• Germany edition
 
How Germans are turning to dumpsters for dinner
Photo: Jessica Ware

How Germans are turning to dumpsters for dinner

Published: 04 Apr 2012 10:50 GMT+02:00
Updated: 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.”

“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.

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'.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1024833/Nine-meals-anarchy--Britain-facing-real-food-crisis.html
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
Court: Germany can keep arms deals secret
The judges of the Supreme Court announce their decision about weapons exports on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Court: Germany can keep arms deals secret

The government can keep arms deals secret and only tell the public about them after contracts have been signed, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday. READ  

Cash returned after bakery mix-up

Cash returned after bakery mix-up

Just how honest would you have to be to return €7,500 that you found in a box supposed to contain your favourite cheesecake? READ  

Expat's family battles for answers four years on
Matthew Fitzpatrick died in 2010 in Mannheim. Photo: Fitzpatrick family

Expat's family battles for answers four years on

In 2010 an Irish computer engineer was found dead in his apartment in Baden-Württemberg. Four years on, his family are still pressing the German justice system for answers. They feel badly let down by police who they say have refused to examine evidence of foul play. READ  

Tanker fills up gas station with wrong fuel
Photo: DPA

Tanker fills up gas station with wrong fuel

Around 160 car owners are stuck after a gas station's storage tanks were filled with the wrong fuel, causing an estimated €100,000 in damage. READ  

Lufthansa strike hits 1,500 flights
Photo: DPA

Lufthansa strike hits 1,500 flights

UPDATE: In the second day of their strike, Lufthansa pilots have, as promised, extended their industrial action to include long-haul international flights until the end of Tuesday. READ  

Merkel tells allies to pay Ukraine's gas debts
Chancellor Angela Merkel in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Monday. Photo: DPA

Merkel tells allies to pay Ukraine's gas debts

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday called on Ukraine's allies to help the war-scarred nation pay off its gas debts to Russia, amid concern over gas supplies this winter. READ  

Steinmeier wants epidemic task force
Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks at the World Health Summit in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier wants epidemic task force

At the World Health Summit in Berlin, the Ebola crisis took centre stage at talks meant to create plans for how to handle future outbreaks. READ  

Nazi-stolen painting put on display, sort of
The Wiesbaden Museum in Hesse. Photo: DPA

Nazi-stolen painting put on display, sort of

The Wiesbaden Museum was once a collection house for art stolen from Jewish owners by the Nazi. With one painting, they hope to right at least one wrong while bringing awareness to its ongoing restitution work. READ  

JobTalk Germany
'It's only an internship if you're learning'

'It's only an internship if you're learning'

How long should an intern work for without being paid? At least eight months, according to a ruling by a court in western Germany last week. JobTalk looks at the warning signs for abusive internships. READ  

Single parents, common law families on rise
Photo: DPA

Single parents, common law families on rise

The German family structure is changing, with nearly a third of every family no longer living in the "classic model" and big differences in what family looks like in the former East and West, statistics agency Destatis announced on Monday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA
Travel
This is the man who has stopped Germany's trains
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
Expats: Should I stay or should I go?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: World's biggest erotic fair opens in Berlin
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
Which expat foods do you miss the most?
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The ten richest people in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,464
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd