How to find fantastic food in supermarket bins

If you like creeping around at night and the smell of rotting vegetables, this is for you

It’s estimated that in the UK over 15 million tonnes of food is wasted every year and more than half of this occurs in the food industry. This has had some press recently and with the help of our Lord and Saviour Jamie Oliver, ASDA have started offering a wonky veg box. This is a start, but there’s still a shit load of shit being binned. But for poor students and the homeless alike, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If your cupboards are barer than Old Mother Hubbard’s and you’re in more debt than Greece I have two words for you: skip diving. If you’ve never heard of skip diving (or “dumpster diving” to our American friends) it’s basically eating out of bins, but in a cool, trendy, hipster way – just make sure you don’t get bin juice in your beard.

Recently I went for more than three solid weeks without spending a single penny on food. Admittedly I did then have a small binge of buying steaks, pizza and the like, but now I’m back on the wagon – half willingly, half because I’m so fucking poor I can’t afford food right now.

Some of my latest haul

Some of my latest haul

Eating out of bins isn’t as trampy as most people imagine it to be – you can get some really nice shit out of some supermarket bins and the classier the shop, the classier the waste. I once got about 50 boxes of chocolates out of Waitrose’s bins (does chocolate even go off?) and used them for part of the snack table at my friend’s degree show.

In the UK it’s technically illegal to take food from supermarket bins because even though they’ve thrown it away it’s still considered to be their property. This being said, some cases involving “skippers” have been thrown out of court – either due to lack of evidence or the judge not being a cunt.

A lot of supermarkets lock their bins up at night making the foraging of freegans all the more difficult, however you can buy a triangle bin key from the internet (but you didn’t hear that from me…nudge nudge, wink wink) allowing you access to all the bins you can get your filthy little paws on.

Pizza pinwheels with mozzarella, cheddar, basil and salami - I call them pizza binwheels!

Pizza pinwheels with mozzarella, cheddar, basil and salami: I call them pizza binwheels

The thing I love most about skip diving is, like Forest Gump would say: you never know what you’re gonna get. Because of this, you’ve got to be pretty creative when it comes to mealtimes and it’s always kind of like an episode of Ready Steady Cook, just with slightly mouldy food and Ainsley Harriott replaced by an angry security guard. This inevitably means that sometimes you’ve just got to run, Forest, run! But in my experience you mostly get dirty looks and a bit of good old British tutting.

Poached egg on mashed potato filled pastry cup resting on a bed of salad with honey and mustard dressing and black pepper.

Poached egg on mashed potato-filled pastry cup resting on a bed of salad with honey and mustard dressing

Also, it’s not just food you find. Some of my favourite non-edible bin finds include a brand new pair of underwear, a wicker basket, a Lego mini figure, a squeaky pig dog toy, houseplants, shampoo, baby wipes and a green fluffy notebook with googley eyes.

If you’re thinking of going skip diving the first thing to do would be to ask around – see if you know anyone who already does it. This will make the whole thing a lot easier. If you don’t know any current divers, maybe you can convert some – going with a friend is always more fun and less scary for your first time. Once you’ve found your partner in crime (not crime, well kind of crime…) you need to prepare your kit. Mine consists of a rucksack, a few carrier bags and a head torch for hands-free hunting. Don’t only take a rucksack, especially if it’s the one you use for uni – bin juice doesn’t do you any favours when you’re chatting up people in the SU bar.

The haul from one evening's diving. Including a wicker basket, my fluffy notebook, 7 packets of buffalo mozzarella, about 50 various packets of spice mix and loads of pre-made pizza dough

The haul from one evening’s diving. Including wicker basket, my fluffy notebook, seven packets of buffalo mozzarella, about 50 packets of various spice mixes and loads of pre-made pizza dough

Then of course there’s the triangle bin key I mentioned earlier – I’ve never had one of these but I’m pretty sure they put the champagne and caviar in the locked bins so if you’re from UoB you might want to get yourself one. Ha, who am I kidding? If you’re from UoB mummy and daddy will be making sure you never have to eat out of bins!

Lastly you need to find your bins. Like I said earlier, the better shops have better waste, but any free food is good free food, right? Obviously it’s better not to go in broad daylight and if you’re climbing fences and ignoring big red warning signs, you’re more likely to get caught and less likely to be let off. Try doing some online research, contact freegan forums or just go and talk to your local hippies.

Once you’ve found a decent few spots, do yourself and everyone else a favour and treat it with respect. Don’t empty actual rubbish on the floor while rooting for the edible stuff, don’t make too much noise in the middle of the night and don’t tell too many people about it – some people go skip diving because they want to be cool, other people go because they can’t afford to actually buy food. Don’t ruin it for the people who need it.

And one last thing – don’t get food poisoning. I rarely take meat from the bins and when I do I make sure the best before date was very recent and it smells normal, and then I cook it that night and eat it the next day. So have fun, stay safe and don’t die! 🙂