From Iceland — Dumpster Diving By Necessity, Not Choice

Dumpster Diving By Necessity, Not Choice
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As prices in Iceland continue to soar, some turn to garbage bins to avoid starvation

Iceland’s reputation as an expensive place to live is hardly a secret. Yet, the growing trend of dumpster diving in the country remains somewhat taboo. Some divers are motivated by a desire to reduce food waste, while others have no alternative in this economy – they need to feed families, but money is always too scarce. We embarked on a quest to learn how dumpster diving can impact food expenses and talked to a regular dumpster diver who chose to remain anonymous.

GV: How did you first get into dumpster diving and what inspired you? 

First of all, it’s a lot less of an inspiration than a need. I’m a single mom with a teenage boy who wants to eat a lot. We also have a mortgage, which has tripled in the last two and a half years. When I took out the loan, it consumed 20% of my income, but now it takes up 75% to 80% of my earnings. This means we’re on the brink of either going hungry or finding a smart solution.

“I don’t have any money to spend on food.”

We couldn’t eat at friends’ houses every day, so we had to find something else. I had a friend who did dumpster diving for a long time and he introduced me to this – once he sent me a picture of food, saying, “This was today’s hunt.” It was 50,000 kronur worth of food. I decided to try. 

It wasn’t easy at the beginning. Dumpster diving is on the boundary of being legal and I don’t want to violate the law. When a dumpster is closed with a lock, that means you can’t enter – it’s a locked area, regardless of whether it’s just garbage, though.

This society is in trouble now. We wouldn’t have this many free fridges [Freedge – community fridges aimed at reducing food waste] if there wasn’t a need. People should be protesting in front of the Parliament because the pressure on the working class is not normal. I’m working two jobs so I can stay afloat, keep my car and pay what I need to. But it’s outrageous that the capital income tax is 10%, while the working class has to pay 32%, 37%, 44% of their income.

Dumpster diving is a temporary solution for me. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I hate it, but if I had the right amount of income and outgoing balance, I wouldn’t do it anymore. But at this point, it’s crucial. Otherwise, my flat would be on the market and I would lose the savings that I’ve invested here.

However, there are dumpster divers who will always need it because they don’t have enough money and society should take care of all of these groups. This is a sign of a deeper problem and we should act now. But I can’t see any initiative from the government or the social services side. There are people who are paid to sort this problem and they are just scratching their balls – not just scratching their balls; these people are lazy, ignorant, stupid idiots. They are sitting in government offices and filling their pockets. 

GV: Which foods are commonly discarded and what were your most surprising or valuable finds?

“Dumpster diving is a temporary solution for me. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I hate it, but if I had the right amount of income and outgoing balance, I wouldn’t do it anymore.”

Whenever I go to the dumpster these days, especially during summer, it’s always fruits and veggies, rarely something else. But last winter, before Christmas, we found a lot of meat – a very special selection of gourmet food like French duck and other frozen meats. Since it was minus 20 degrees Celsius, everything was intact and labelled. At that time, it was a really rare find! We brought home a minimum of 20-40 kilos of frozen meat that lasted us for about half a year.

We have also found chocolate, coffee, organic and gluten-free items like cookies and pre-baked goods. That’s rare, but it happens because it’s close to or overdue for the expiry date. I never take prepared food in a plastic bag, and I’m usually very cautious with milk products, cheese, milk, kefir, yoghurt, and so on.

GV: Can you plan your weekly meal prep completely based on dumpster diving?

Not at all. I try dumpster diving every day. Those places that I know, I know the best time to check them. But I consider it lucky every time I find something good. Lately, I only get overdue vegetables, overripe and in bad condition. Whenever I come home with a big basket of vegetables and fruits, I have to spend at least one to three hours prepping them – cutting them out, cooking or drying them so they can be used. Since the beginning of the summer, dumpster diving hasn’t been good at all. Many dumpsters got locked or removed. Other dumpsters aren’t good anymore.

GV: Has dumpster diving impacted your overall spendings on food?

I don’t have any money to spend on food, so everything I find is just to help us. Earlier, I had 100,000-150,000 ISK for food a month. I don’t pay that now, so it’s a minimum saving of 100,000 ISK. When I don’t have anything I can consider, I go and buy bread and milk in the store.

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