Happy Dumpster-versary!

I stopped by Walmart the other day to pick up some things for my mom. As I was crossing the parking lot, headed back to my car, I saw a lone orange that had come to rest just a few feet away. Or course, I picked it up. I have no idea how or why oranges (and sometimes apples) end up at the south end of the Walmart parking lot, mostly unaffected by their rather long journey across bumpy and grimy asphalt, but I find at least 1 or 2 a month. In the way that hobos mark the homes of people who are kind, Angie teases that fresh fruit escapes the waste bin and make its way to the area where I’m known to park so that I will give it a good home.

As I picked up the orange, it hit me…February was our food-rescue anniversary. We’ve been digging through the dumpster at ALDI (which is next door to Walmart) for two years now. While we make no secret of this fact, I also realized just how few people in our immediate family know that we do this. For a minute, I started feeling like a superhero – a plain-Jane writer by day who dons a cape and saves food from the landfill by night. Ok, I don’t own a cape…yet…

Imagining us as dumpster heroes was all well and good until I started thinking about why the world needs dumpster heroes in the first place – because we waste so much food! And by we, I mean everyone from the farmer who leaves crops in the field to the stores who throw out good food items to make room for newer ones every week, from the consumer who buys more than what he/she can eat to the restauranteurs that feed the garbage bin rather than their hungry neighbors. Picking up a single orange off the pavement is just a tiny droplet on the surface of a big, big pond of problems.

But…it only takes a droplet to cause a ripple, then ripples create waves, and waves create change.

We dig through the dumpster for many reasons, not the least of which is to raise awareness of the amount of food wasted by retailers like ALDI. Don’t get me wrong, I like ALDI. My sister even works for them (at a different location) and we shop there sometimes, but I hate their policy of tossing food that’s within 3 days of expiration. It’s stupid. It’s even stupider not to mark these items down and try to sell them, like Kroger and Walmart do. I can’t imagine preferring to take a total loss on a product rather than selling it for half-price.  From a business standpoint, that makes no sense to me.

In 2017, we rescued 330 pounds of food from the dumpster. In 2018, it was 348 pounds. And this year, we’re up to 50 pounds already. We eat this food. We share this food. We donate this food to places that can use it. And in the rare case that none of these things happen, we compost this food.

We don’t expect everyone reading this to run to the nearest dumpster and start pulling out produce…unless you really want to, then we certainly support you…but we do hope you will make your own waves of change toward reducing food waste. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:

A Tally of February’s Food Finds

On February 1st, we went to a Lunch & Learn at the Nashville Public Library on the topic of food waste. Little did we know then just how “involved” we’d become in food recovery over the next 28 days.

When I wrote the post Did I See You in the Dumpster?, we had just learned that the grocery store next door was tossing hundreds of pounds of good food into the garbage each week. Despite our efforts to redirect them to better uses for their unsalable (though not inedible) food, nothing was done, and the dumpster continues to fill daily with slightly blemished or browning produce. And we continue to monitor – and glean – when we can.

To illustrate the problem of food waste in our community, I am posting a list of all the items we recovered in February. Remember, we are one couple, looking in one dumpster of one small grocery store, at a rate of 3-4 times per week, for a period of 28 days. We found:

  • 2 red onions
  • 1 bag green onions
  • 3 yellow onions
  • 3 zucchini squash
  • 3 yellow squash
  • 6 dozen + 3 individual eggs
  • 2 pineapples
  • 2 bags of celery
  • 6 ears of corn
  • 1 bag of baby lettuce (4 small heads)
  • 5 heads of iceberg lettuce
  • 12 oz. bag of organic kale
  • 14 blood oranges
  • 3 pounds of organic oranges + 13 individual oranges
  • 1 pint + 1 – 6 oz. container of blueberries
  • 2 – 6 oz. containers of blackberries
  • 5 pound bag of flour
  • 10 oz. bag of almonds
  • 2 bags + 1 head of broccoli
  • 1 bag of cauliflower
  • 1 loaf of 100% whole wheat bread
  • 6 pounds of Cuties (tangerines)
  • 2 – 10 oz. containers of organic grape tomatoes
  • 12 pounds of apples + 10 individual apples
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 5 cucumbers
  • 6 limes
  • 1/2 pound of asparagus
  • 8 1/2 pounds of bananas
  • 15 pounds of Russet potatoes
  • 5 pounds of yellow potatoes
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 1 1/2 pounds of mixed baby potatoes
  • 1 serving of organic red grapes
  • 5 1/2 quarts of strawberries
  • 2 pounds of organic baby carrots
  • 2 pounds of carrots
  • 6 Anjou pears
  • 4 red pears
  • 1 honeydew melon
  • 11 peaches
  • 1 unopened bottle of hand soap

Needless to say, we had a lot of salads this month!

All joking aside, this was just a fraction of what was sitting in the dumpster – good food going to waste because it’s not quite up to consumer standards. I just can’t for the life of me understand why this food isn’t marked down to quick sale or donated to our local food bank. God knows we have folks in need here! There’s always a line of people waiting outside the food bank every morning to receive a box of non-perishable goods. While that’s great, just think of how many lives could be changed for the better if they also had some of these fresh fruits and veggies in those boxes.

We fed 7 people (including ourselves) with our found foods in February – 3 of whom currently receive SNAP benefits and can’t always afford fresh produce. The highlight of this experiment was seeing a small child pick out a tangerine from the bag we handed her mother and immediately sit down on the sidewalk to eat it. Her face as she enjoyed this fruit that would otherwise have been forgotten was priceless.

I wasn’t sure when we started this adventure just how long we planned to dumpster dive but Angie says that she’ll keep going as long as there’s food; which has prompted to me to think a bit more about how we can help on a larger scale. We’re thinking about starting a food share network in our community – maybe a Facebook group or a Meetup group – where folks can share their found foods or foods they bought but can’t eat in time or extras from their gardens or orchards. I only have to think about my mom’s neighbor and his wasted garden or the hundreds of pounds of pears that he mulched last year to know that an abundance of food exists in our community. Someone just needs to connect it with people who will eat it…and maybe that’s us. At the very least, it is something to seriously think about.