Did I See You in the Dumpster?

You’re either going to think we’re super icky or super cool after reading this post. Whichever you choose, know this…everything I’m about to tell you could have easily been prevented or better yet, could have positively impacted a lot more than just the 6 people mentioned in the story.

First, a little background…

Angie and I have a huge issue with food waste. It’s probably the one thing we think about more than minimalism. Last year, watching my mom’s neighbor let his garden rot on the vine drove us so crazy that we jumped the fence nearly every day to rescue tomatoes. Finally, my mom asked them if we could just harvest the remaining crops ourselves.

And that’s just one episode of our vigilance against food waste. We’ve been known in the past to bring home bags of other people’s popcorn from a baseball game to feed the ducks. Several times we’ve driven 25+ miles to pick up leftover pizzas and party trays after an office party at my mom’s work. We’ve picked pears, apples, and peaches off the ground in our neighborhood (sometimes right out of people’s yards!). We even stopped to pick up an onion once that was rolling away from a produce store parking lot.

We had just never crossed the line into dumpster diving. Until now.

Last year we watched a documentary called Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. It’s about a couple who spend 6 months living only on wasted food – a lot of which comes from dumpsters. At the time, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s all well and good but you’d be hard-pressed to find a dumpster worthy of diving into in this town.” Well, I was wrong…

potatoesonionsLast Friday, Angie walked over to Walmart to return a RedBox movie. There’s a short cut through the woods that spits you out behind a small grocery store in the strip mall next to Walmart. We’ve taken it dozens of times but never paid much attention to the dumpster. That day, Angie caught sight of a man in a van rummaging through a box on the ground by the dumpster. Curiosity got the better of her and she went over to have a look for herself (after he left, of course). Lo and behold, what did she find? A whole lot of really good produce! Since she didn’t have a bag (or a jacket with pockets), she grabbed a handful of potatoes and 2 red onions.

foundeggsThe next day, she took me to see what she’d found. It looked as if the dumpster had been recently dumped but we did manage to rescue 3 zucchinis. On our regular Sunday morning walk, we stopped by again – this time with a bag. We brought home 3 dozen eggs. Instead of reshuffling the cartons to replace the broken ones, the store simply tosses the entire carton. There were dozens more eggs remaining but we had only one bag. On Tuesday, again while taking our regular walk, we stopped by with 2 bags.

Up until this point, we had kind of thought of it as an adventure. We were rescuing a few little things from the dumpster – things that we would definitely make use of. But on Tuesday, what we found gave us great pause. The dumpster was filled with pineapples, corn, celery, broccoli, apples, and MEAT! There were no less than 4 banana boxes full of meat, including bacon and what had to be a 10 pound pork roast. It was sickening.

40% of the food produced in America goes uneaten. In fact, the amount of food wasted in just one day is more than enough to fill a football stadium. Yet, every day people starve to death right here in this great country of ours. It’s sad…and yet, largely preventable. Seeing this dumpster full of food made me want to walk in and shake the store manager.

There are too many organizations that will accept out-dated or blemished food donations- organizations like Nashville Food Project and Society of St. Andrews – and turn them into meals for the hungry. Grocers have a real opportunity to turn the tide on hunger in America by simply picking up the phone instead of tossing usable food into their dumpsters.

That day, we grabbed a few things we could share with some friends (who didn’t know until now where their gifts came from. Sorry, friends!). Sadly, we had to leave the meat. I’ve read a lot about dumpster safety and even though it was all of about 45 degrees that day, I still didn’t want to take any chances. Today, I wrote a nice letter to the store manager that included the names and phone numbers for every food rescue organization in our area. I hope he pays attention but just in case he doesn’t, we’re going to keep checking and keep rescuing what we can reasonably use or share with others.

If you’re wondering how you can help reduce food waste (without perhaps jumping in a dumpster), here’s a useful infographic that we saw at last week’s lunch and learn.

foodrecovery2

How We Found $250 in the Garbage

Not too many years ago, I stood on the curb by the grocery store as my friend and mentor-in-frugality, Sue, rummaged through the newspaper recycling bin for coupons. I remember thinking, “God, I hope no one recognizes us!” That was early in my training and I’ve come a long way since. Now, my neighbors see me in the garbage area of our apartment building more often than they see the actual garbage collectors and I don’t care. I’m so proud of our accomplishments as dumpster divers that yesterday I outed myself on Facebook.

We live in an area of Florida that is filled with wealthy older people. Sadly, wealthy older people don’t always care about being wasteful. On any given day, we can walk by the dumpster area and find a dozen things that could have and should have been given to a thrift store like Goodwill, ARC, or the Salvation Army. We even have one such thrift store less than 1,000 yards from the dumpster! After a few times of saying “how thoughtless”, we decided to do something about the problem. This weekend, we made our 10th trip to Goodwill to donate the useable items that we had collected from our apartment’s garbage. We haven’t been able to save everything – it is unreal the number of people who toss good clothes, shoes, purses, and blankets into the deep recesses of an empty dumpster – but it feels good to know that we made a bit of a dent.

Re-recycling, as I like to call it, also gives us an excuse to rummage for Coke Rewards points. Hunting for points has been fun; almost like an urban scavenger hunt. We’ve checked the recycling bins in parks, airports, rest areas, and roadsides from Miami to Baltimore. We even looked for points when we were in Cancun but Mexican Coke caps are different.

During December this year, Coke held a promotion called the 12 Days of Christmas, where select rewards were offered at 50% of their original point value. We had saved all 3,017 of our points in anticipation of just such an event. Over the weekend we cashed out (and cashed in!) We were able to get:

2 AMC Silver Experience Passes – each with 2 movie tickets, 2 large Cokes, and a large popcorn

1 AMC Silver Pass with just 2 movie tickets and 2 large Cokes

1 $10 Domino’s Pizza gift card

Add this to the rewards we already cashed out earlier in the year, which included another full AMC Silver Experience Pass, a 10 cent discount per gallon on a tank of gas, and a coupon for $20/each off on up to 4 Southwest tickets, and we essentially found $243.50 in the garbage this year.

I’m not sure if the folks at Coke care about our re-recycling project or the fact that we donate the used caps to reCAPture to make park benches, but since we’ll be in the dumpster anyway, I sincerely hope they continue the MyCokeRewards program next year.

If dumpster diving is just not your thing, there’s still a way that you can help make our landfills a little less full. When you’re tempted to toss your unwanted items in the garbage, take the extra few seconds to put them in your car. With so many donation boxes and thrift stores scattered about, you’re sure to come across one on your next trip to the grocery store. The few moments of thoughtfulness that you spare will help preserve our environment, provide clothes and household goods to those in need, and give jobs to the workers who process, re-purpose, and sell these items.