he would see what he could do. When I went back just now, he filled a plastic bag the size of a grocery sack with 13 loaves of slightly-stale (just the very ends) bread. I hung it on my handlebars and pedaled home with garbage-juice-free bread!


Lynnis said...

I am so impressed with your dumpster finds! Do you have any favorite stores in particular that have the best discards?

Brian said...

don't you worry about garbage juice? My friend in high school got garbage juice in his eye and he had pink eye for a month.

Annie said...

@lynnis: Trader Joe's is very popular, since a lot of their food (including produce) is over-packaged and they don't have much shelf space to store excess. also, factory distribution centers are hard to find but very worth it. we have a naked juice and odwalla distro near us that throws out anything that won't make it to NJ within a week before it expires.

@brian: I don't usually get *in* the dumpster, and I wear my sunglasses if I can. my more rough-and-tumble friends have dumpstering clothes and wear goggles sometimes. but generally if there's juice involved, I avoid it entirely.

Piri Jenkins said...

I am very impressed with your dumpster diving! Especially the organization of it all.

Not having any preservatives in it, our fresh baked bread does sometimes get a little stale before we finish it. Not wanting it to go to waste, we have turned it into bread pudding and stuffing. Both turned out great, and I'm on the look out for more stale bread ideas. Perhaps I'll write a post about it, sometime. Its best to keep it out of your compost bin because the mold that grows on it, slows the composting process.

Gordon said...

Maybe you should get a reacher-grabber like I have. I got the idea from Capt. Gatewood. They are around $20+ in hardware stores.

I am thinking of building a heavier duty version of one so I can pull debris out of our culverts before or after a storm.

Personally, I have always had an aversion to dumpster diving. But, I do not condemn anyone who does it. Annie is always resourceful like her Dad.

Lynnis said...

Dumpster diving always reminds me of Russell Benedict. Do you remember him, Annie? Probably not.