February 21, 2010

Dumpster Diving FAQs

Fresh out of the dumpster!

Often people ask, "Do you really dive or climb into the dumpster?" The answer is: dive - never, climb - it depends. If I can get what I want out of the dumpster without getting into it, I will. Some people even use those metal reacher/grabber claw things to pull stuff out. On the other hand, if you're willing to climb in and move stuff around, you may find treasures inaccessible to those more timid or squeamish.

Washed peppers waiting to be processed

Some people wonder "Is it safe to eat food from a dumpster?" Again, the answer is - it depends. It depends what the food is, how it is packaged, how long it has been in the dumpster, what the temperatures outside have been, etc. I think generally if you are using common sense and washing and/or peeling and/or cooking what you find, you'll usually be alright. I'd also encourage anyone interested in this to do some research of your own on food safety. Most of the produce I pull out of the dumpster is wrapped in plastic, and often most of it is still perfectly good, but one of the items has a bad spot. I remove them from plastic, discard any bad ones, wash them, and process them.

The peppers being dehydrated, after being roasted and peeled

"Isn't dumpster diving illegal?" I am not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice. But again I would say the answer is - it depends. There is a lot of info on this on the internet, and again, I would encourage you to do your own research if you're interested. The most likely legal issue to come up with dumpster diving is probably trespassing. In general, if you're fairly discreet and make sure not to leave a mess, the worst that would probably happen is you'd be asked to leave and not come back. Increasingly, many dumpsters are locked and/or fenced, so if you choose to access the dumpster anyway, there may be other legal penalties or issues, I'm not sure.

 A tasty tomato sauce in progress

"Why do you do it?" For me, one of the biggest reasons to dumpster dive is the huge amount of food that is wasted in this country every day. However, I don't encourage dumpster diving just for the heck of it - to be radical or cool or whatever. Before you go around the back to the dumpster, I think a better idea is to go in the front door and work with the business and a local organization (such as Food Not Bombs or a local soup kitchen or pantry) which recovers food and distributes it to hungry people. However, despite a law protecting businesses that donate food, many businesses are unwilling to do so. That's when I'd say it's time to put on your favorite grungy clothes, go around back, and climb on in!

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