Video of abundant fresh food in a US dumpster goes viral, sparking outrage
Dozens of containers of guacamole, fresh apples, pots of yoghurt, vegan sausages and even a whole turkey were unexpired and collected from a dumpster behind a Whole Foods supermarket in the United States. The video showing this “dumpster diving” haul went viral on TikTok and Twitter, with many people online decrying the waste.
The video was originally posted on TikTok on December 11 by user @dumpsterdivingfreegan. She said she collected everything in the video from the same night in the same dumpster. Nothing in the dumpster was past its expiration date, and cold temperatures outside meant that everything was still fresh and unspoiled.
“Last night, I found enough meat to feed an entire community,” she says in the video.
The video garnered millions of views on Tiktok and Twitter as outraged people criticised the supermarket for throwing out perfectly edible food during the Covid-19 pandemic, when an estimated 42 million people, or 1 in 8 Americans, are experiencing food insecurity.
The same user has posted many videos on TikTok and Instagram, showing the various goods she has collected from dumpsters at supermarkets and other stores. The user did not respond to our request for comment
The videos show dumpsters filled with food, including dairy products, fruits and vegetables as well as canned goods and pantry staples.
In one video, she says, “The waste in America is completely ridiculous, this should be going to people who need it.”
Sometimes food in US grocery stores is thrown away because of defects like dents in cans, cracks in eggs or bruises on vegetables. Food past its expiration date is also usually thrown in the trash. But a lot of the food in these videos is unexpired. Sometimes there are small defects, like cracked lids or dents on otherwise edible products that are thrown away.
The TikTok user identifies as “freegan”, meaning that most of the food she consumes is collected from dumpsters. But when she finds more than she can eat on her own, she donates it.
Estimates of the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States vary between 35 and 103 million tonnes per year, or up to 40 percent of the food supply. Supermarkets and grocery stores waste an estimated 7 million tonnes of food a year, making up 13 percent of all food waste in the US. Up to 40 percent of the food thrown out by supermarkets is fruit and vegetables.
Meanwhile, grocery stores are also reporting food shortages due to high demand and a lack of workers in factories. While there is no nationwide shortage of any particular food product, various stores and institutions are being impacted by interruptions and delays in the supply chain. People around the US have been sharing photos of empty shelves in the past few months.
Supermarkets not required to donate unsold goods
There is no federal policy in the United States that requires companies at any step of the supply chain to donate or otherwise repurpose damaged food products.
And the problem of food waste often begins with overstocking. The average American supermarket stocks more than 28,000 products, and tries to attract customers with fully stocked displays. But this excess supply doesn’t always match the demand.
Many grocery stores also start to discard items as they approach their expiration or “sell by” dates, assuming customers won’t buy them.
Some individual companies have made commitments to donate their expired or damaged food products to food pantries, or send them to farms to be used for animal feed. Others use discount programs to encourage consumers to buy food at risk of being taken off the shelves soon.
For its part, Whole Foods says on its website that it takes measures to prevent food waste: "Whole Foods Market has a food waste strategy to prevent and divert food from entering landfill, mirroring the EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy. Whole Foods Market Team Members are trained on food waste efficiency, from smart ordering to food donation."
Eight states have passed bills to restrict food waste from going to landfills, requiring it to be separated and processed to become compost, clean electricity or biofuel, as food waste in landfills is the third leading cause of methane emissions in the US.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has set a goal for the country to cut its food waste in half by 2030.
In France, a law was passed in 2016 to forbid supermarkets from destroying or discarding unsold food products. Grocery stores are required to first try to sell items through discounts and awareness programs, then to donate them to charity organisations or send them to be used as animal feed or compost.