• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

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'.

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
Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
File photo: DPA

When a man swimming naked in a Bavarian lake felt a strange pain in his nether regions, he looked up to see a fisherman on the shore. "Don’t pull!" he shouted.

Study finds rival Rhineland beers 'actually taste the same'
Left: Altbier. Right: Kölsch. Or can you even tell? Photos: DPA.

Cologne and Düsseldorf have a long established rivalry, not least over who has the better home brew. So the results of a new study might be more than they can swallow.

Eastern Europe pushes Germany for joint EU army
Angela Merkel (l), Beata Szydlo and Victor Orban. Photo: DPA

Eastern EU countries on Friday pushed for the bloc to create a joint army as they met with Germany for talks on sketching Europe's post-Brexit future.

Merkel’s party mate wants to get rid of all Karl Marx streets
Karl Marx and one of the roadways in Berlin named for him. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Nicor

Hundreds of streets are named after the founder of communism, but this conservative politician wants to give Marx the boot.

State elections
6 reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Photo: DPA

With state elections around the corner, The Local looks at the poor side of Germany's "poor but sexy" capital city.

Upstarts RB Leipzig plan to go right to top of Bundesliga
RB Leipzig players celebrate scoring against Dynamo Dresden. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig make their Bundesliga debut on Sunday, but the East German outfit, sponsored by energy drinks manufacturer Red Bull, are already far from popular in Germany's top-flight.

Poland criticizes Germany’s 'self-serving' foreign policy
Witold Waszczykowski. Photo: DPA

The Polish foreign minister has said that Germany all too often follows its own interests at the expense of its partners, as Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit Warsaw.

Vast majority of Germans in favour of burqa ban: poll
Women wearing niqab veils in Saudi Arabia. Photo: DPA.

A survey found that the vast majority of respondents were in favour of Germany passing a ban on the full-body veil sometimes worn by Muslim women.

Czech police detain driver for harassing Merkel's motorcade
Angela Merkel. File photo: DPA

Czech police arrested a man on Thursday for attempting to drive into the motorcade of visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Prague, they said.

Teacher convicted for holding kids back after class
Photo: DPA

A music teacher from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has been found guilty of "holding people against their will" after he made some naughty stay kids back after class.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,614
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd