Welcome to Wasted Potential!
If you are confused about the title of the site, then let me explain. My brother-in-law Tony and I started dumpster diving regularly back in November 2015. Initially, Tony and I went out diving due to the intriguing possibility that there would be cool stuff that we would find in dumpsters. There are plenty of YouTube videos that you can find of people dumpster diving and the various types of things you can find in dumpsters, such as electronics, home appliances, office supplies, toys, etc. However, one thing out of all of this “trash” stood out to us: Food.
We were not aware of the staggering amount of food waste in our area at first. The start of our dumpster diving campaign started in Lebanon, PA. Soon after, we took our travels into other parts of Lebanon County (Cleona, Annville, Palmyra), Hershey, Hummelstown, and certain parts of Harrisburg. Our overall travels took us 80 miles around central PA for several hours, and we would accumulate food by the truckloads… literally! With Tony’s pick-up truck, several large plastic containers and some sheer will and determination, we would “rescue” all sorts of food from being thrown out. At first we started out gathering non-perishable items like bagged snacks, canned foods, drinks, granola bars, and even bottles of water.
Just as a side note: Dumpster diving is NOT illegal in Pennsylvania! Once an item goes into a dumpster, it becomes trash and is not private property. However, the land that it is on may be owned by another company and/or the dumpster itself is owned by a waste company. The main thing to remember about dumpster diving is that while it’s not illegal, trespassing on private property is. If there’s a sign up that says not to trespass, I recommend following the rules. Most people (including police officers) don’t mind when people dumpster dive as long as divers are following the law. That isn’t always the case though, which I will elaborate on in a second.
It was a great experience, finding all of these consumables and distributing them to friends, family and even donating bulk amounts of our findings to local food banks. We did this regularly for about ten months, until October 5, 2016 when we got arrested dumpster diving at a CVS in Hershey, PA. We were charged with prowling at night on a home or dwelling (lead offense) and defiant trespassing in a fenced enclosure. Thanks to Tony’s prior research on dumpster diving and prompt letter writing following our arrest, we ended up connecting to Rob Greenfield, a San Diego based activist who actively speaks out against the atrocity that is food waste. You can find out more about him and his work here.
Rob was the driving force that got our story out about our arrest, which has since propelled us further into the public eye and turned our supposed criminal activity into a precedent for people to look at and see the flaws in our ecology. Food waste is a very preventable disaster (yes, I said disaster) but there is very little done about it in many stores across the country. CVS is a nationwide chain with over 9000 stores and throws out most of their unused or near-expiring consumables, as we have found over our time dumpster diving.
As it turned out, several months and one delay in our hearing later, the case was dropped. We were found to have not been guilty of the ludicrous charges imposed upon us. A huge victory for food waste activism and dumpster divers!
So now what do we do, since it’s been proven that we are not criminals? As it turns out, when our story started going viral, a common goal that we had been looking forward to working towards is setting up food rescue programs with local organizations to get all of the “wasted potential” into the hands of those that truly need it. As it stands, $165 billion worth of food gets wasted annually, which is a staggering number when we have statistics that show 40 million people in the United States alone are food insecure. Our goal now ultimately is to make sure that the good food never hits the dumpster in the first place, and is instead responsibly handled and given to food banks, charities, rescue missions, etc.
We still dumpster dive and conduct ourselves in a civilized, respectable manner. Supermarkets, which we initially believed not to be an option due to the nature of perishable items, are throwing out tons of fresh, intact produce, bread and other wholesome foods daily.
However, the warmer weather eventually makes it less ideal to dumpster dive for these types of food items. It’s up to all of us to speak out and tell grocery stores not to waste food!