Charles Bond is an expert. He moves quickly from trash bin to trash bin. There are five to look through, and within 20 seconds he is already searching the contents of the last. The final bin is the jackpot.
He balances himself against the edge of the bin and dives headfirst into the opening. The previous four were frustratingly empty, but when he reemerges from this particular bin, he pulls out a bouquet of flowers.
The flowers look like they were purchased at a store, not at all worse for wear for being dug out of the trash. Bond’s head disappears into the bin to retrieve another bouquet and then another.
By the end, Bond has collected seven batches of flowers; it’s a resounding success.
Diving into trash containers to look for hidden treasures is nothing new. However, the practice has been the subject of renewed national interest. “Freeganism” is the name of the movement that describes people who look for alternative ways to obtain food and supplies. The alternative method often comes in the form of digging through the refuse of grocery stores and restaurants.
Grocery stores sometimes have a surplus of food that simply cannot be sold. If apples have been bruised or a batch of carrots has been mangled in shipping, then the stores can’t sell them to customers. The result is that this food gets sent to the trash, despite being, for all intents and purposes, still consumable.
Freegans look for ways to bypass the normal system of purchasing food while still remaining within the bounds of the law. Taking items thrown into trash bins is not illegal in the United States, unless local regulation prohibits it. In Athens, citizens are free to dive — with a few caveats.
“The thing is, it’s legal,” said UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson. “As long as no one is trespassing, there isn’t a problem.”
However, diving into bins that are marked with signs prohibiting it or attempting to gain entry to a bin in an otherwise private property is illegal. Even if a person is diving into a bin that is unmarked, you can still be potentially questioned by police.
Divers should also be aware of safety concerns. Broken glass could be on the bottom of containers or other sharp objects. Entering into a bin can also expose one to unsanitary surfaces.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to weigh the risks and potential benefits of diving.
“I do it mostly because free bouquets are cool,” Bond said. “But I also do it because my chickens love pomegranates. But pomegranates are way too expensive to buy just for chickens.”
Bond is a 19-year-old student of biological engineering from Decatur. At his residence off campus he raises chickens, and the fruits and vegetables he finds from diving usually go to them.
“I regret not being strong enough to try to eat any of it myself,” Bond said.
Despite all of this, Bond does not identify himself as part of the Freegan movement.
“I’m just not dependent on it," he said. "I don’t have the incentive to go and do it every week or so. I just give my chickens snacks with it.”
Freegans sometimes rely on diving for economic reasons, such as the ability to afford to buy groceries every week.
According to Bond, the hotspots for diving are Earthfare and Kroger, although he has not visited the latter. Some have reported that Krispy Kreme is also a good place to dive for free donuts.
Earthfare did not comment on the subject. However, Bond typically tries to only dive after dusk so as not to disturb the store’s normal operations.
The takeaway for other people interested in diving, Bond said, is to always assess the situation and ask for permission where possible. Some store managers will have no problem with divers looking through trash containers, and it’s always preferable to try to obtain this permission before engaging in diving.