1 of 2
Photo by Stewart Weir
2 of 2
Photo by Anna Esplandiu
Andrew Gubb - bin-diving
It was 9.30pm, on what seemed like a normal Wednesday night. I was walking at a fast pace. “Come on,” I said to my girlfriend, dragging her by the hand, “we’re going to be late, there won’t be any left
“But... can you really eat what you find in the bin? Is that hygienic?”
“Yes, you’ll see. Come on!”
The story is, a year ago, I decided to try and never have a boss. I just couldn’t stand the idea. So I have tried to carve myself out an alternative way of life, with a plan to earn money via my blog (www.andrewgubb.com). That’s a slow process, though, so I do English classes... and for food, I do bin-diving, finding edible commodities that have been thrown out.
As we came within sight of our goal, the organic supermarket Veritas, we saw a crowd of at least 20 bin-divers. I recognised some faces and made to greet them.
Something was different on that night, though. The bin-divers were talking amongst themselves agitatedly.
One of the shop assistants was standing at the door.
“What’s going on?” I enquired.
“We’re not bringing out the bins any more,” said the shop employee.
“The management has ordered that the bins be left inside for three days, from now on, so that the food will rot and be unusable. I’m sorry.”
This hit me hard because Veritas was my sole source of food at the time. The other bin-divers were more seasoned and used to getting their food from many different places, but I don’t think anyone was happy that Wednesday evening.
A few days later, I headed back to the Veritas shop during opening hours. I asked for the manager, and found her at the back, just preparing to leave. I got a nice vibe from her—she didn’t seem like the sort of person to deny people food. I asked her if we could talk about her company’s decision to block bin-diving? At this, she began to reply to everything I said with, “You should talk to the main offices.” Finally, she told me she had to leave, and did so.
Despite her reluctance to discuss bin-diving and her company’s attitude towards it, the practice is widespread, even when the developed world is not in the midst of an economic crisis. Bin-diving is also known as ‘skipping’ and ‘binning’ in British English, and ‘dumpster diving’ in American English; in Castilian it’s ‘reciclaje’, short for ‘reciclaje de comida’. Related is the ‘freegan’ lifestyle, which involves a combination of anti-consumerist practices, the most important of which are bin-diving and veganism.
Binning is practised all over the First World, everywhere that regulations and aesthetic considerations bring supermarkets to throw usable food away. In the US, it’s estimated that 50 percent of all food goes into the rubbish bin, while in the UK, the figure is a more modest 30 to 40 percent. While no one has come up with a figure for Spain, observers say it is increasing.
“Now that there is the crisis, people can’t buy,” said Tamanna, a worker at a Pakistani supermarket in the Raval. “A lot of people take food from the rubbish. Or they’ll come up and ask for anything I’m throwing away. I like to help out, so if I have a piece of fruit that’s very ripe, say, I’ll give it to them.”
As I’d only dipped my feet into the bin-diving lifestyle, I decided to interview someone who had—figuratively—jumped right in: my friend Natalie, a fellow British resident of Barcelona.
What got you into bin-diving?
My introduction to bin-diving was going to the markets with a friend I have who is an illegal immigrant who doesn’t earn enough to pay his rent and eat. Later, bin-diving became part of my lifestyle as I work in various social projects and bin-diving means that I don’t have to rely on my job so much and I have more time to spend on my projects.
Tell me about these projects?
I’m a volunteer English teacher for a collective in Raval that helps immigrants. I also participate in a free university project, which I help to maintain as well as planning events.
Would you say that all bin-divers share a similar profile with you?
Not at all. Maybe now you see more middle-aged people than before, because of the crisis; and normally there are a lot of quite young people who bin-dive as part of social projects. The saddest thing is the amount of really old people you see.
They’ve been forgotten by everyone and now the only thing left for them is eating out of containers. It’s sad, because they’re uninformed and unorganised and they go to containers of household waste instead of those used by the shops.
So you need to be well-informed and well-organised to bin-dive effectively?
Organisation means that you have a network of information about where to go and where to avoid and so on, and a network of support if a shop creates problems.
Have you ever gotten sick eating bin-dived food?
No. The only time I got food poisoning in Barcelona was from a takeaway.
What sort of food do you normally get?
Fruit and veg and bread.
Have you ever found anything really surprising?
A few days ago we found a real Louis Vuitton bag. Before we found more than 20 chocolate desserts that were before their sell-by date but had shaken in transport. And also some gone-off Haribo. But sugar doesn’t go off!
So what do you think has gotten into Veritas? Why did they stop bringing out their bins?
Because as long as we’re bin-diving, we’re not buying, which is stupid because what we don’t bin-dive ends up in a landfill. And Veritas is meant to be an ecological supermarket. But maybe that’s an oxymoron.
Thanks for the interview, Natalie. To finish off, how do you think we can do our part to change the world?
HOW TO BIN-DIVE
- Go to the bins outside markets and supermarkets after closing time,
- around 9.30pm. In some places, the food gets taken quickly, so be punctual.
- Some bins are messier than others. Bring gloves or tissues to wipe your hands on.
- Learn about different places to go around where you live. Word of mouth is more effective than trial and error.
- Wash everything when you get back and if any food seems doubtful, throw it out!
- In the UK, it’s common for bins to be locked away or food spoilt intentionally with bleach. Things are a little easier outside of London.
- In France, bin-diving is somewhat easier than in England. French bin-divers recommend going to markets.
- In Spain, with its laissez-faire atmosphere, bin-diving is probably the easiest in Europe.
- Dumpster diving is widespread in the US, where the quantity of food thrown away is the greatest in the world.