Trash to treasure

19:57, Feb 09 2012
NHN DUmpster
URBAN FORAGER: Dumpster diver Martin Adlington has found many treasures including old cameras, typewriters and unexpired food.

Members of a fringe group known as dumpster divers are enjoying fancy meals – for free.

On an average evening they can be found knee-deep in supermarket skips collecting food, despite most being able to pay for it off the shelves.

Former rubbish truck driver and self-proclaimed professor of garbology Martin Adlington says people like him are dumpster divers out of principle.

"On the Shore what is thrown out by supermarkets, veggie shops and restaurants you can live off very well. I've found stuff where the expiry date isn't for another month."

One of his most successful yields includes bacon, salami, yoghurt, cream cheese dip and blue vein cheese barely past the use-by date and still cold from the chiller.

"If you know the right times and places to go you do pretty well."

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Mr Adlington believes supermarkets encourage customers to buy food with a longer freshness threshold as they do not have to pay for items that are not sold.

Progressive Enterprises communications manager Luke Schepen says anything that ends up in supermarket bins is still paid for and incurs extra collection fees.

"We're a retailer. We want to sell food, not throw it away.

"What we'd like to see is zero food waste as we do still pay for what we throw out," he says.

Browns Bay resident Mr Adlington has long been an ambassador for waste reduction and was a regular dumpster diver until daylight saving began.

"It's still light at 9pm so you've got to be careful."

Dumpster diving, or freeganing, is illegal.

Bin contents are deemed the property of the bin owner and dumpster divers can be charged with theft.

The law forces dumpster divers to operate at night, often in teams using headlamps and backpacks to store their pickings.

"There are more lights, security cameras and it is becoming harder to do," Mr Adlington says.

Mr Schepen says most North Shore bins are padlocked, although they are broken into from time to time.

Dumpster divers also risk trespassing because bins are usually within supermarket grounds. He says most supermarkets are aware it happens but most of what is in the bins is not fit to eat.

"If food has been thrown out it is for a reason and it's not fit for consumption."

Groceries with damaged packaging, incorrect labelling or on the cusp of expiry cannot be sold and so are often disposed of.

"It could also have been part of a product recall or contaminated from other items so we definitely would not recommend it," he says.

Countdown Supermarkets launched a national food rescue programme in December to redirect surplus food to the Salvation Army where possible. This was done only on an ad-hoc basis previously Mr Schepen says, with food otherwise ending up in bins.

But food is not where the waste story ends as far as Mr Adlington is concerned.

Dumpsters hold far more possibilities.

"I always say there's gold in there and I actually found gold flakes once."

Mr Adlington has collected shelves full of old cameras and typewriters.

"People are so quick to throw out stuff that is perfectly fine because they want the latest thing. I've found mobile phones still working with simcards in.

"The motto is reduce, reuse and recycle but nobody's reducing."

North Harbour News