Graduate School Student Blog

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Next-level sustainability? Dumpster diving in Lund

By Fredrik Eklund
Social Studies of Gender, 2015 Cohort

Fredrik Eklund is a Graduate School alumnus who completed his master’s degree in the Social Studies of Gender with a major in Political Science in 2017. He recently returned from Nepal, where he worked in a school with the prevention of discrimination, harassment and bullying. He is currently looking at different options to continue his academic career in Germany.

As I think about it more in-depth I find that my reasons and motivations for dumpster diving (DD) changed, merged, and diversified with time. Initially being related to sustainability and economy, it evolved, and rather surprisingly became a way of socialising, as well as forcing more creativity in the kitchen. 

Being vegetarian, I found that buying the fresh vegetables I needed was very expensive and taxing on a student budget. More so I really enjoyed dairy products a great deal, especially cheese, but felt that I should reduce my consumption of dairy. I thought that DD gave me the option to continue eating dairy, but minimised the amount I purchased from stores. Connecting my vegetarianism to DD made a lot of sense. It was a good way to simultaneously live more sustainably, improve my economy, and show that there are ways to use food that has been discarded as garbage. 

When I did it regularly, about twice a week, I didn’t buy fresh vegetables or fruits at all. This had a positive effect on my economic situation and it also forced me to be very creative with my cooking, as peppers, apples, zucchini, and tomatoes were things I found in abundance. It was a reoccurring shock to see how much perfectly edible food was thrown away by stores. It was sad to see how huge quantities of food are unnecessarily produced and carelessly disposed of, food that could be made available to those who cannot afford it. 

Based on my observations and findings during DD I find that three things seem to increase store waste. First is the consumer demand on each individual store to have a wide selection of products, for example budget stores like Netto and Lidl, in offering expensive 50 kronor ecological juices and cheese. We all want a “one stop shop”. Second is the demand from consumers on stores to have huge varieties of vegetables and fruits in the stock all year around. I sure do like my avocados! Finally, the use of oversized plastic packages for vegetables and fruits causes staff to throw away 2 kilos of apples, even if only a single apple inside the package is damaged. These are just three examples which if approached and solved, could thereby contribute to more sustainable management of food. It is both the consumer’s and the store’s responsibility to make this happen.

Photo of apples being washed in a sink

I suspect that Lund, being a student city, has a significant influence on the availability of and accessibility to dumpsters. Few stores lock their dumpsters, and the many employees one meets when searching for edible products understand and accept that students do it. It is also likely that many employees are students themselves. Hence, it is rather unproblematic to dumpster dive in Lund, particularly as a student. This most likely influenced me into doing it so regularly. 

This led me to think about and reflect upon the social position and individual and ideological reasons for dumpster diving. An individual with a very favourable social position like myself, legitimises his choice to search through garbage with sustainability, student income, and vegetarianism. This turns it into something cool, hip, and even trendy called dumpster diving, framed within discourses of sustainability from the position of a white male student. I highly doubt that a socially marginalised individual, homeless and hungry, can give store owners, security, or society the same “acceptable” explanation. I think that there is a risk that these individuals’ actions would just be seen as unsanitary, desperate, problematic, and even criminal. The point I wish to make is that depending on why dumpster diving is done and by whom, it will be viewed differently by other people, yourself, and society. Therefore I wish to conclude by posing the following question: Would dumpster diving be as accessible, easy, and accepted in Lund if it were done by people other than students and for reasons perceived to be other than those of sustainability and student economy? I know that in other cities, for example Stockholm, many if not most stores lock their dumpsters. 

Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and reflections, and I do encourage you all to start dumpster diving! In addition to the above mentioned reasons it’s also a lot of fun! I sure will continue where and whenever possible. 

Regards, 

Fredrik Eklund 

May 20, 2020

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Student life Sustainability

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