Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My foray into dumpster diving

Sunday night, I fired up Netflix for a movie that had been in my queue for months. The film is called Dive! and it's a documentary all about dumpster diving and why it's important. I've read through forums and specialty sites that showcase these wonderful "dream dives" where people find autographed Brett Favre rookie cards or a first edition Catcher in the Rye, but this movie focuses on food. It explains just how much food is wasted each day by grocery stores that toss it all out on the date of expiration, which is actually an arbitrary date that doesn't mean as much as you think it would.

Excited by this film (I often get so pumped up from these documentaries), I went out to our local(ish) grocery store, looking for a dumpster full of discarded food to feed our animals.

Yeah, sorry. I mean, I really don't have a problem with eating this stuff myself, but I was being more realistic by planning to nab it for our farm animals. With the price of feed skyrocketing more each day, this would be a great solution.

See, dumpster diving is something that I've done on a smaller scale since I was young. My best friend and I used to walk through the alleys of our neighborhood and find all kinds of exciting treasures. Even though we were far from rich (or even middle class), we didn't do it for the value of the treasures, but more for the thrill of the discovery. I felt that thrill again when I jumped in the car and headed into town to see what I could find.

Most of the larger grocery stores and strip malls had either locked dumpsters or trash compactors, which I didn't even attempt to infiltrate. Not only is that extremely dangerous, but it's illegal if you breach a lock.

I finally found a smaller local grocery store with a good old fashioned blue dumpster, ripe for the pickin'. Inside, I found boxes of discarded cabbage, oranges, tomatoes, broccoli, and more. On one side, there was a pile of probably 20-30 still-wrapped bread loaves. I looked around one last time to make sure I was alone, and reached in for those boxes. I could only fit two of those wax produce boxes in the small car's trunk, but I figured that was still a helluva find. I leaned in and grabbed four loaves of bread and an interesting wooden shipping crate that was probably two feet wide. It's not very sturdy, but I thought it looked like something I could use for something down the line. Plus, I was still hopping on adrenaline, so I wanted to get out of there.

Next to the grocery store, a Little Ceasar's pizza joint was closed for the night. I figured it couldn't hurt to pop my head in their dumpster as well. Bingo! You would not believe how many in-tact boxes of pizza were stacked neatly (and some not-so-neatly) in that dumpster. I began opening a few to check the status of the pizzas, and every single box held an entire pizza. There were cheese, pepperoni, ... ugh, I'm making myself hungry. So I only grabbed three boxes, knowing that this probably isn't the best food to be feeding my animals, but I had to give it a shot since there were so many just lying there. I figured the dog might at least get a kick out of them, right?

Once I got home, I tossed one of the pizzas to our outside dog, Smokey. He suspiciously sniffed the pizza for a few minutes and proceeded with his strange ritual of chasing away every single other animal to a safe 50-foot buffer zone before sitting down to enjoy the strange-smelling new food possibility (he does this every single time we feed him dog food, too).

Then I grabbed the two boxes of produce and dumped them into the pig's side. Last week, our darling little pig broke through her fence (she's an expert now) to hang out with the donkeys, so I figured she had to hurry before those guys came running over. It was dark out, so they were all sleeping in the barn still.

The hog nuzzled the produce out of the way to get to those other two pizzas. Apparently she liked those the best, although I won't think about the fact that one of them had pepperoni on it. She devoured the bread next and finally started in on the cabbage and tomatoes.

The next morning, the chickens were pecking through the bits of scrap (the hog isn't fond of onion peels) and I imagine within a few hours, there will be absolutely no trace of any food left.

This whole adventure has made me beyond happy. I was able to grab enough food to apparently make a 200-lb pig full (for a day) and all for probably $2-$3 in gas. Granted, that gas money was mostly spent scouting the area for an hour, so I'll spend much less going straight for my new favorite grocery store's dumpster next time.

Oh yes, there will be a next time.


  1. Personally I have never DD'd for food stuffs as just about every grocery store in my area locks up their dumpsters in cages and scaling a locked gate is the same as breaking the lock in MD law... major no no.

    My DD'ing has always been more for materials for projects. I have built so many cat perches and trees over the years with materials from the back of carpet stores it is not even funny. I also recently built a rotating compost barrel from materials that were left sitting beside the dumpsters here at my office. Great find.

  2. Nice! I want to DD for some materials, and I guess I have a bit with the pallets I've been collecting. I built a shelf with some pallet wood and am working on a larger hog house, too.

    I'm really excited about doing more of this, within the law, of course.

  3. I was curious what type of home heating you use? I have been working on building a home press machine for making paper logs... I find they are a wonderful heat source for the fall season at night and love to use them in the back yard in an outdoor fire pit. I mention it because I am attempting to build this entire device out of found materials. (thought to be honest the $25 brick press on amazon is pretty sweet)

  4. We have a propane wall heater in our living room and the hallway, but that's it. You actually can't put them in bedrooms, but we have electric space heaters just in case. It doesn't get too cold down here, so it's not a huge deal. I would like to get a woodburning stove one day, but I've heard that it would make my homeowner's insurance go up.

  5. We would talk to the local Deli and Restaurants to see if they would throw their scrap food into 5 gallon buckets (we provided)and at the end of the day we would make our rounds picking up the free hog food. The owners seemed quite happy to get rid of it this way because it saved them on some of the trash removal fees. The out of date food if still packaged were left in crates or boxes, which made for easy removal.