What is it? Dumpster diving and food waste

From Issue 7

Camp Carter asks the big questions. (Photo Illustration by staff)

Dumpster diving is a controversial way for some people to find something to eat or a way to find something to sell for a quick buck. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure is a phrase that encapsulates the essence of dumpster diving. In the waste of restaurants, clothing stores, convenience stores, and other places of business lie opportunities for something to eat or take for those willing to sort through the trash. Facing the dangers of fellow scavenging wildlife, broken glass, putrid smells, and possibility of being interrupted by security, dumpster diving is an activity filled with risks. Dumpster diving was made legal in all fifty states by the SCOTUS case Greenwood vs. California, which ruled that trash placed outside is unprotected by the fourth constitutional amendment, when not in conflict with laws on the county and city level.

Food waste is a big problem in industrial societies and hunger is an issue facing many Americans on a day to day basis. Look at the recent case of Portland Police being called in to guard a dumpster full of perishable food from a Fred Meyer store. The food was dumped because one of several power outages disabled the store’s refrigerators, despite outside temperatures being similar to or colder than a refrigerator. Police were guarding the dumpster out of an overabundance of caution for the company’s sake, even though laws such as the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act exists to protect and encourage charitable food donations. The people throwing away the trash shouldn’t have any problems with dumpster diving outside of the safety of themselves and others, since their employer cared about the monetary value of “trash” they wouldn’t have thrown it away. If it meant the difference between a family getting a meal or not, why should anyone else care?

Camp emerges from a local dumpster, wearing a mask to combat the stench.

I would recommend checking for bags that are clear so you can see what’s inside before opening them one tip that saves time and effort. Bring protective gear such as gloves and masks protect from nasty environments, and I’ve seen people use landscaping tools such as grabbers and rakes for intensive operations. Don’t dig through recycling bins as those cans and plastics are applied into better circumstances. Don’t go dumpster diving on private property because it is trespassing, same rule applies to locked dumpsters. Don’t consume food or drinks that are opened or have the safety seal broken. Another courtesy of going through someone’s trash is not to throw it everywhere like a racoon when you are done with it. Dumpsters are sometimes enclosed by fences as a safety precaution to prevent people from going through them, or to simply prevent other businesses from using them. It might be discouraged for safety of the businesses you are salvaging from, since you could sue if you got injured on their facilities or ate rotting food from their dumpster. That would be a scummy move however, and a potential lawsuit isn’t an easy win since the business can claim you understood personal liability when entering their facilities.

One of my former coworkers talked about how they threw away any broken chicken (chicken that was torn apart as it entered the fryer) when the restaurant was closing. It wasn’t a huge amount, but enough to feed a couple people instead of simply throwing it away. He also told me about his time working at a movie theater, and that he would take home the posters that were being thrown away after his shift was over. 

I decided to take it upon myself to see what dumpster diving is all about behind the school. Remembering all of the loot left after last year’s junior class garage sale, I hoped to see if I could find any goodies leftover. Traversing the parking lot, I approached the green bin and slid open the door to peek on the inside. A cotton candy Bang and a neon green bag of Sour Skittles greeted me, alongside both clear and black bags. I sifted through the trash with a stick I found in the dumpster, but my hunt was called off early as the bell for the end of activity period started.