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Waste not, want not

by Archives March 25, 2008

He tears at the garbage bag with ease, not knowing what he will find in the small green dumpster. He reaches for a cylindrical-shaped package, hoping for something interesting. Nothing but bubble-wrap and ripped paper.
What was once deemed a repugnant act only practiced by the homeless, dumpster diving, the practice of sifting through commercial or residential trash, has gained a wide appeal in recent years among all sectors of society.
Tomoe Yoshihara, an avid dumpster explorer and a communications student at Concordia, has found many of his meals and other goods at local dumpsters without having to pay a cent.
“I’ve always had a fascination with what gets cast out from society and how things come to be valued as garbage,” said Yoshihara.
Tomoe has recently limited his consumption from dumpster diving to once every month because his new roommates often bring home baked goods from their work or food they found from dumpster diving, so he tends to “skim off of them.” He said he has lived off the food from dumpster diving, but it often becomes harder in the winter.
Although the majority of people who dumpster dive do it for the thrill, there are others who use it as a way of raising awareness about North America’s growing waste problem and ways to solve it.
According to a 2005 Statistics Canada survey, Canadians created 9.5 million tons of garbage that year which headed straight to the landfills.
Co-op Sur Genereux, a Montreal-based housing organization, often uses dumpster diving as a way to convey the idea of sustainability to the public. The waste problem is a specific one in Montreal since the Lachenaie landfill in the northeastern suburb of Terrebonne, is predicted to be full by August. The Lachenaie dump takes 40 per cent of all the garbage generated by the metropolitan area’s 82 municipalities. Smaller dumps near Drummondville, Joliette, Lachute and St. Jerome take the other 60 per cent, but two of those four are also predicted to be full within two years.
Freeganism.info, a non-profit organization based in New York City, also holds events like diving tours and recycling workshops in the hopes of reducing human produced waste through education and awareness.
The group’s spokesperson, Madeline Nelson, said that although dumpster diving is not the resolution to the growing problem, it can help.
“It’s a crime how much is wasted. Corporations need to be unmasked as the exploitative resource-pushers they are, and be made responsible for the re-use of all goods they produce,” said Nelson.
Others however, lay the blame wholly on consumers. Misha Warbanski, a former Concordia student and dumpster diver, said North Americans waste their money on the wrong things.
“I think that North American culture is so removed from the production process, we demand so much of our food so when it’s damaged or bruised, we often throw it out,” said Warbanski.
Dumpster diving is considered a legal activity in countries like Canada, Italy and parts of the United States, but it is considered theft in places like England and Sweden.
Nevertheless, rummaging through garbage isn’t always what defines a dumpster diver. The karung guni, a group in Singapore, take dumpster diving to another level. The members go around door to door, asking people for their garbage and other unwanted goods.
Although he doesn’t knock on anybody’s door, Yoshihara said the unique activity is about more than just saving a few bucks. For him, the appeal is related to the thrill of discovery.
“It’s cheap, fun and you can get things like antique furniture that has been used by real human beings and has a story behind it. That’s really the best part of dumpster diving.”
It’s all about what you find and less about how you find it.

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