Saturday, December 18, 2010

Practical Guide to Skipping / Dumpster Diving / Bin Raiding / Freegan

i.e. Finding edible waste food in bins

Inspired by my last post, and my reminiscing on having found my first ever haggis in a supermarket skip, I thought I'd write a quick guide of how to source out and find good quality food in the bins of shops that throw it away.

Like most people, I knew about skipping for a long time before I ever tried it.  It sounded like a great idea, but I was nervous about the quality of the food avaliable and whether it was really edible.  However, once I gave it a go, I realised just how fine it all was and I regretted not doing it sooner! It is truely shocking that food in such good condition gets thrown away everyday by supermarkets, especially when so many people are hungry/ homeless.  You will be amazed at what you will find, and with often so much avaliable you can be as picky as you like in deciding what to take.

The advantages to skipping are
  • It cuts down your food bill massively
  • It encourages you to try new types of food
  • It makes you more inventive with your cooking
  • You don't know what you'll find, so its more fun than normal shopping
  • You'll feel great about helping to reduce the amount of food that is wasted by supermarkets

Where to go 

There are many great places to look for your food.  Up-market shops are normally much better, as they are less bothered about throwing away perfectly good food.  So Marks & Spencer's and Waitrose are brilliant for skips.

Other good places are Co-operative, health food places (like As Nature Intended), any independent bakery, Iceland, occasionally Tescos, fruit/veg markets plus many more! Instead of going into your usual shopping place, have a look round the back instead :)

It is often better to go at night, as you are less likely to be seen by anyone, and they throw most of the food away at the end of the day.  However, in desperate times you can have a look in the daytime / late afternoon.

What to take

Remember to use your common sense when picking food - use your senses to determine if the food is going to be okay to eat. Smell - if it smells rank it'll probably taste it so leave it in the bin! Look at the packaging, if its meat/dairy then if the packaging is swollen up like a bubble, then its off - leave it behind.  Also remember to check the dates, sometimes food is just a day off, or a few days so it'll be fine... occasionally it'll be months and months off, so be careful.  The more you do it the better you will get at judging whether its edible or not.

Best options are:
  • Fruit and Veg -  because you can see clearly the state they are in.  
  • Meat and Dairy - if they are just a day or two past their dates they can be frozen or eaten straight away
  • Bakery goods are usually fine, the common term for them is 'gack', usually because if they are all merged together and become one big squishy sweet mess (its delicious!).
Remember you only have to take the things you feel happy about.  Even if you just skip one loaf of bread every few days, then its better than nothing! The first few times you may be a bit squeemish about it, but as you get used to it you'll get more stuck in. Usually if you dig down deep you'll find a treasure cove of many wonderful things! Soon youll be in there head first with someone holding your ankles as you rummage :)


There are a few basic rules of etiquette when skipping.
  1. Never leave a mess. Always make sure you tidy up nicely when you are done, leaving no rubbish.
  2. Always leave some stuff behind as someone else might skip there after you and its unfair to take it all
  3. Only take as much as you need. (As tempting as it may be to take lots, ask yourself will you really use twenty avocados..?)

The Law

In the UK, skipping is technically stealing, but don't let this stop you because its easy to avoid any confrontation with the law.  The main thing is access: if you have to climb over a fence or wall to get to the bins then it counts as trespass, which you can be arrested for.

Don't worry too much though, as if the police ever do find you raiding the bins, then you can easily talk your way out of it by explaining that you're hungry, by showing them the quality of the food and that it is going to waste, and even by offering them some too.  This will pretty much work with anyone who catches you.

I have only heard of one person being arrested for skipping, and it was because he climbed over a fence to access the bins, and the coppers only took him in because he wasn't on record already, and he got just a caution.  If you are worried, just only ever go to bins where there is open access and you'll be fine :)

Good luck and happy skipping :)


  1. Shouldn't be illegal at all. At the end of the day it's getting A. Recycled/used & helping Long Term stop so much unknown hunger in the UK... B. Reduced Carbon Emissions less factory output and C. General "instictive" survival down to poverty. Sometimes you need turn of that long road and find another way to- at some levels even exist let alone survive. #feedtheworldfree

  2. Thank you for such a fantastic blog , and I have been on the lookout for such information. Affordable Junk Removal services

  3. Worth updating this as there have been several high profile prosecutions since you posted it, and access is much worse. Especially with the CO OP's 'Back Hauling' practice since 2013.