by Jeni Medrano
Living off the waste stream, fun and easy, jump into your local dumpster today. America is one of the most wasteful societies in the world and because of this there is a nearly untapped goldmine of things that you can scavenge for, all for free. Think about it, what do you think happens at the end of the day in any fast food establishment; let’s take Dunkin Donuts for instance, 5 o’clock is closing time, but there are still at least 50 doughnuts still unsold, NYS health codes prevent stores from reselling yesterday’s goods so they just throw it all out, right out front of you local Dunkin Donuts there are bags of goodies just waiting to be put in hungry hands instead of going to a landfill.
Like all things dumpster diving or urban scavenging as I’ve also heard it referred to, has a season. The best time to hunt food products is in the fall and the winter the chill in the air helps preserve outdoor trash. Finding food in other seasons is possible, but be careful like all food being left out in the heat will not make for such an appetizing snack. The summer months are the best time to go furniture hunting, many people move especially in Albany right around May and June this is prime time to drive around and look for furnishings like couches, air conditioners, fans, chairs and any other treasure some one might dump to lighten there moving load. SUNY in May is one of the places in which you can find many items that are still perfectly good that would otherwise be thrown out. On the last day of school in the summer I advise taking a walk through the tunnels and the individual quads, where you will be able to find loads of lamps and other furniture, generally I would suggest that you take on this endeavor with someone who can drive, believe me I’ve tried it is not advisable to try and lug chairs and couches home on the bus.
There are two main types of garbage, commercial and residential, I would advise that residential garbage is far more useful for bottles to recycle and furniture than they will ever be for finding food. Monday morning is when garbage is picked up in downtown Albany below Central Avenue; this makes Sunday nights ideal for scouting.
Most commercial garbage is picked up everyday. Main sources for dumpster munchies are Dunkin Donuts and any bagel place. Avoid establishments that are open 24 hours because although they do thow out products they are more likely to harass you for picking through the garbage than an establishment that is already closed. A good place to start is the Dunkin Donuts in One commerce plaza on Washington Ave, they close at five pm, 7 pm would be a good time to start scouting, their garbage is right in front of their store just open the lid on the canister and pull out a bag of doughnuts. (Dumpster etiquette; avoid the temptation to take more than you need, if you take all the doughnuts and wind up throwing them out, you’e just become part of the food waste problem, also it is important to acknowledge that you may not be the only one scavenging and you wouldn’t want to deprive someone who may need it more than you.). Bagel places, say Brueggars for example throws out several dozen bagels at the end of every business day, try the Brueggars on Madison Ave, their garbage is placed in clear bags right behind the store they close at 6pm between 7 and 8pm are perfect times to scout bagels. (Dumpster etiquette; if you tear open a garbage bag reseal it, establishments shouldn’t have to clean up after you, if you leave a bag open and there are bagels all over the street in the morning business owners may begin to find ways of preventing “garbage theft” by putting coffee grinds in with food waste (this used to happen a lot with irate Dunkin Donuts managers) or using black bags or even locking garbage in fenced in areas.)
Quick recipe for saving stale bagels, you have a bagel and it has become hard don’t panic it can still be breakfast, run bagel under a little bit of luke warm water, rap in a towel or cloth of some sort even a paper towel will do (if you use a paper towel don’t rap to tightly or the paper will get stuck to the outside of the bagel) place in a microwave for 45 seconds, remove from microwave cut and toast, bagel just like new. (If you don’t have a microwave often convenience stores, gas stations and colleges have them and will let you use them for free.)
It is not illegal to pick through garbage, however it is illegal to trespass, if there is garbage in a gated area or you jump right into a privately owned dumpster you may be trespassing: don’t be afraid to do things outlaw style, if you are stopped by a cop just remember to be polite and explain why you are doing what your doing, most of the time the officer will just tell you to leave.
Supermarkets are great sources of cardboard the Price chopper on Delaware Ave does not compact it’s bales of cardboard or milk cartons (which can make really cool coffee tables chairs etc) their garbage is on the right side of the building and although it is gated it is often left open and don’t forget you can always ask whatever staff is milling about usually they couldn’t care less if you removed some of their cardboard it just means less work for them later. Remember this when your moving.
Getting free food from restaurants and hotels, both restaurants and hotels waste a great deal of food, if you’ve ever eaten at restaurant and only eaten half of what was on your plate and didn’t take home a doggie bag you’ve just contributed to the tons of organic waste created by the restaurant industry. To help lower waste I recommend to people that they take there left over’s even if they don’t want them and give them to people on the street who might be hungry, on a cold night I’e even left food in bus stops and park benches with notes on them like (free perfectly edible food take if you’d like). Because most restaurant owners are not conscientious of the need for food by many and the destructiveness of the waste they make don’t section off there garbage so people can rummage, the best thing to do to get a free meal is to a) befriend a bus boy or waitress, armed with a good piece of Tupperware they can make you a meal out of just the waste they collect from tables or b) visit restaurants 5 minutes or so before they close for the evening owners and staff are often more then willing to give you whatever they have left over from the day. This works especially well at fast food place and food courts within malls. Crossgates closes at 9:30 at 9:35pm you can go to any fast food joint and get some free French fries or even left over burgers, (don’t ever eat meat or even most dairy products out of an outdoor garbage unit this can make you very sick)
Also hotels often host conferences where food is served I know from attending conferences that although they serve food most of it is not eaten. Go to hotels (the Marriott on wolf road is a good choice) get a schedule of the events that are going on, attend the ones that are free (this can be fun) or just attend the conference right after meal or snack has been served and ask either conference organizers or hotel staff if you can keep the excess. I find that organizers are very receptive to this. (I fed my cats for almost a year off meat scraps I got at conferences)
When it comes to meet products rather than eating them I often give this food to local stray cats and dogs, this is especially important in the winter months when many run the risk of starving.
Any food that comes from the waste stream is Vegan by default; by living off the waste of others you are taking a revolutionary step in helping reduce the suffering caused by the food industry. Sometimes the best thing you can do for the world is choose not to participate. Environmentalist have espoused the slogan reduce, reuse, recycle and although most socially conscious Americans do recycle they forget that the other two things are just as important.
SUNY as well as state offices are good sources of free paper, SUNY’s paper garbage is more accessible than that of the state you can find paper garbage in any garbage container anywhere on campus, you can even collect paper from students in one particular quad and not have to buy your own paper for at least an entire semester. Post September 11th the state has began to lock there garbage in locked trash containers, their garbage is picked up at around 5 am, feel free to ask your local sanitation worker if you can have some of the paper that is removed from these containers, I find more often than not they will give it to you.
What you can do to help scavengers. when putting out your garbage separate recyclables (especially those that can be redeemed for a deposit) and put them in clear bags so scavengers can locate them easily without having to rummage. If you have left over food that you don’t want but is still good wrap it up and leave them in places frequented by the homeless with pleasant notes on them, you’d be surprised how this small act can totally change someone’s day, its also best to do this in the winter because the cold will preserve your food.
Things to bring with you, I advise that it is always good to carry plastic bags or Tupperware with you this will help to preserve your haul, also it never hurts to carry a pair of rubber gloves, when jumping into a dumpster or trash container you never know what you might find, gloves will help keep you hands clean and help prevent cuts from sharp things you could potentially find in garbage. Flashlights are also helpful, since most scavenging is done at night having a flashlight will help you determine what is and isn’t good to take.
Always be willing to share! While out scavenging you may meet some interesting people, it is always better to scavenge in pairs both for personal safety and carrying potential. When you meet people offer them food this is a great way to make friends and gain more insight into late night and scavenger culture.
Good luck and happy hunting.
I took 4 average college students out with me to help research where food can be found in Albany, while out we also had a light nosh, we shared a couple of Dunkin doughnuts scones (which we brought home and micro waved. Microwaves are really helpful because the heat will re-hydrate food that has been out) we found a couple bagels and didn’t have any problem searching through garbages in gated areas. Cops did not stop us and we made 5 dollars in recycling refunds. A good time was had by all.