Why Dumpster Diving Won’t Work and What We Can Do About It

As I cleaned out my refrigerator last night, I thought about the recent documentary “Dumpster Diving to Solve Hunger.”

In this segment, HLN news anchor Jane Velez-Mitchel proposes dumpster diving as a viable answer to feeding our nation’s hungry population. Accompanied by a self-proclaimed “freegan,” Velez-Mitchel even demonstrates how to dumpster dive for food and put together a tasty, wholesome meal.

While most of us (myself included) cringe at the thought of digging our meals out of the trash, Velez-Mitchel does make an important point.  Why do we waste so much food while our neighbors go hungry?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated” in 2010 alone. And, “food wasted accounted for almost 14 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream.” More than any other category except paper.

Let’s be clear - dumpster diving isn’t the answer and for three key reasons.

  • It involves digging through legitimate garbage to find the consumable food. And you’d still have to clean it thoroughly to remove any potentially dangerous contaminates.
  • While food scavenging itself may not be illegal, it usually involves trespassing on private property, which is.
  • It isn’t always practical, especially for large families and single parents who can’t leave their children home alone or bring them along for a nighttime dumpster dive.

What is the solution? Redistribute the excess food.

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to “encourage the donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals” by protecting them from civil or criminal liability (in the event that the donated food caused illness).

That includes us. Cans of unappealing veggies taking up room in your pantry? Packets of sauce mixes you’ll never actually use? Perhaps an older box of pasta? Instead of throwing out that can of just-expired soup, donate it to your local food bank.

I couldn’t do anything about the expired milk I had to toss, but I did pause to reflect that I’m lucky enough to have milk in the first place. A lot of people, especially children, aren’t so fortunate as to have “excess food.” We can help.

Tags: hungry children Washington, dumpster diving