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I Ate Out of Wheelie Bins in Denmark for Two Weeks

And saved enough money to pay for a month's rent.

All photos via the author and Tatyana Kondratenko.

My introduction to dumpster diving came shortly after I moved to Denmark from Toronto. I'd always been intrigued by the idea but had never gotten around to trying it out, so when my thoroughly Danish pals – Anders and Rasmus – asked me if I'd like to dig through the local grocery store's trash with them late one night, I figured, why the hell not?


The amount of stuff we found blew me away: fresh vegetables, pastries, whole loaves of bread, cookies… These weren’t festering, larvae-encrusted, rotting piles of half-composted food, either. For the most part, the produce was totally fine. The stuff looked like it was tossed because it had a few bruises, or, if it was a bunch of food packaged together, because one grape in the whole box had some mold on it. All freshly baked goods are required to be thrown out every night, regardless of the state they're in, so the bread was especially fresh. (I probably shouldn't have been so surprised; according to the United Nations Environment Programme, about 1.3 billion tonnes of food – or about a third of the world's production – is wasted every year.)

As the months went by, a few classmates and I began to develop a system for efficient bin dining while slowly growing immune to the sickly-sweet stench that seems to settle over all garbage. If you’d like to try it yourself, here’s the ethos we developed:

1. Wait about 20 to 30 minutes after the last grocery store in the mall by our dorm closed.
2. Put on clothes we don't mind getting putrid, strange liquids on (for me, old black jeans and a sweater).
3. Grab a couple of bags (at least one just for bread and pastries) and flashlights.
4. Get free food.

Our only rule was "throw everything we didn't want back in." If we left it out like a bunch of raccoons, whoever had to clean up the mess in the morning would get pissed off and lock the wheelie bins for a week or two. For me, a poor student in a notoriously expensive country, discovering dumpster diving was like hitting a treasure trove, and over the semester I gradually began including more and more wheelie-bin-rescued food into my diet.


Although I ate my fair share of "rubbish" during that year, it was always treated as supplemental nutrition, never my primary diet. Since then, I've always wondered if I could have lived off of only found foods, and so last May I decided to give it a shot.

For two weeks I held myself to three rules:

1. I could only eat food I picked out of the bin.
2. Spices/condiments/oil do not count as food.
3. Alcohol does not count as food.

I also decided to document everything I found and to tally up the total value of my foraged delicacies.

Here's what I was able to salvage:

4th of May

-2 cauliflowers
-2 bouquets of flowers
-3 boxes of strawberries
-2 boxes of green grapes
-box of mushrooms
-1 live rosemary plant
-3 bananas
-8 oranges
-8 red peppers
-4 yellow peppers
-7 chocolate muffins
-7 croissants
-2 pop tarts
-5 lemon rolls
-2 pain au chocolat

Total: 355.50DKK (€47)

May 6

-3 leeks
-1 broccoli
-1 box of mushrooms
-3 red peppers
-18 buns
-1 chocolate muffin
-2 loaves of bread

Total: 179.50DKK (€24)

8th of May

-1 box of salad
-2 aubergines
-2 courgettes
-5kg bag of potatoes
-2 heads of lettuce
-9 oranges
-1 grapefruit
-5 and a half loaves of bread
-3 buns

Total: 298.50 DKK (€40)

11th of May

-4 boxes of grapes
-half a box of strawberries (found a whole box, but half were mush)
-3 small bags of mini carrots
-1 box of cherry tomatoes
-1 pack of vine tomatoes
-1 broccoli
-1 celery
-1 lemon


Total: 175DKK (€23)

14th of May

-5 platters of assorted cheese (goat, brie, Emmental, blue, and cheddar)
-1 tub of “salat” cheese (think shitty feta)
-6 limes
-1 cucumber
-1 avocado
-2 aubergines
-3 loaves of bread
-15 buns
-2 cinnamon rolls
-3 poptarts
-4 lemon rolls
-10 croissants
-9 muffins

Total: 573.50DKK (€77)

17th of May

-3 1kg bags of potatoes
-7 vine tomatoes
-2 1kg bags of carrots
-2 ears of corn
-27 buns
-9 muffins
-3 pain au chocolat
-5 croissants
-2 loaves of bread
-3 honeydew melons
-6 peppers
-1 mango
-2 mini heads of lettuce
-1 rake
-1 plant (Princess Ariane Red)

Total: 504DKK (€67)

GRAND TOTAL: 2086 DKK (€279)

That comes out to just over a month's worth of rent at my dorm.

To be honest, though, I did slip up. Over the two weeks of a supposedly dumpster-devoted diet, I ate two pieces of a chocolate bar, then I scarfed down a chocolate ball, and I went to town on a falafel ball (all given to me by friends). I also found myself getting cravings for rice and eggs about five days in, but I quenched the former by making cauliflower “rice” and the latter went away after I ate eggplant, which tastes and feels oddly protein-y if you cook it right.

But by the end of the experiment, I think I was actually healthier than before I started. The diet was mostly vegan, and junk food was hard to come by. Knowing how to cook also helped because I managed to whip up stuff that looked and tasted pretty decent:


Even though my most hardcore bin diving phase has run its course, a big chunk of what I eat is still coming out of the garbage. I haven't had to pay for bread in months, and it's working wonders for my wallet. Trust me, give it a try. Stake out your local grocery store after hours and take a peek into what they throw away. You may encounter a bunch of decaying waste – surrounded by ravenous rats with beady little eyes – but more often than not, you'll probably be able to find something for lunch the next day.

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