• Germany's news in English

How Germans are turning to dumpsters for dinner

Jessica Ware · 4 Apr 2012, 10:50

Published: 04 Apr 2012 10:50 GMT+02:00

I like, nay, love food, but despite the best of intentions I regularly find myself not just scraping decaying leftovers from the bottom shelf of the fridge, but binning ripe bananas or slightly separated yoghurt merely because they’re a bit gross.

So when we at The Local reported that Germans were throwing away over 11 million tons of food a year, I began to realise that it wasn’t just my own over-enthusiastic portions or fussiness, but a national phenomenon.

My new flatmate had been talking about bin diving for some time – a social movement that has been fading in and out of the media for a while now. It simply involves going behind shops at night and seeing what you can find in the bins.

"I heard about it on the internet and thought I'd give it a go"

And as around 40 percent of this 11 million ton food-mountain can be found in the bins behind supermarkets, offices and cafes, I decided to see what the fuss was about, and maybe pick up a midnight snack on the way.

While I used to associate bin diving with dreadlocks, veganism and die-hard anti-capitalist dedication, my flatmate Annika doesn't really fit with this – being a non-dreadlocked, cultural sciences graduate from a nice family in western Berlin.

Annika, like her experienced bin diver friend Giovanni, who we meet later in the evening, take to the bins because they know how much food is thrown away, and that much of it is of good quality - and up for grabs.

After seeing what Annika had brought home on her previous trips, I asked if I could come along to bag myself a shelf-full of free chocolate too (although she did explain that that was an unusually good haul).

We put on coats, grab the rubber gloves from the bathroom and head out to our bikes. It’s a warm evening in Berlin, and I revel in the air of naughty excitement.

Giovanni turns up and I instantly make a note to self to get another basket for my bike, as Giovanni has one on the front and back – clearly the sign of a pro diver.

First stop is just around the corner. It’s nearly 11 p.m. so the shop is shut and there’s no one around. I turn off my bike light and put my hood up. Giovanni and Annika do none of this, and as soon as we get behind the shop the floodlights come on.

First rule of bin diving - rubber gloves

It’s hardly subtle, and in one fell swoop the image I had of skulking around in the dark, whispering to my fellow food-warriors, was smashed - especially when Giovanni started slamming bin lids open against the wall and heaving out bags of old meat, pizza boxes and moulding fruit smeared in curdled yoghurt.

As Annika got stuck into a bin filled entirely with bunches of flowers, Giovanni said flowers were a common find – and had already put aside the best bunch for his girlfriend.

Click here for pictures from the night in Berlin's bins

“I haven’t been doing this for so long,” he explains. “But I tend to go about twice a week.

“I started reading about how much food we throw away, and I found it shocking. I’d heard about dumpster diving on the Internet and from people I know, and thought I’d give it a go.”

Giovanni does not plan on living from bin food – and said he did not think many homeless people did either, citing the inconsistency of bins which can be full of fruit one day and flowers the next.

And as the night rolled by, I could see what he meant.

We pulled out some wholegrain flour, several bunches of flowers, bruised but fresh fruit, a couple of eggs just over their sell-by date and a few broken but still wrapped chocolate bars.

There was also a whole cauliflower, opened own-brand pasta, a pack of passion fruit, fresh marjoram and some mini kiwis – which I didn’t even know existed.

It was a nice mix to take home and cook, but hardly instant sustenance for someone in need.

The first set of supermarket bins raided, we carefully tidy up and close everything - a golden rule of bin diving - and head onwards, bypassing several discounters who are notorious for keeping their rotting leftovers under lock and key.

Uninterested policemen

We swing behind another more upmarket shop, where I spot an abandoned rubber glove lying on the floor – we’d been beaten to it. My imagination gets the better of me again as I picture someone, clutching their free food, fleeing from a police car and dropping a glove.

But Giovanni said police were not often interested in bin divers.

“I got stopped by the police once,” he said. “And yes, technically bin diving is illegal but they were more interested in looking for whoever had broken into the store days earlier.”

Story continues below…

“They just asked me if I’d found anything good, then drove off.”

“Had you?” I ask. “Yeah, 10 packets of dried fruit!”

We have certainly saved ourselves some money, and reduced by a couple of armfuls the amount of wasted food in Berlin this week.

“To be honest I don’t really care why people do it, it doesn't matter because they’re giving it a go,” said Giovanni.

“I know of quite a lot of people who’re doing it at the moment, not because they have to but because they feel they should.”

“It is exciting, isn’t it?” asked Annika, when we got back and laid out our winnings on the kitchen table.

“It’s like giving a new lease of life to an abandoned puppy,” she said nodding at the cauliflower she was sliding into the veg drawer.

I agreed with her - despite the ick-factor, there was something satisfying about tucking into an apple this morning that, like so many others, would have otherwise gone to waste.

Related links:

Jessica Ware (jessica.ware@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

09:38 March 22, 2012 by hereward
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
14:29 March 22, 2012 by derExDeutsche
' ¦quot;It¦#39;s like giving a new lease of life to an abandoned puppy,¦quot; she said nodding at the cauliflower she was sliding into the veg drawer. '

I agree, abandon puppies are the embodiment of the movement , they too tear open garbage bags and eat what they find. the 'movement' of the politically idealistic stray dogs. Germany's future?
15:48 March 23, 2012 by scout1067
All I can say is wow. I guess these are modern day hunter-GATHERERS?
22:39 March 23, 2012 by Yontrop
I think I'll have to try this. I can be logical about things that seem to make other people say "ueew" (or however you spell that). But I don't understand just why you would wear rubber gloves. One of those head mounted lights would let me see what I was grabbing... but do I actually have to get up in a dumpster? If so, hip boots might be in order. Any hints from others who've tried it?
11:12 March 28, 2012 by nitseen
Oh dear. I'd rather stay away. I'm just not so adventurous!
00:09 March 29, 2012 by quiller
Good on the bin divers. Waste not want not. A high percentage of our food is wasted. It should be the wasters who are written about and not the people who use the food nobody wants.
10:14 March 31, 2012 by naguere
Well done Jessica, a nice article.

I would do it.
15:20 April 5, 2012 by AClassicRed
I've not gone bin diving in a public way, but have certainly "reappropriated" food thrown out. Until I told him not to do it anymore, one of my previous roommate would clean out the refrigerator weekly and throw out anything even slightly wilted or withered, including my own stuff. I would get it back out, because most of it was still edible.

With my current roommate, he may use half a paprika and toss out the other half just because he doesn't want to be bothered to wrap it up or store it. I go through the bin and take it out and save or use it.

As quiller stated & other remarked, and I agree, it is rather perverse and warped that many societies and their laws negatively focus on those collecting what has been thrown out at waste than actually at the people doing the wasting.

It was years ago but I worked at a shop with a bakery, and they used to donate the "just off date" bread to charities, but then started throwing it out at trash as a write off. When people came to get it from the bins they were run-off or the police called. Absolutely ridiculous the store would rather trash it than give to those in need.
12:07 April 7, 2012 by Anth2305
Or as we say here in the UK, we're all only 'nine meals from anarchy.'
17:53 April 8, 2012 by Anth2305
@Chango Mutney

"I never heard or read about anyone who said that!"

Google throws up around 600,000 results.. 'Coined by Lord Cameron of Dillington'.

04:41 April 17, 2012 by DieselEstate
Very good article: Congratulations on losing your Freegan virginity. As members of the richest community in the world, we should all be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves for allowing this grotesque waste. Tesco is an absolute disgrace in the UK - harming farmers and consumers alike. They'd really rather bin perfectly good food than donate it to local charities. That they prosecuted a lone parent for her resourceful initiative, sickens me. Just bloody typical. Boycott Tesco!
16:20 July 19, 2012 by peney
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
Today's headlines
Hamburg votes on 2024 Olympic Games bid
A jogger runs past Olympic rings in Kiel left over from the 1936 games. Photo: Carsten Rehder/dpa

Hamburg votes on 2024 Olympic Games bid

8 minutes ago

Hamburg residents voted Sunday in a crunch referendum on whether the northern German city should push ahead with its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, with staggering cost of the Games weighing on voters' minds.

Germany to send 1,200 troops to aid ISIS fight
Berlin has offered France Tornado reconnaissance jets. Photo: Luftwaffe

Germany to send 1,200 troops to aid ISIS fight

3 hours ago

Germany is planning to deploy 1,200 troops to help France in the fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria, its army chief said Sunday, in what would be the military's biggest deployment abroad.

Refugee spending revs up German growth
Germany will spend €10bn on housing, feeding and processing the more than 800,000 people coming to the country this year. Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa

Refugee spending revs up German growth

6 hours ago

A massive influx of refugees, and accompanying billions in public spending, have provided Germany with a long-awaited answer to partners' calls for it to do more to jumpstart the eurozone economy.

Lufthansa inks pay deal with 30,000 ground staff
Lufthansa has yet to strike a deal with the UFO flight attendant's union. Photo: Boris Roessler/dpa

Lufthansa inks pay deal with 30,000 ground staff

6 hours ago

German carrier Lufthansa, reeling under a series of recent strikes, said on Saturday that it had reached a wage rise accord with services sector union Verdi covering 30,000 ground staff.

Paris climate conference
Germans reluctant to go green, survey finds
This NASA handout shows CO2 release based on real emissions data. Photo: DPA

Germans reluctant to go green, survey finds

1 day ago

Most Germans might see climate change as a threat - but that doesn't mean they're willing to change their behaviour, according to a recent YouGov survey.

The Local List
The 10 greatest German Alpine ski resorts
Skiing in the Allgäu. Photo: DPA

The 10 greatest German Alpine ski resorts

2 days ago

This ski season looks set to be epic, with runs already open before December has even started - boding well for the rest of the season. We bring you the ten very best German resorts so you can make the most of it.

Bavaria accused of hoarding Nazi-looted art
Max Beckmann paintings in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. File Photo: DPA

Bavaria accused of hoarding Nazi-looted art

2 days ago

A group of US Congressmen have sent a letter to Bavarian Minister President Horst Seehofer, urging him to do more to help return art stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners.

Berlin suspects freed hours after terror raids
Police stand guard as colleagues search a van in Britz, south Berlin, on Thursday evening. Photo: DPA

Berlin suspects freed hours after terror raids

2 days ago

Three suspects arrested in Berlin on Thursday night on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack were freed on Friday morning, police said.

Cologne fights drunks with walls that 'pee back'
"Don't pee here! The wall pees back!" warns a new sign in Cologne main station. Photo: DPA

Cologne fights drunks with walls that 'pee back'

2 days ago

In Germany, those who urinate in public places have their own name: "Wildpinkler" or "free pee-ers." But they're about to face a backlash in Cologne - in a very literal and embarrassing way.

Final days of Hamburg Olympic vote battle
Demonstrators against the Olympic bid. Photo: DPA

Final days of Hamburg Olympic vote battle

2 days ago

The finishing line is in sight. On Sunday Hamburgers vote on whether they want the 2022 Olympics to come to town and the result could be tight.

Germany's 10 most-expensive cities
Sponsored Article
How to figure out healthcare abroad
German ISS astronaut tells kids to follow their dreams
Sponsored Article
Why family companies need free trade and TTIP
90 percent of Germans want tougher security
Sponsored Article
'Innovative companies like Hövding benefit most from TTIP'
Are you living in Germany's most expensive city?
Sponsored Article
The cheapest and fastest way to transfer money
Should singer accused of homophobia represent Germany at Eurovision?
70 years since the Nuremberg Trials
The German connection in the Paris attacks
Snow expected on 'first weekend of winter'
10 years of Angela Merkel in Berlin
Could soldiers soon be patrolling German streets?
Second German Paris victim was teacher and journalist
'We can't beat Isis with military means'
How will Germany help France fight Isis?
One German confirmed dead in Paris attacks
'Don't take Paris out on refugees': German defence minister
Germany's minute of silence for Paris victims
Nightclub bans refugees for harassing women
OPINION: Refugees must learn to respect German values
The ancient German community at the heart of Texas
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd