Ever gone bin raiding before? I never thought I would see the day myself. But it happened. And I kind of liked it. No wonder people leave their jobs to go digging through rubbish. Here’s the story of my first time dumpster diving.
Just to warn you, I’ve also included lots of cheesy idioms.
My First Dumpster Dive
Whatever the reason on that Saturday evening, I felt compelled to check and see if supermarkets really do throw out edible food round the back of their stores. The timing was perfect for this half-baked decision, not least because it was Sunday the following day, but it was warm, sunny and at 8.45, around the time most Portuguese supermarkets close. And I didn’t have a lot on my plate anyway.
I awkwardly walked past the front door of my target, Pingo Doce, a large and pretty cheap chain store in Portugal, like a posh Lidl. The guard blankly stared back at me through the glass, then released the electronic lock to let the last remaining customers out. Why does it feel like I’m doing something illegal?
I walked around to the back, to a large, and largely empty space, like a forgotten car park. It’s quite blatantly a place people don’t usually walk. Though I transformed myself from creepy stalker to “casual guy on phone” in seconds by pressing my mobile against my ear to look preoccupied. There were four cars parked at the rear, behind a big delivery lorry, which happened to be unloading. The guy looked at me from the back of the truck as he raised the humming platform, but he soon looked away, clearly satisfied with my telephone acting skills. Eventually, he climbed up to his cabin and began a ten-point turn, and I didn’t have to voice my conversation any more. Considerably easier and less embarrassing for my ego.
The workers at the door finished moving the pallets and began rolling down the huge, metal shutter. But what’s going on in the corner? A family began to climb out a car and one employee, an older woman, shouted something in Portuguese to them. A friendly sort of shout though, to get over the noise of the shutter, and then disappeared.
When the door had finished closing and the noise stopped, the atmosphere instantly changed. The family, now all out the car, went over to the only bin at the back of the store. Two parents, a son, who is perhaps 20 years old, and a girl not tall enough to peer over the edges, crowded around the bin. I say bin, because that’s what it looked like, but that’s not really what it was. Aside from the packaging, the contents were 100% edible.
I gazed in. The man of the family gave me a stern look, a forceful and disappointed one that said “This is my bin.” I gave him a look back that said “I know, but I’m going to take something anyway.” Altogether, we went bananas picking things out; and what a selection: pre-cooked chicken, multiple sandwiches, pre-cooked pizza slices, lots of milk and yoghurts, big containers of soup and lots of drinks—all neatly packaged. I couldn’t even see the bottom.
The man and son moved the bin towards the rear of the car; evidently they would take a lot. And this kind of thing is ideal for families given much of the food can’t be eaten by one person before it truly becomes inedible. I grabbed as much as I could carry. The boy handed me a sandwich—a big tuna baguette—and I said “Obrigado.” He nodded. The milk of human kindness.
The family were now all full of beans, and smiling. Indeed it seemed like a regular family visit to the supermarket for them. Perhaps it was a good haul today; I can imagine the quality and quantity varies a lot. I said thanks again and began walking. Although, I had bitten off way more than I could chew: I had to stop twice to rearrange the pile and never even thought about bringing a bag. But I was now smiling too. “Look at all this food!” I thought, walking with a slight arch in my back to cope with the sheer volume of it.
I arrived back at the Travel School and washed the packaging under the sink to get rid of the little pieces of rice that were pretty much on everything. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I deduced it was from a burst package. Unfortunately (but it makes sense), all “unsuitable” products end up in the same bin and this includes burst or broken packaging. Nobody wants a dented can when there’s a perfectly shaped one right next to it. And the rice, despite a little piece clinging to my t-shirt, didn’t actually bother me. Simply because at one point somebody somewhere was not only willing, but actually in all probability would have enjoyed putting it directly inside their mouth. Therefore…how disgusting can it really be…? There’s some food for thought.
Everything was packaged anyway. It was over ten Euros worth and a good portion of it wasn’t even out of date, but was thrown out anyway because the following day was Sunday when the shop is closed.
So why do shops throw away food into the dumpsters?
Well, in a nutshell, consumers won’t buy it.
People don’t want to buy a bashed tin or “out of date” something, when there’s a perfect something right next to it.
Product manufacturers often put a quality date or “best before” to show the consumer that, before the date indicated, the product tastes and looks best. Quite frankly, a rubbish idea. But companies wouldn’t be too chuffed if ten year old chocolate bars represented their brand; because it might taste or look different, or something. But I can assure you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. There is a tasty article about everything date related here.
And what can we do about food waste?
Getting all that food really was as easy as pie. And I’m sure they don’t leave it out the front of the store for fear of spilling the beans. But the fact that some stores lock up their food in cages so nobody can eat it, really cheeses me off. I think the best thing we can do, is push for laws that force big supermarkets to donate their edible waste to charities, like recently in France.
If you’re interested, there is an excellent and growing database of available places to get free food at fallingfruit.org. A friend actually told me about this website many years ago, and in a way, I regret not using it. He even found 200 cans of beer once.
Well, now that I’ve bin through most of the food idioms in the English language, I hope I have somehow managed to whet your appetite for dumpster diving.
And remember, the “best before date” should be taken with a pinch of salt.