THREE men from London are to go on trial for the theft of about £33 of thrown-away food.
They allegedly took the items from a skip outside an Iceland store in the English capital after accessing a ‘secure section’ behind the supermarket.
But the relatively minor alleged offence has sparked a major debate – what would make someone dig through a bin for food way beyond the best-before date – and is it stealing to take something that has been binned in the first place?
Self-confessed “freegan” Tom Ward, 27, of Pentre Maelor, Wrexham, started “skip-diving” seven years ago.
He said: “It was when I was living down in Bristol. I just noticed that there was some good food going in the bin and I started hearing about it from people and from the media.
“Basically, I was really hungry. There was a lot of bread in the bin and sandwiches.
They’d been reduced that day, so I was about an hour late from paying 30p for them.
“You find generally most food in the bins isn’t rotten or bad to eat.
“If you suspect it might be, you just have a sniff and make sure it isn’t bad.”
Since the rise of freeganism (the American term “dumpster diving” appears to have been coined in the early 90s), some supermarkets have taken security measures to stop it.
Tom said: “You see a lot more security locks and skips put in enclosed areas. What people don’t generally know is that some stores will pour bleach over the products so they are inedible. It’s ridiculous.
“It doesn’t make any sense. It could make someone ill, and it simply wastes a bottle of bleach as well as the food.”
A better way of dealing with waste food, said Tom, was to participate in a Fareshare or community scheme.
He said: “Some skippers see it almost as a job. They take it seriously. They’ll locate food, take as much as they can and then give it to as many people as they can – friends, family, those who need it.
“Down in Bristol they have these kitchens where people who don’t have much food go. They take donations from freegans.
“I’ve donated some food to people in Wrexham myself. I don’t necessarily advertise it as people can be squeamish about taking stuff that’s been in a bin, but it’s all wrapped. And generally, if you’re that hungry, as long as the food is good, you don’t worry too much about where it’s come from.”
Tom described searching among the skips for dinner as “sometimes a bit of an adrenaline rush” and “sometimes a bit horrible”, but he has no reservations when it comes to the morality of taking the binned food, if it is destined for the landfill.
He said: “I think it’s stealing to throw it away in the first place when people can’t afford to eat and they are struggling with poverty.”
Supermarkets are starting to appreciate the public distaste for waste and have introduced a raft of measures to lessen their landfill footprints.
A spokesman for Tesco, which has stores in Wrexham and Flintshire, said the ordering system kept waste down, as did reduce-to-clear schemes.
He said: “Where there is waste, we make every effort to recycle it or use it for energy.
We recycle store bakery waste as animal feed and process cooking oil into biodiesel.”
The supermarket giant has also recently announced it will donate all surplus fresh food from the dotcom stores and distribution centres to the Fareshare charity.
Staff at the Flintshire headquarters of Iceland, the company at the heart of the London skipping prosecutions, released a statement yesterday.
It said: “We are currently trying to find out from the Crown Prosecution Service why they believe that it is in the public interest to pursue a case against these three individuals.
“On the issue of food waste more generally, we work very closely with all our suppliers to minimise the amount of waste food Iceland generates.”
The supermarket argued that consuming dumped food posed a “safety risk” and, like Tesco, deals with waste through the process of anaerobic digestion and supports food charities.