Reykjavík – a dumpster-diver’s paradise?

It’s been a while since my last post and that is mostly due to the visit of my beloved. Another reason is the fact that I feel the last two posts were pretty good – and I do not feel able to achieve that again at the moment. Still, it is time to get back to writing.

Within the last two/three weeks, last night was especially remarkable. It snowed in Reykjavík. This is funny, because locals keep telling everyone who listens how unlikely it is to get snow in Rkv. But still we had slightly positive temperatures during the day so everything melted again and we had this great sludge to walk through. In short: winter is approaching here very quickly, it is getting darker as well. The other remarkable thing that happened last night is that I lost my dumpster-diving-virginity. Having seen “Taste the waste” by Valentin Thun and being generally rather sensitive about environmental issues, I’d been flirting with the idea for quite a while back in Germany. I also have a bunch of friends who practise it already but for some strange reason I never made it to join in. For me there are practical and ideological reasons to have a positive attitude towards fishing unspoiled food out of supermarkets’ garbage bins. The practical aspect is clear, I guess. Why pay money for food in the store if I can have it for free out of the disposal? Of course, you cannot really rely on getting particularly what you want, but that just makes it more exciting. This practice definitely encourages creativity and broadens your horizon about what groceries to consume. I mean, really, don’t we usually always end up buying the same stuff over and over again?

One third of the food produced ends up in the garbage

But let’s have a look at the ideological side of things. It is a matter of fact that a third of the food produced in our society is thrown away, even though most of it is perfectly fine. The reasons for this are various. First of all, a supermarket, for instance, is expected by its customers to always be fully stocked. That means they have to order more than they can really sell. Still it pays off for the companies to throw away that food, because they then might have a better reputation with the customer for being well stocked and might hence be preferred by them. This lavish attitude is furthermore also due to simple human laziness and rational calculation – as well as unquestioned pickiness of the consumer. It is just too cumbersome to unpack a whole package of, let’s say, potatoes just because one has gone bad. So what to do with it? The customer will not buy it, because he or she can also purchase a package with solely good potatoes. Unpacking it, removing the rotten one and repacking it would be way too much effort, not only for an individual, but also for a whole business. It would use a lot of resources as the whole process would have to be organized, carried into execution and monitored. So what to do with this 2kg package of potatoes where one is rotten? Well, yes, throw it away. But how can our throw-away society justify such a waste of food considering the fact that 870 million people on this planet suffer from hunger? The fact is we can’t. And I am sure every single person can and should do something about it.

No excuses…!

That doesn’t necessarily mean dumpster-diving. But already a more conscious way of buying things could make a big change. A lot of the food gets thrown away not by the supermarkets but by private households because they simply buy too much. And I tend to believe that, in our capitalist society today, we do not influence the way things go through our so-called democratic elections but rather by the power that we wield as customers. What we decide to buy or not is in my opinion also a political statement. I think the mindset of “I am only one person and my actions can’t change shit” is poison for the development of any society. So I’m convinced that every single deed of ours has some sort of echo even if we don’t notice it. Being less picky about some dark spots on a banana or a single rotten tomato within a pack can also help. A yogurt doesn’t go bad at the best before date either. It can be easily eaten for another two or three of weeks. Another way to get active is to start a project and these might be an inspiration: foodsharing, culinary misfitsAlthough these examples are German, I’m pretty sure you’ll easily find something in your homeland as well. And if not – start something. More useful information about trash and dumpster-diving all around the world can be found at the trashwiki.

That’s just half of our catch – we split with the girl who joined us

Record of a dumpster-dive

Okay, enough morality for now. Let’s have a look at the fun stuff, namely: dumpster-diving. We met up briefly after closing time a bit outside of downtown Reykjavík. It was dark and freezing cold. At the place we met are several supermarkets so we had quite a selection. First we went to the cheapest store called “Bónus”. Everything was lit up and all the surveillance cameras around were a bit alarming. Still we kept leisurely strolling around as if we were doing the most usual thing ever. I guess because we assumed that the three (or whatever small number) policemen on duty in Reykjavík at that time wouldn’t be close anyway. Good thing I recently heard the government was cutting short the budget for the executive… Anyway, at the Bónus we didn’t get lucky though, the two accessible, smallish garbage bins were completely empty. So we decided to move a couple of meters to another store, which was just closing. It was just after eight. That was actually a bit risky. Maybe it makes sense to mention at this point that, at least in Germany, dumpster-diving is illegal. The food, even though thrown away, is legally still the supermarket’s property. Hence dumpster-diving can be considered simple theft. So it is usually not a good idea to be caught. I don’t know though how that is in Iceland and unfortunately I couldn’t find any information on that. But, as we were already out and in action, no one of us had the desire to be rational and pull back. So we went to the backside of the supermarket and it turned out it was a dumpster-diver’s paradise – all the garbage bins were easy to access, unlocked and not too messy. It seems we were quite lucky, because this article talks about supermarket owners locking garbage bins or even “spilling chemicals, such as soap, over the food to make it inedible”. We found two huge containers for waste, which were not very full. They didn’t smell so bad but also not exactly pleasant. We started looking around in the containers. One of them was filled with empty, bloody meat-packages, which I personally found quite disgusting, so we left it aside. The other one didn’t look too promising either at first sight, but after we took a closer look it turned into a treasure chest. We pulled out about 3kg of tomatoes. There was nothing wrong with them except for the fact that on their packaging (they were packed into packages of four each) juice was spilled. The tomatoes were perfectly fine. We found packed pastry products like cakes and cookies as well as a bunch of decent grapes. We found flour, salad, focaccia dough, canned beans and juice. All of it was still good. While we were euphoric and flushed with all sorts of fun hormones like adrenalin and endorphins, a worker from the store came around the corner, carrying a garbage bag. She saw us and it must have not been very difficult to guess what we were doing. But she didn’t give a damn, she simply ignored us, disposed of the bag into the other container and went off. We could barely carry all our spoils home.

Other stuff

Besides that, the last three weeks were not too exciting. We went on a trip to the north of the island and we were extremely lucky with the weather so I was able to take a couple of nice shots which I don’t want to keep away from you. Otherwise we bought a pass for the RIFF – the Reykjavík International Film Festival – and except for a lot of great movies (I highly recommend you to watch these: Gerontophilia, Valentine Road and Miss Violence), we were both very much entertained and shocked by the following commercial, which was shown before practically every screening: Svoooo gott. Well… it might make sense to mention at this point that since recently the Icelanders eat more chicken on the average than lamb because it’s cheaper (the source for that is a tourist guide).

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