Dumpster Diving

Dumpsters in Ann ArborI've been meaning to write about dumpster diving for awhile now, but Colin at No Impact Man beat me to it. Be sure to watch the video he posted from CNN and also all of the comments on his post...it's a great eye opener. A fortune 500 executive dumpster diver? Who woulda thought?

I just cannot wrap my brain around the fact that we as a nation throw away and waste so much food every day...and yet there are people who go to bed hungry. Why on earth would a restaurant or grocery store taint food it throws out for the sole purpose of keeping people from eating it? They threw it out...it's trash in their eyes. Why not let someone else make use of it? I just don't get it. I can understand why they would be upset if someone was taking food from their dumpster and making a mess around the area, but one of the generally known rules of dumpster diving is to leave the area cleaner than you found it.

I have never gotten food from a dumpster (although I have found other lovely household items like this!), but I am certainly not opposed to it...and have been quite fascinated by it for awhile. What a brilliant form of activism...the ultimate in anti-consumerism. Freegan.info describes the activism side of it like this:

"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."

I think this might be why people are so opposed to letting their trash go to whoever wants it. Food, trash, possessions....they are all highly political. The choices you make about these things reflect your values. And when you get your food from a dumpster, it makes others uncomfortable...like you are judging them for NOT getting their food from the dumpster. They don't understand it, so they fight against it. They can't imagine themselves doing it, so in their mind...it's wrong/weird for anyone to do it. There seems to be feeling of "if I have to work hard for this...then you do too!".

In the book Evasion, the anonymous author brings up the absurdity of it all:

"There is the odd paradox -- the casualness with which they will throw something into the dumpster, and the lengths they go to protect it once it's there. How an innocent and harmless act -- dumpster diving -- will be confronted by greedy shopkeepers, store managers, and employees with scathing words, rage, and violence. "

What would Jesus say about dumpster diving? I think he would hold weekly dumpster diving parties. He would be right there inside the dumpster with everyone else...exclaiming words of joy when he finds a sealed box of bread or a bright shining apple. He would take the food and feed those in the neighborhood...and then go fight for better processes when it comes to food waste!

I think one of the biggest reasons for people throwing things away, wasting food, etc. is pure laziness. I am just as guilty as anyone else of this....although I am much more mindful about my choices now. Household items that you could Freecyle get put in the trash because you're in a hurry. Restaurants throw out food because it takes too much work in their mind to partner with a food bank or homeless shelter. There needs to be a greater network of people who are willing to be the liason and fill the gap. How about a restaurant with only dumpstered food? A health inspector's worst nightmare, I'm sure...but what a wonderful thing for a community. And Jesus would be the general manager :)

More resources: Everything you ever wanted to know about "freegans" and dumpster diving at Freegan.info A friend of mine on MySpace documents her loot here. How to Dumpster Dive

Photo credit: Flickr/toddmundt

Running the Numbers

Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait I came across this interesting art installation (saw it on Thought Kitchen) and just had to pass it along. Be sure to read the amazing and disturbing statistics with each photo set. You can think about these numbers in your head, but to see it laid out in photo form is crazy. 2.5 million plastic bottles used every hour? That's just mind-boggling.


I've been thinking trashy thoughts again. I have re-read Garbage Land and I've been putting my trash can under scrutiny...and I recycle everything I can. However, instead of focusing on reducing TRASH, I want to start focusing on reducing intake of potential trash into my house and life. Where is it all coming from?

Disposables: For the most part, I have gotten rid of all of the disposable products in our house. The occasional bottled water creeps in, especially after we've been traveling. I hate bottled water, but it tastes so much better than nasty gas station water in the middle of Wyoming! I carry my trusty Klean Kanteen bottle everywhere (and one for Bella too) and we fill it up whenever we can. I am going to focus more on this and try not to get caught "waterless". And for those of you who are buying bottled water for use at home...STOP! It creates so much waste (even if you are recycling). Instead, invest in a water filter. If you're like me and just like to have something cold to grab from the fridge, fill up empty glass bottles with filtered water and keep them in there. Bozeman just announced that it's not recycling glass anymore, so all of my old root beer bottles are now water bottles. Wine bottles work great too and make an elegant water pitcher when company is over!

I am also guilty of one too many disposable coffee cups in the trash. I have a harder time remembering my stainless steel coffee mug when I go to my local cafe, but I'm getting better. Most shops have no problem putting your drink into your own cup...and some will even offer a discount. That's great, but the discount is just pathetic. It's usually around 10 cents. 10 cents! It's just not very motivating. Now, give me 50 cents off my coffee and I'll never forget my re-usable cup. Chains like Starbucks and Caribou usually don't offer a non-disposable option...but many local cafes do. You may have to ASK for a ceramic glass, however, as most will give you a disposable cup by default. It's mind boggling to me to think of how much coffee cup trash I have been personally responsible for in my lifetime (case in point...the above photo is my cup from Sunday!). Here are a few stats on disposable cups. And a great article about how Starbucks could have saved the world.

Packaging: Have you ever REALLY paid attention to the hideous amount of packaging you bring home when you go to the store? I did an inventory of my kitchen...in search of items that I can buy without a package. Check out your own kitchen and see where you can reduce. An easy first step is to not bring anything into your home that is "single serving" or "single use".

  • Cereal...will only be purchased in bulk. This will avoid the box that so quickly crowds my little recycling bin.
  • Granola bars...will be made from scratch. Matt takes a Clif bar with him to work everyday, so I will TRY to start making them from scratch to avoid the box and endless wrappers.
  • Condiments and misc...such as ketchup, butter, mayo, etc. I can make ketchup, mayo, and mustard from scratch (they are much tastier too!). I will examine all options when shopping for these types of items.
  • Milk...most of the time I buy soy or almond milk in cardboard containers. I can make my own nut milks at home and put them in reusable glass containers.
  • Much of what I purchase is already in bulk...spices, grains, flour, tea, etc. and I already have containers at home for them.
  • Other types of packaging...such as that for craft supplies, etc. can be avoided by striving to buy used. The thrift stores don't have any packaging!

Paper: There is so much paper! It's everywhere! Whenever I can, I use an electronic copy of a document and try to avoid printing at all costs. The invention of email/internet was a wonderful thing to save paper waste. Of course, if you print out your emails or articles online, that kind of defeats the purpose. Receipts drive me crazy. I rarely keep them (unless it's a large purchase or I know I might return it). If all retail establishments, fast food chains, etc. would implement a rule to ask if you want your receipt before they print it...just think of all the paper saved! Around the house, be sure to use both sides of the paper, re-use envelopes, etc. for craft projects, re-use padded envelopes for mailing, and shred paper to use for packing boxes. And of course, RECYCLE. However, just becuase you CAN recycle something doesn't mean you should use it. It's best to not use it in the first place. Especially with paper because it can only be recycled a limited number of times, unlike glass which can be recycled endlessly.

I found an interesting little clip detailing our country's trash addiction. It's 19 minutes long, but worth watching. See it here. It is based on the book "Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage". Their website offers lots of statistics:

  • Packaging comprises the single largest category of household waste, taking up 30% of all landfill space in the U.S.
  • About 80% of U.S. products are used once and then thrown away.
  • More than 60% of waste in U.S. landfills could be composted.
  • Methane gas, which is always produced by trash rotting in landfills, is 21 times more heat trapping than carbon dioxide; garbage presents a major global warming threat.
  • Garbage production in the U.S. has DOUBLED in the last 30 years.

I have always been interested in the concept of "Zero Waste". I am inspired by communities who have taken the initiative to make hard changes. EcoCycle describes this in more detail and has lots of links.

San Francisco has recently banned plastic bags AND has proposed banning Styrofoam take-out containers. Go San Francisco! That's my kind of town.

The trash problem in the U.S. seems so overwhelming, but people are taking notice and changes are slowly being made. If everyone makes small changes, it will add up to a big change! What will you do to REDUCE your trash today?