A crew of Haverford students dumpster dive for food
By Kulia Wooddell
It’s 1 a.m. and Jaime’s Haverford College backpack lies partially unzipped on the ground, already full of dozens of day-old bagels.
“I think the rest is just trash,” she said from within the dumpster, her voice muffled by mounds of black garbage bags.
“Let’s get out of here before anyone gets curious,” Jamie added. “The last thing I want to do is explain that, ‘no, we’re not vagrants, we’re not penniless hobos, we’re students at Haverford College..”
The practice of sorting through discarded items that are intended for the landfill is called ‘dumpster diving’. A select number of Haverford students do it, but with a twist. They aren’t looking for old lamps or useable junk. They are hunting for food.
“Lots of people think it’s gross,” said Josh, a Haverford senior. “It’s the way I get all my bread-type food, though, like rolls, bagels, doughnuts.”
Jaime, a junior, estimates that she and her seven apartment-mates get 60 bagels from this dumpster per visit, and they stop by two or three times a month. (Her name and the other names reported here have been changed at the students’ request to assure their privacy.).
Jaime says that there are five or six dumpsters along Haverford’s Main Line that she frequents every few weeks, though not every late-night run is successful.
“That’s all part of the excitement-you never know if you’re going to go home empty-handed or if you’re going to score,” said Katie, Jamie’s roommate.
While there are dangers associated with dumpster diving — questionable legality and food safety being two of them — a number of Haverford students remain undaunted.
“You get free stuff, it’s environmentally responsible, and it’s fun-these things definitely outweigh the hazards,” Katie added.
While the majority of students will not go dumpster diving during their time at Haverford, the number that does participate is increasing. Interestingly, so is the number of Main Line stores taking measures to prevent diving.
“I think there are more Haverford students dumpster diving now, but only within select groups,” Katie said. “When I moved into the Haverford College Apartments last year everyone went diving, so I just went along with it. It’s funny because now I’m the one instigating these missions.”
“People tell their friends about it, take them on their first dive, and then the culture just grows,” said Josh. “I didn’t start dumpster diving until I got introduced to it here, and it’s the same for most people.”
Some divers see the practice as a way of living an environmentally sustainable life.
“Stores throwing away food that’s still perfectly good is part of that food waste,” said Sarah, a sophomore diver. “Everything in these bins is going to the landfill anyway, so we’re just reducing the amount of waste, and giving things a second chance to be used.”
For these Haverford students, dumpster diving is a form of protest that they can apply to their everyday lives.
“There’s a weird culture surrounding food-people think it’s really expendable, but it’s not. Diving helps me avoid giving my money to unsustainable industries that exploit resources and animals,” Jaime said.
“It helps me eat well, not support food corporations whose practices destroy the environment, and save my money to buy food from local organic farmers and stuff who are environmentally responsible,” Katie explained.
The legality of dumpster diving, however, is something that most students aren’t too concerned about. Dumpster diving and trespassing often seem to go hand in hand.
When asked whether these legal issues ever discourage their scavenging, Jamie responded, “Is this a serious question?”
“Not to make it sound like we’re just angry Haverford students taking it out on the dumpsters, but we don’t give a damn,” piped in Jeremy, a Haverford sophomore.
The general consensus is that as long as it’s not hurting anyone, it doesn’t matter if it’s against the law. Plus, the allure of free items is often too great to resist. “These prices make it worth any risk,” said Jeremy.
Lately, though, students have had trouble matching the amount of dumpster treats from previous years. Many of the Main Line stores, whose dumpsters these students used to frequent, have starting taking anti-diving measures.
Locking it up
“We’ve never been confronted by store employees, but some of our best diving spots have been ruined, like Panera Bread<” said Jaime. “They used to throw out their leftover bread from the day in a separate bag, which we could grab. Now, they’ve started mixing the good bread in with customers’ leftovers and napkins and other trash
“It’s the same with Dunkin’ Donuts,” added Katie. “They’ve started submerging their unsold doughnuts in coffee grounds when they throw them out. We’ve seen more and more Haverford stores go the way of Blockbuster and Whole Foods, either locking their dumpsters or getting trash compactors.”.
It is unclear whether stores are taking these steps solely to discourage divers, but students seem certain that the decrease in salvageable dumpster food isn’t a result of less food being thrown away.
“The food is being locked up and hidden now, but it’s still there. It wasn’t like this last year,” said Josh. “Maybe they’re worried because more people are dumpster diving now.”
That said, dumpster diving among Haverford students shows no sign of slowing down. “We just have to find new spots to go to, and we always do,” Jaime said.
“There’s no stopping it,” said Katie, motioning to the bulging bag of bagels from that night’s dive. “It goes to show-one person’s garbage is another’s feast!”