Part 1: Skipping
Supermarkets throw away 300,000 tonnes of food waste every year1. Skipping, or dumpster diving, is the practice of liberating that food from rotting in a bin and using it to nourish an empty belly. It’s easy, fun and if you don’t have much money you’ll probably end up eating much higher quality food by skipping than you would buying it from a shop. This guide will give you a walk-through of the basic things you need to know to skip effectively wherever you are in the country.
How to find a bin
Go to your local supermarket and do a walk around the perimeter, you can scout out places using google maps/street view as well, but there’s no substitute for investigating in person. Sometimes the bins will be behind a fence that you’ll have to climb, sometimes it will just be in a bag on the street (especially for cafés in central) and sometimes they’ll be locked or in a cage. Most commercial waste bins are secured with a lock that’s open-able with a gas meter key, which looks like this:
Gas meter keys are available to buy in hardware shops and usually cost a couple of quid at most. Keeping one of them on your key chain so it’s on you at all times is wise. If the bin is inside a cage, check the cage is actually locked and that there isn’t a way in. Supermarket bosses don’t want you going through bins, but your average worker couldn’t give a toss, so they often forget to secure them at all. And if they are secured, odds are someone else skips that place and has taken measures to liberate the bin.
Sometimes the bins are in unlikely places, sometimes they’re kept indoors, and sometimes they look incredibly well protected behind barbed wire and high fences, but with the gate left open. Explore!
Shops will put out their bins at different times, so you should check at different times too. People usually like to skip at night, normally around 11pm, but day-time skipping is very underrated, I think. You’ll soon have a catalogue of local places. As a general rule, independent shops waste a lot less than chains, larger shops are more likely to secure their bins indoors, and petrol stations are usually a pretty good bet for unsecured and easily accessible bins.
What things you find in bins
All sorts! Supermarkets throw out a wide range of food, including lots of bread, pastries, chocolate, fruit and veg, pizzas, ready meals. Basically anything you get in the shop. If you’re missing out on fruit and veg then skip a market, or a greengrocer’s. Fancy some sandwiches? cafes and delis throw out loads. It’s very easy to have a well-balanced diet by skipping. It’s generally harder to skip things the longer the shelf-life is, though it’s definitely possible and made much more likely by checking a variety of bins regularly. We skip a fair amount of pasta for example, also washing up liquid, and I recently got a posh shower-gel jobby from a Morrisons. These things are usually thrown out because the packaging is damaged rather than for being out of date, which is a reason to always carry a couple of plastic bags with you to put stuff in.
Skipping doesn’t require much groundwork, but a little preparation can go a long way. To be ready for anything, just bring along:
- A skip key
- A pair of gloves
- A torch
- A big bag like a camping rucksack, lined with a bin bag
- Little bags, like shopping bags, to put stuff with damaged packaging in
A friend likes to always bring a rinsed out bottle, to transfer any milk with damaged packaging into. This is also wise, but I always forget.
What are the risks?
The people who work in the shops generally don’t give a toss. I’ve never heard of anyone getting more than shouted at for skipping. There are activities involved in skipping, like trespass, that might attract the attention of cops and other nasty types were they to spot you, but this rarely ends in anything serious.
EDIT: (from anarchohipster in the comments) “this is great! though i think it would be advisable that you put under risks that technically skipping is classed as theft by finding; although this is very rarely used against people who skip, i´ve been stopped searched for it once and one friend of mine was arressted all he had to do was appologise to the manager of the store (as part of this programme called “restortative justice”) but even so, I think it is worth being aware that the police can- if they really want to arrest you, take finerprints etc so it is really worth pointing this out to people”
Some shops will trash their food to try and discourage skipping, sometimes by putting a blue dye on it to stain your hands and mouth. I’m unsure how dangerous this is to consume and I’ve never really fancied giving it a go. I’ve also heard about bleach being used, but never actually come across it. It may be an urban myth, but it’s something to be aware of, I guess.
Clean up after yourself. Don’t nick anything. Be polite to any workers. You don’t want to be a threatening or “anti-social” presence. This isn’t out of respect for the shops, or in the interests of law and order. If you’re rowdy, messy or stealing stuff, then the shops are going to start locking the bins or trashing their food. Congratulations, you’ve just cut off a food source, for yourself and for the others who used it. If the owner has another shop, they’re going to do the same, if they have any friends that own shops they’ll tell them to do the same as well. It’s possible to cultivate a good relationship with people who work in shops, there are several places that we skip where the workers are friendly.
1 http://www.channel4.com/news/why-the-supermarket-secrecy-on-food-waste (and by the way Sainsbury’s claim that they don’t waste edible food is total bullshit. There are literally 3 sacks of amazing food from Sainbury’s sat in my kitchen right now.)
This post is part of the Living For (as) Free (as possible) series, next week is furniture and electronics.