About one week into my arrival in Copenhagen, my friend from home, Gabriel, told me how he had been ‘bin diving’ – otherwise known as ‘dumpster diving’ – for food. According to him, he had only spent 200kr on food in the past month and was eating better than he ever had before. He explained how, several nights a week, he and his housemate go to different supermarket bins in Østerbro dig for food.
The food in bins is thrown away purely because it hasn’t been sold by its use date (even though it is still perfectly edible) or because, for example, one orange in a box is soft. However, Gabriel insisted that the food he found –jams, honey, meat, fruit, ingredients for baking, chocolate and even crates of wine – was perfectly edible and that the only downside to bin-diving is that it can be very cold. I was immediately intrigued, not only by the enticing prospect of saving some money, but as to whether or not he could really be living off food from a bin.
My housemate, Ellie (another exchange student from Manchester), was completely shocked and slightly repelled by the idea, ‘food…from a bin? Isn’t that unhygienic?’. This is a common reaction for people who do not know much about it. When someone tells you they dig around in a bin for food, of course you might think that it’s dirty, unhygienic and unsafe for consumption. But, as I later discovered, these presumptions are entirely wrong.
As the cost of living in Copenhagen began to hit us, Ellie and I decided to go on our own bin-diving expedition. After looking at an incredible apartment in Frederiksberg when we first arrived in Copenhagen, we decided that the bins must be just as luxurious. This didn’t turn out to be the best logic: every bin at every supermarket was locked or hidden, leaving us to go home empty-handed. However, the next time, we went with our Gabriel who is a seemingly expert bin-diver. This time we followed him to his regular bins in Østerbro where we found so much food (and flowers!) that we had to be selective in what we kept:
3 Bouquets of flowers
2 loaves of bread
1 bag of flour
1 big salad pot
1 punnet of raspberries
1 packet of pineapple
3 bags of potatoes
2 packs of sage
1 box of oranges
1 huge bit of chorizo
2 packs of mushrooms
In total, we visited three different bins in one hour. Food such as peppers and leaks we had to wash, but had no qualms about eating. That evening, I saved over 250kr from going through bins and found food, such as raspberries, that normally I cannot afford to buy.
From what fellow bin-divers have told me, monetary reasons do seem to be the primary reason why people bin-dive, especially in Denmark where, as you‘ve all probably figured out by now, life isn’t exactly cheap. However, when I discovered that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally per annum (Global Food Losses and Food Waste) and that it is estimated that there are 100 million homeless people in the world, it infuriated me that food was being wasted. In my eyes, these economic and political issues make bin diving even more justifiable and great. Bin-diving once a week acts as a viable alternative to beat the cost of living in Copenhagen and allows you to have money to spend on other things. Additionally, it is also an enjoyable experience where I have met new people and also feel much more generous when it comes to sharing food with my housemates.
Although a little dirty (there’s always mayonnaise lurking about) and cold, if you’re looking for a cheap, sociable way of living in Copenhagen, bin-diving is one thing I can recommend.