Dumpster Diving to save the world.

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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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Dumpster Diving to save the world.


What is dumpster diving? That depends on perspective. Are you the diver or the divee? (The divee is the business that fills the dumpster with ‘waste.’)

Everyone in our country should slow down for a day or two and reflect on our use and abuse of our material wealth. The size of our economy is staggering, far beyond the capacity for most people to grasp. It strikes me that the waste generated by this country is the result of economies of scale.

The waste generated is relative. The waste from the United Stated could feed entire countries – could probably save hundreds of thousands of lives in impoverished countries. Maybe even save a few lives right here in America. Is that not our Capitalistic/Christian value? Smart business decisions are made after careful cost/benefit studies are complete.

Let’s follow the life of a loaf of bread. A grocery store buys the bread at wholesale for $1.65. They sell the bread at retail for $2.50, a fifty percent markup. The bread has a shelf life of, for our example, five days. On the sixth day the bread sits on the shelf, something must be done. The local government health department says it cannot be sold. The owner’s of the grocery cannot risk a lawsuit and bad publicity over potential mold.

So the pure business decision rests in cost/benefit. There are few options. Pay an employee to get the bread and walk it to the back dock and throw it in the dumpster, or take the bread to a storage area, save it with other shelf life extinct products, then load it on a truck and deliver it to a local food kitchen or food bank for distribution to the needy. Hmmm? The Store Manager is being judged by the Corporate office, six states to the east, on bottom line numbers.

There are counter culture movements, like the Freegans, who ‘dumpster dive’ looking for waste that has not lost it’s intrinsic value. OK – go for it Freegans. But participating in the society to minimize waste is a better overall solution.

Grocery Store Managers understand the waste issue better than most – I submit that they would love to have a reasonable alternative to throwing useful products in the dumpster. Most communities have food banks and food kitchens to distribute food to needy families. Their biggest problem is in acquiring the products – there is never a problem with need.

Organized volunteer efforts to collect useful products and deliver to organized distribution centers can have a dramatic impact on the lives of many. The food banks and food kitchens are experienced at detecting fraud – yes, there are people who would take advantage of these noble organizations. These organizations are adept at maximizing benefit.

Valuable products need never get to the dumpster in the first place.


See Also: Old ladies and dumpsters

                 Economies of Scale and dumpster diving

There Are 2 Responses So Far. »

  1. Those are some great ideas, and I think it would be awesome if all store managers would arrange a pickup/dropoff to a food distribution center. However, I feel some of your assumptions are unfounded. You mentioned the 2 options of having someone throw it away or of donating it. While we both agree there are better uses for the food than destroying it, it costs much more to get it to the people that need it than it does to just pitch it. Orchestrating a regular pickup day/time takes time. It means finding somewhere that needs it, finding someone to do it (these places are already sorely understaffed and can’t make runs around the city to pick up food), finding a backup plan if it falls through, etc. Maybe it doesn’t cost a lot of cold hard cash, but it costs a lot of time so there’s opportunity cost.

    Al the while he can pay his high school errand boy $5.15 an hour to do clean up and not have to think about it ever again. The bottom line wins and it’s out of his hair.

    Also you talked about these community food banks and mentioned that “Their biggest problem is in acquiring the products – there is never a problem with need.” I would agree in some contexts, but I know that I work with several such feeding agencies here in Nashville and there is always an excess of bread products. While I’m pretty sure there’s never an overabundance of steaks, sometimes the centers just can’t use any more bread.

    As far as your charge to freegans that “participating in the society to minimize waste is a better overall solution” I would say that I believe they are participating in society. Just because they are not adding to the economic cycle that perpetuates the excess doesn’t mean they aren’t an active part of their communities. Freegans believe they are contributing to the reduction of waste by reducing the amount of goods that are purchased, thus eventually reducing the amount of goods that are produced (trying to move the Invisible Hand backwards a bit).

    Just as it is with music, sometimes the silence between the notes is what makes the song truly beautiful.

  2. Josh and Ohg Rea Tone,

    I agree that it’s a better solution, overall, to find ways through the system to not throw away bad food. I’m definitely not an anarchist in that way. If I need to use “the machine” to prevent food from being thrown away, I’ll do it. I’ve considered this before. Several months ago, when Chris was starting to gather donations from Bread Company, I visited grocery store managers and spoke with them about donations. I believe some of them would love to help, but the whole thing is so complex, as Ohg Rea Tone points out. There’s the FDA, the corporate law, and a hundred other agencies preventing the donation of newly expired food to charities. (which by the way is why there’s enough bread…bread, cakes, and pastries were the only things they said they could donate, and only to non profit organizations)

    There’s a lot that needs to be done, both politically and individually, in that area. Local managers need to be convinced to do what’s right. Laws need to be passed. I’ll admit that I’m not smart enough to know where to start. I’m an optometrist, what the hell do I know about how to go about getting a law passed that would enable grocery stores to donate cans of food rather than toss it? Maybe I can invite our store manager at Costco over and see if he’d be willing to sneak me the expired stuff so I can take it (anonymously) to the charities. That will never work, but hey, I could at least try. Any other ideas on how to go about enacting this change?

    In the meantime, everybody, don’t forget to check your dumpsters tomorrow night…there should be a lot of stuff thrown away after one of the biggest eating days of the year. ;)

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