Dumpster Diving, Food Waste and the Rise of Freeganism

By Christabel Benoit – a devoted and highly concerned nature lover working for Fantastic Waste Removal

Dumpster diving, also known as skipping in the UK and skip dipping in Australia is the practice of unconventional waste salvage performed by ordinary people at their own will and expense. This particular method can be used for many types of containers including: commercial, residential, construction and industrial. One does not need a deep philosophical reason to bury their hands in the trash.

Today many consider dumpster dipping outrageous and unthinkable, while a new movement has emerged to which skip dipping is a way of life. How this particular movement came to be is no mystery. The UK economy alone produces about 15 million tons of food waste every year while another 41 millions of food are purchased for home use. Wasted food costs the government around £23 billion every year. Unemployment and immigration is also at its highest than it’s ever been, not to mention life becoming more expensive as well. With so many supermarkets throwing away food at the end of each work day and the constant shrinkage of the labour market, it’s no wonder why some people would try and look for alternative means of living. 

Started as an anti-consumerist movements, freeganism is purely an urban phenomenon. Freegans salvage mainly food from commercial skips which actually helps with the food waste problem. Items also collected include pieces of furniture, clothes and electrical appliances. According to Freegan.info “Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able.”

A noble and righteous ideology with its own specifics. Freeganism does not necessarily mean one should dive in rubbish bins for food. In fact, many dumpster divers are not freegans.  Sharing resources and skills as well as living space are important traits to live in a sustainable way in the 21st century such as composting, recycling, and repairing . 

This movement is not without its flaws, the biggest and most apparent one is that freegans are to a certain extent dependant on the system to which they stand against. While there is no official explanation to this downside, although the answer provided in this video sheds some light. According to teacher and artist freegan Cindy Rosin, people need to come up with ways to garden and grow food in a community as opposed to just buying it from the local supermarket. She goes to further explain she hopes there would be no waste 10 years from now implying freeganism would have overthrown capitalism and overproduction of food.

Another problem freegans face is health issues. Most freegans say it’s usually the newer members who stumble upon non edible food without recognising it, while older members know better. However, tiny rat droppings are sometimes hard to see, especially if one is diving in the dark and bacteria requires no time to spread, so there is always the risk of food poisoning.

Legal aspects are also in a gray area when it comes to dumpster diving in different countries. In England and Wales it may be considered theft under the Theft Act 1968 regarding private property. In the USA there is no law to prohibit one from taking items from a dumpster, however there’s limits to what can actually be taken. It also depends on each state. In Germany, Italy and Sweden it’s illegal. It has happened more often than not for a freegan dumpster diver to get sued. A fine example of this is the the case of the Iceland supermarket bins, which was later dropped. The case of Sasha Hall is another good example.