Esmeralda Tijhoff

Some thoughts on History, Politics, and the Art of Living

Dumpster Diving in The Netherlands (english version)

You might have already seen them; people who at the end of the market seardumpster-diving-recyclingch between the piles of garbage for fruits and vegetables that, with a little bit of good will, can still account for a healthy meal. Some market vendors chase you away; others give you some extra overripe strawberries that can be used for juicing. Whether it is a matter of principle or out of poverty: skipping has become more and more popular in the Netherlands.


The Dutch are rich, very rich. So rich that we can afford it to throw away food. At our homes (approx. 10%), at the supermarket and wholesale (approx. 4.5%), the processing (approximately 5%) and farms (approximately 17%). Containers full of good and less good food are send off to the waste management companies. Of course, this excess takes a heavy toll on the reserves that our planet has. The acute shortage of food in parts of the world is related to our luxurious lifestyle. There are some things that you as an individual can do to help stop this idiotic situation.

All the little bits help, so don’t think you’re off the hook just because the effect of your lifestyle seems so small and insignificant.

A nice initiative is dumpster diving, or skipping. This means that your visit containers from supermarkets, wholesalers and factories in search of food or products. Most of the food that is thrown away is still fine, tasteful and safe to consume. The strict regulations, however, ensures that products are removed from the store prior to the expiration of their expiry date. Moreover, the ‘best before’ dates are often very generous taken. Even far after this date, the product can usually be consumed without problems. It’s a matter of using your senses. Yogurt for example can still be eaten a month (some say three month) after the best-before date if you keep it cool. The same goes with eggs; if they float in salt water, they are old and no longer suitable. Canned food remains good for decades. And sometimes they take products off the shelves, so that you come home with twenty bags off dark chocolate M&Ms. And because we in the West are used to packaged everything so neatly individually, the outside of the package can become dirty, and the product itself still remains hygienically clean.
Dumpster diving is crazy enough only done by a handful of people. Two problems are lurking. First, the social disapproval and secondly the legal principle that a person’s waste is seen as possession. To remove waste from the streets or from containers is theft.

Poor and thieves
Because we are so rich in the Netherlands, many people think they are too good to use food from the container. That’s something only scum does, right? Eating from the garbage in our country is seen as the ultimate social decline there is. It can’t get any worse than that. Oddly enough, the fact that our containers are filled with food while there are still rumbling stomachs at home and abroad, is perceived as less offensive than the idea to eat food from a container.
You would think that everything in the container is discarded by the owner. But of course, a product in the Netherlands cannot go without an owner, so waste on the street belongs to the municipality, and waste in the containers belongs to the supermarket and after it’s been picked up, to the waste management company. More precisely, the garbage on the side of the road is not officially owned by the municipality until they have picked it up, but in practice, municipalities consider waste to be their possession from the moment it’s been put out on the street since they have, in theory, the exclusive right to collect. Also in theory, to “steal” products from open containers is not punishable. It is officially only theft if the owner has protected his property by a fence or a lock. But in practice you’ll get just as much a ticket for the skipping of an open as a closed container.

Oddly enough, the fact that our containers are filled with food while there are still rumbling stomachs at home and abroad, is perceived as less offensive than the idea to eat food from a container.

Skipping is for me a matter of principle and for my commune a necessity. We skip because we find it ridiculous that good food is thrown away, because we do not want to participate in the consumer society, and because we have to live on a dime. Do you not have a container in the neighborhood, or do you not (yet) dare to grab around in the bin? Ask the local supermarket, baker or butcher, and see if they have food for you that they would otherwise throw away. With a little bit of luck, you have an Islamic store in your neighborhood. Out of religious reasons, they are very likely to give you food that they cannot sell anymore.

More information about skipping as a political act:
Video Taste the Wasteland:

dumpster light
Dumpster Rules!
– Do not disturb the peace of the neighborhood.
– Go skipping well after closing time.
– Be quiet and beware of noisy vehicles, doors, and loud talking.
– Keep it clean.
– Even if you cut open a bag, make sure that you’re ín the container and don’t spill garbage outside.
– Do not argue about who takes what.
– Don’t shine your flashlight into people’s homes, but only in the container.
– Be kind to passersby and if necessary explain what you’re doing.
– Do not take everything, but only what you plan to use. You’re not the only one who skips.




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2 Responses to “Dumpster Diving in The Netherlands (english version)”

  1. Wilfred says:

    Hello! This post could not be written any better! Reading this
    post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept
    talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Paulus says:

    Hey guys,
    I am student in Eindhoven and would like to ask if you maybe know some good spots over here to dive into. I just moved here and after looking around a bit in my neightbourhood I have not been so successful yet. I would be thankful for any good address or even other people / community who know some infos.
    Thanks in advnace!

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