Dumpster diving

I saw Just Eat It at the Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago, a documentary about two Canadians who take on dumpster diving and rescuing otherwise ‘wasted’ food as their primary means of feeding themselves. The epic scale of food waste exposed in the movie is staggering and sadly not uncommon. Since then, I’ve been busting to try dumpster diving for myself.

I finally got the chance when I met someone who has been diving on a regular basis and agreed to take me along. We tried three different dumpsters – two supermarket dumpsters and one from a shopping centre. The supermarket bins were sadly empty when we got there – but had apparently been full of good quality foodstuff just days before when my friend last checked. The last one we stopped at was packed to the brim. Partly with rubbish, but mostly with items that were either perfectly fine, or had tiny faults that meant they’d been returned by customers and turfed straight in the bin.

The stash was varied and surprising, including: an inflatable pool toy, child’s dress up costume, a set of lanterns, a set of fairy lights, an electric toothbrush, women’s bathers, women’s shorts, two romance novels, a coffee machine and a puzzle.

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What a haul! Turns out it’s not just food going to waste (although, no surprise there).

Diving is such a grey area when it comes to legality and it’s hard to find a straight answer to the most common question: ‘What if you get caught?’ Well, maybe that’s the second most common question. (The first one being, ‘You mean, you get stuff out of a bin?? Not food, surely…’)

It seems that diving itself isn’t illegal, much like tiny houses it falls somewhere between laws. It’s illegal to trespass on private property and it’s illegal to steal property that doesn’t belong to you. But what about goods that have been discarded by their owners in publicly accessible places? There are some interesting articles around that discuss the different perspectives on this, please don’t take my word for it. I certainly am not qualified to give legal advice!

The other question is, does the risk of a fine or reprimand from authority put you off doing something that is right for ethical and environmental reasons? At what point does the law exist contrary to common sense, only to mitigate potential risk? Well, in lots of cases probably. But that’s a whole different can of worms there.

I’m so keen to try more diving, to explore more ways to reduce waste and to alter the way we consume. It does make me a bit nervous though!

Even when things make sense and feel right, breaking rules can take some unlearning and discomfort. I’m finding plenty of good reasons to keep practising.

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Solar Power

Knowing where to start with the solar stuff can be a bit overwhelming. As I mentioned in my last post, the first thing I would recommend without hesitation is speaking to a solar expert – I happened to luck out and find a total gem, if he’s in your area don’t hesitate to call Geoff at Sustainable Impact. He’s a wealth of knowledge and I even got to be solar apprentice on installation day!

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The other place to start is by doing some research and a bit of energy use mapping. There are some pretty simple templates out there and the internet has all sorts of magical information on it these days, including calculators that can tell you how much energy certain appliances use. At this point in the tiny house planning I’ve got a pretty clear idea of what appliances I intend to use and how much power I’ll need. I don’t have any laundry facilities and thanks to my beautiful Nectre Baker’s Oven I also knew I wouldn’t need any kind of electric oven or cooktop. I haven’t factored in many conveniences – no microwave, TV, dishwasher or washing machine. I don’t know how much of this going old school slow living will drive me crazy in the long run, but as an upside, this made planning the electrics a bit easier.

 

I went with second hand batteries and two solar panels, hopefully enough to run all appliances in my house and last a few days without full sun. It’s a bit of an experiment at this stage, to figure out how much I’ll use and how quickly the panels will recharge my batteries.

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But there’s definitely power coming in and as a bonus, they look fantastic!

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There’s a control panel that mounts all the electrics for the system, including a power point tracker, inverter and the safety isolators. The electrics needed to be close to the batteries, out of the weather and accessible for power readings, so we put them inside on the front wall. Some people have suggested the board isn’t pretty enough to be featured on the wall the way it is, but I kinda love that it represents an important characteristic of the whole house. It might end up being covered later on, but for now I’m still trying to figure out what all the readings mean and how it works. Next step will be getting the electrician back to set up my power points and lights. So close to full power now! Very exciting.

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All fired up

The last couple of posts have been more life related than build related. I have a bit to catch up on now, so here goes!

After the lining was finished, I could get the plumber and electrician back in, ready for fit out. First up was installing the flue for my Baker’s oven. Another pricey part of the build – over $500 for the flue alone! Youch. Having the elbow bends added in didn’t help with the price, but they look phenomenal (and are hard to photograph in a small space). And better yet, it all works!

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I lit the fire a few times before it was inside my house and the smoke was suffocating the whole fire box. I would’ve thought having no flue meant plenty of access to air but I was wrooong. The drawing thing that flues seem to do worked like magic and my fire was lit in seconds and burnt for ages and was beyond exciting and whoop! What a treat.

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Noel dug out some old cast iron pans he had in the shed and donated them to the cause, not to mention a Weber BBQ to boot! We had a tiny house slow cooked dinner to celebrate, it was all just terribly romantic.

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Once I’ve got my kitchen bench set up I’ll also source a little two gas burner cooktop that can run on an LPG gas bottle for the warmer weather. The evening I lit this baby up it it was cool enough to have a small fire going for an hour with the door open, letting a fresh breeze in. I ducked under my cold camp shower and dressed in front of the oven, enjoying the thrill of my very own fire – the little wins are big wins when you can indulge in them properly. Overall I was pretty chuffed. What a perfect way to moderate the temperature of the house slightly and also be able to cook on the top! Excellent decision making, Sarah.

It wasn’t till I climbed up to the loft that I felt the full force of my designed-to-heat-90m2-and-currently-heating-18m2 oven. Fair to say that the little loft nest will be a toasty warm retreat on the coolest of winter days when the oven is lit. And by toasty warm I mean there’s a fair chance I could charge sauna rates for visiting guests if I got the set up right.

Anyone got spare towels?

A lesson in asking

Occasionally throughout this project, when people have asked me where I’m living, I’ve joked that ‘I’m homeless’. That’s really just not true, in fact the opposite is. I’ve been in abundance of homes for a while now, and I certainly don’t take that for granted.

Tonight, walking into my local supermarket, I saw a woman sitting out the front asking for change. Maybe homelessness was on my mind after chatting with co-workers about the change in local Melbourne laws that are making sleeping rough an offence. Maybe it’s just always a little bit on my mind, knowing that family violence is one of the top reasons people end up on the street.

Usually, I would give a few coins in passing and tell myself that I do enough, I give to charities regularly and work for a service that tries to improve the system overall. Stopping to talk to someone can sometimes feel daunting, and although I admire those people you see chatting with people on the street, I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve never been one of them. At least, not until tonight. After I’d walked into the supermarket with only a quick smile for this woman, I turned around and walked back out.

‘Hey’, I said. ‘Is there anything in there I could get for you?’

The woman’s response surprised me. She looked down into the bag by her side.
‘Thanks, but I’ve got heaps of food. Hey! Do you want these bananas?’ She took some ripe bananas out of her bag and handed them to me. I accepted them gratefully (do you know how hard it is to find ripe bananas in a supermarket these days?) before realising I still had to go in and do my shopping. I told her I’d come and stop on my way back out.

When I finished my shopping I had some cash for her. She had sorted through her bag and managed to fill a whole plastic bag with food she wanted to give me.
‘Do you want any of this?’ She asked me. ‘I just hate waste and I’m not going to be able to eat it all.’ I commented on how much she had put in the bag to give me – fruit, biscuits, bread. ‘Yeah’, she said. ‘It’ll just go bad if I can’t use it. Someone came out earlier and offered me bananas. When I told her I already had some she got offended and stormed off in a rush. I thought, well it was a nice offer but there’s no reason to get upset! There’s only so many bananas you can eat in a day.’

We ended up chatting. She asked to use my phone to check the weather and the radar and then wished me a nice evening. In the end, I walked away with more than I’d given her. And it was a surprising reminder of something so obvious that we often forget it:
Sometimes we like to think we’re helping and that we know how best to do that. Don’t assume you’re helping just because it feels good to you. You might be able to help someone or even give them a way to help themselves, but ask them what that looks like and if they even want it. Choice is a powerful tool that many people have taken away from them, especially in times of hardship. Respecting someone’s ability to choose for themselves is important and empowering, even if it doesn’t sit as nicely as our usual go-to options.

I gave her the money and let go of any judgements around the ‘right things to spend it on’. Cos if I was ever sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness, you can better my bottom dollar I’d like to be choosing what gets me by.

And I’m just not sure it’d be bananas.

 

On a related note, this is a very interesting read for anyone looking to learn a little about economics and human behaviour without having to study it or read textbooks. Think, Freakonomics meets global poverty.
It will make more sense why this note is related if you read the book.

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011)
Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo