Jim Barratt* lives on a diet of organic steak and ethically raised £25 rotisserie chickens, asparagus and fresh pasta for £7 a packet. But the 22-year-old hasn’t spent any money on food – with a few exceptions like ground coffee, spices and rice – for a year and a half. He ate the equivalent, he thinks, of more than £10,000 of mostly high-end food for free.
All his dinners (or “binners”, as he likes to call them) with friends, breakfasts and packed lunches are made from ingredients recovered from garbage cans.
Returning home in the evening, the Edinburgh engineer wanders around the back of delicatessens, cafes and shops to collect the best discarded produce before it is picked up by garbage collectors later that evening.
It often involves crawling headfirst into a wheelie bin and washing the juice out of the bin from the packets, so “it can get pretty gross” – although Barratt says he has a strong stomach and that, most time, once unpacked, the food is “perfect”.
This might be an extreme and possibly legally dubious way to cut your grocery bill in an era of skyrocketing food prices, but trash diving – AKA “jumping” and “freeganing” – has become a undercover activity popular among people trying to save money and rescue. food that is still fresh, as well as those who take a political stand against food waste and overconsumption.
In Bristol, says Barratt, it’s so common that there’s competition for the best bins. People discuss their hobbies on Reddit threads and via secret WhatsApp groups, but rarely share locations lest their favorites disappear as stores get windy and destroy food before it can. be recovered.
Barratt, who now lives and dives in Edinburgh, started in London after a friend spotted piles of still very edible bread piling up in bin bags outside a bakery, rummaged and suggested to Tim to see what he could find too.
He would go cycling after work and look around the trash cans of his local stores, and was amazed at what had been thrown away: 20 boxes of pre-mixed gin and tonic, a stack of Tony’s Chocolonely premium chocolate bars and enough salmon chic to fill your freezer for weeks.
“I want the food to be packaged, so I avoid restaurants, where leftover plates can get mixed up in the bags. Ideally, these are stores where they have to sell fresh produce – sushi restaurants will throw away everything at the end of the day, for example, just like bakeries.
“Many commercial trash collections are daily, around 11 p.m., so there is a window between food thrown away and food picked up.
“I think the more chic the store, the better. Independent grocery stores, where everything is nicely laid out – they always have great bins. Supermarkets that I wouldn’t bother with because they often lock bins and destroy food.
He says you get an idea what is in a trash bag without opening it. “First, pick it up – if it’s heavy, squeeze it. You might feel the firm texture of the steak, for example. You know what stores get rid of and the color of food waste bags or bins in different areas of cities.
You also have an idea of what’s safe to eat, he thinks, having only suffered mild food poisoning once – “from some ravioli with extravagant ingredients” – although he warns that you have to be careful.
“You get to know the store from the bins and that when it’s a stale day you’re not going to get food poisoning. You also have a knack for knowing if and when food was taken out of the freezer and since how long they stayed there.
“Normally you find food a day past the best before date – things gone two or three days are my limit. It also depends on the time of year and if it is very hot. Sometimes food may not be in the bin due to its best before date – it may be a product recall. So I tend not to eat foods that I find that were thrown away before they were expired, because maybe the reason they are there is much more serious.
But, generally, Barratt likens it to engineering, where, for example, a bridge has to be twice as strong as it actually has to be. “I think the food thrown away is often the same: it’s most likely fine, but companies are being cautious.”
He insists that he thinks it’s important to bin dive politely. “If people rip up trash bags, smash trash cans, or otherwise leave a mess, that creates work for employees, who probably weren’t responsible for the food waste.”
He was never arrested. Most people look away in embarrassment when they see him going through the trash cans.
“Once an employee came out and said he wasn’t allowed to take it [the discarded food]so he’s glad someone does.
“I also spoke with garbage collectors. I thought they would be annoyed or tell me to put things back together, but I think they stung too.
While freeganism is often labeled a legal gray area and there have been online petitions calling for it to be made more accessible, lawyers point out that taking food from commercial bins, even if it is intended for discharge, is against the law.
Sam Boileau, senior lawyer in the environment and societal team of the law firm Dentons, which has been advising on waste law for more than 20 years, says: local, and for a lot of reasons. Firstly, legal ownership of the waste usually lies with the holder of the waste under UK law – usually the company that generated the waste and in whose containers it is stored. You have a duty of care under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which requires any holder of waste to store it safely and securely, and they can only transfer it to someone who is a carrier waste official. This would not apply to an individual rooting in trash bags.
He adds that there is also the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1974, which requires a business not to expose members of the public to risk. “Business owners would therefore be very nervous about allowing members of the public to go through their waste. And trespass law is also relevant.
Whether the dumpster divers would actually be prosecuted is debatable. There have been cases in the past where people have been taken to court for taking food from commercial bins, but in the midst of the current cost of living crisis, during which there has been a rapidly increasing food poverty, it is arguably hard to see this happening.
In 2014, the Guardian reported how the Crown Prosecution Service dropped a case against three men who were allegedly caught taking food thrown from bins outside an Icelandic shop after an explosion of criticism over the decision to file a complaint against them. They were allegedly caught taking Mr Kipling’s tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and cakes from bins behind a branch of the supermarket.
Some people will be disturbed by the amount of usable food thrown away by corporations. Sustainability charity Wrap says food production and consumption is responsible for around 30% of global carbon emissions, but 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year.
He adds: “We throw away 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste a year in the UK, [of which] almost three-quarters is food we could have eaten.
There are significant areas of law that are designed to discourage the generation of food waste and, says Boileau, “you can argue that if you sift through perfectly good food waste, either being discarded or awaiting collection , then you reduce the amount of waste generated, and there are certain principles of environmental law that support this effort”.
He adds that while it would be “pretty romantic” if there was a loophole in this area to exploit, “in reality, the inconvenience and legal risks for businesses are quite severe, like someone getting hurt or who contracts life-threatening food poisoning. .
Barratt does not fear being arrested or prosecuted, believing that “the police have better things to do”.
* This is not his real name.