Andrew Sauder recently drove to an ALDI grocery store 20 minutes from campus on a chilly Wednesday night. He parked his car with the trunk facing the dumpster and climbed into the trash where he began his search for free groceries.
Student by day and dumpster diver by night, Sauder aids his weekly grocery supply and cuts down on his waste by dumpster diving. Saunder’s weekly routes take him to dumpsters located near stores such as ALDI, CVS and Kroger.
A legal activity in Ohio, and many other states, dumpster diving entails digging inside public dumpsters to find edible food thrown out by grocery stores and restaurants.
The contents of a dumpster might seem like trash to some, but to Sauder the wasted food he finds is a more pressing concern. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States wastes more than $160 billion in food each year, and this number is projected to continue growing if no action is taken.
Sauder, a third-year in international development, has been dumpster diving for five years, and not just to save money. He is trying, on a personal level at least, to address the issue of food waste.
The food that he finds has either passed the sell-by date, or has slight or unnoticeable damages. Sauder said all of the discarded food he collects is completely safe to eat.
“In a big picture it is redeeming food that a wasteful society is discarding, and personally, I am saving money, and I am able to re-allocate those resources for other things,” Sauder said. “But it would be my hope that there would be no food thrown out. And in America, there should be ways to re-allocate or donate food.”
To outsiders, the diving culture is often associated with a stigma of being unsanitary and something only people who are homeless do. But Sauder’s weekly food runs through the trash are just a part of his lifestyle.
Sauder typically dumpster dives once a week either on a Friday or Saturday night using a route of three or four grocery stores across Columbus. He usually goes to ALDI and CVS because their dumpsters are open to the public.
“They [ALDI] are super efficient with their employees and how they staff the store,” Sauder said. “They usually have only two employees at a time, and so they don’t have time to go open a bag and take a bad apple out and re-package it. So they just throw the whole thing away. That’s where I come in and I have five apples and take the bad one out, and I have my fruit for the week.”
After making his rounds at several places, he usually collects so much quality food, and sometimes other nonfood items, that he is able to share his haul with his roommates and friends, some of whom don’t dumpster dive themselves.
“I think the stigma isn’t terribly well thought through sometimes, because our food touches disgusting things all the time,” said Brittany Kuepfer, a third-year education major at Columbus State, and a friend of Sauder’s who doesn’t dive but regularly shares his findings. “They touch employees’ hands and a lot of the food he brings back is produce so it has peelings that you can peel and wash, the same way you get it from a grocery store. I don’t find that disgusting.”
At the end of his dive that recent Wednesday, Sauder had collected a variety of groceries he valued at more than $100 –– most of the items consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I eat healthier because of dumpster diving,” Sauder said. “The overwhelming majority of the stuff we found in the dumpster was fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, we’ve gotten many clothes and perfect condition bikes from dumpsters as well.”