Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 13:41 UK

Urban hunters on prowl for food

by Jonathan Morris
BBC News, in Plymouth


Some food waste is given to the homeless

Supermarkets throw out tonnes of food every day because its past its sell-by date. But a growing number of people, called freegans, are cashing in by collecting some of the waste.

The urban landscape of cities is a modern hunting ground for Dave Orme and his freegan friends.

Retailers throw away 1.6m tonnes of waste food a year according to government figures.

And the freegans' quest is to reclaim some of that.

Freegans think of themselves as scavengers with a conscience, green crusaders who recycle rubbish and thrown away food that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

A search of waste bins in Plymouth shows that the official figures could be just the tip of the iceberg with bin after bin full of food that has been thrown out.

The food's only crime is that it is past its sell-by date.

We are quite picky. If it looks off we won't touch it
Carly Barrett

Dave, 25, said: "We reject buying food from shops not because we want free stuff.

"It is because there is enough food being thrown out needlessly."

He pulls out a loaf of bread that is on its sell-by date and his friend Carly Barrett, 21, pulls out a packet of peas that still have a week to go.

Other packets have already been ripped open, apparently by the stores to prevent it being taken.

Carly, 21, said: "This is perfectly fine food and it is sad to see the way some shops try to deter us and stop using the food."

Supermarkets throw away food for all sorts of reasons so they have to rely on their common sense.

Carly said: "We make sure everything is thoroughly cooked and we are quite picky.

"If it looks off we won't touch it."

Food past its sell-by date is taken off the shelves at Boots for the homeless
Other shops try to keep freegans away by using bleach or dye on the food.

But not every shop just bins its food because it is out of date.

At Boots in Plymouth any sandwiches, rolls, drinks that are past their sell-by date on Wednesdays go to a soup run.

Manager Katie Berriman said: "We don't want to waste any food and we're delighted it's going to a good cause."

Some supermarkets are trying to address the problem of food waste by acting early to clear stocks with reduced prices.

Wrap, the government body that helps businesses reduce waste, is working with supermarkets through the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

Other retailers, including Sainsbury's in Plymouth, also give food to charities.

Asda has a plan to send no waste to landfill by 2010.

Devon and Cornwall Police said although taking food from skips was technically theft, they were not aware of any prosecutions for taking waste food.

Back at the skips the freegans have found four bags of food in only half an hour of searching.

Dave said: "If there was not this waste, some of us would go to shops and adopt a more normal lifestyle.

"But if this is what we have to do to make sure we are not wasting so much, this is what we have to do."

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