The amount of waste going to landfill from Cardiff homes is steadily going down according to the latest statistics from StatsWales. Even during the Christmas months when everyone piles on the pounds, people are still managing to create less waste. But is this hiding a bigger worry – commercial and supermarket waste?
Freegans are a group of people who aim to create as little waste as possible and use anything that is on the road to being wasted. Freeganism (coming from vegan + free) comes from a philosophy of living by “strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism“.
They get as much as they can for free, including food. This could be from berries on trees to leftovers from dinner parties.
But they are most well-known for their likelihood to go “bin-diving” or “dumpster-diving”.
Networks of Freegans exist in cities worldwide. They meet at supermarket bins to scavenge for food which is packaged and edible but on its way to landfill.
But dumpster-diving is illegal.
Why is dumpster-diving illegal?
- If the bin is on private property this is seen as TRESPASSING.
- Taking items from a company or any person’s bin is considered THEFT.
- An item in a person or company’s bin belongs to them and is their property when they put it in, whilst it’s in there and until it is taken away. When it’s taken away this is seen as a “GIFT” so then the local authority owns the item.
One practising bin-diver from Cardiff, who asked to remain anonymous, explains how she relies on supermarket waste.
I don’t worry too much about the police; I know the law on taking food from bins is a bit fuzzy however we do make sure we go after the shop has closed to make sure there are no staff around.
I’ve had some incredible finds before, for instance Gu brownies, beer, a £12 piece of salmon, blueberries, olives, batteries, chewing gum, even washing powder and plants! A ridiculous amount is thrown out.
What do the officials say?
Supermarkets take a different view with few wishing to comment on the waste they produce. Tesco says they “seek to recycle as much as possible” and declined to comment on Freeganism. The British Retail Consortium, which represents all major supermarkets and food retailers says “The priority for our members is to have as little food waste as possible.”
Cardiff Council’s Operational Manager for Consumer Protection, Dave Holland, says “People choosing to consume food which has been thrown away, need to be aware that if they’re unlawfully entering premises to collect food then they may be in breach of the law. There is also health risks associated with taking food from waste bins.”
Cardiff Nutritionist Camille Clarke from Natural Health Clinic says “Fresh is always best and the reason for that is food loses its nutrient value and enzyme activity the further away it gets from the time it’s been picked. I am not keen on food that has gone past their sell-by date for that reason.”
Freegans say they are careful to assess food before they eat it. For a lot of dumpster-divers, taking fish which is beyond its sell-by date is an absolute no-no.
It certainly doesn’t seem too hard to find “edible” food in Cardiff supermarket bins. One student showed me a bin that often had “edible” food in it at the end of the day:
Is it something the people of Cardiff could see themselves doing?
How can society use the waste?
In England, a charity named Fareshare is the middle man between food retailers and local charities. They take extra food that would normally be wasted, from supermarkets and manufacturers, usually at the distribution stage. They then store it in large warehouses and sell it at a highly reduced price to local homeless and community projects.
They operate 14 depots across the UK, relying largely on volunteers but currently only have one in Wales; in Llanduddno. Fareshare Cymru is in its early stages and plans are being made to expand. Radio 4 talked to London’s branch of Fareshare, highlighting the organisation’s wish to grow. Maria Oleson, their Communications Manager, says their biggest barrier to expansion is a lack of food. She said they “need the industry to engage more” to eventually be able to provide a service for people in need in Cardiff.
But it’s not just food waste that can fill the bins at Christmas.
Maybe you’re getting a new Flatscreen LCD HD ready Sky+ Web Enabled Televisual device and your old TV needs a new home.
An organisation named Freecycle can step in to find a home for any unwanted items. One stipulation: this is not to sell, you must give the item away for free.
Cardiff’s Freecycle group has 36,529 members and a similar scheme operates in the Vale of Glamorgan, run completely by volunteers.
According to Bernadette, the secret to Freecycle’s succes is that it is hassle-free. Freecyclers advertise their items in an email and can have them collected from wherever they choose.
It does have its negatives, such as potentially diverting items away from charity shops.
All in all, Cardiff’s waste is going down and recycling is going up. Supermarkets’ waste figures are fiercely guarded so it is difficult to see what effect Freegans and Freecyclers are having on the amount of food and other waste going to landfill. The Freegan philosophy is said to go beyond class barriers but the question is; how many people will be having a Freegan dinner this Christmas?