Causes Week 2017: He goes dumpster diving to reduce waste

Daniel Tay forages for half-eaten food and still-usable items in the trash to reduce waste. He hopes to inspire others to do the same.

This year, Mr Daniel Tay has spent a total of only $8 on food.

The 38-year-old claims to have spent almost no money on consumer goods. Instead of looking into shop windows, the former financial planner looks into rubbish bins for his daily needs.

Mr Tay, who has been taking a break from his job for the past few months, dumpster dives for almost everything he owns. From sound systems and Louis Vuitton bags to produce and cooking appliances, he has found and used almost anything imaginable. By doing this, he said he helps others. Besides cutting down on waste, he added, he helps neighbours by giving them items he finds.

National Environment Agency figures show 791,000 tonnes of food was wasted last year, of which only 14 per cent was recycled.

The avid zero-waste advocate said this is against the backdrop of people who do not have enough food in Singapore. "And yet every year, we waste tonnes of food. It does not make any sense."

He makes some money from selling some of the items he finds. He said with his savings, his wife's help and the money he makes, he has enough to pay the bills.

His wife, who did not want to be identified, holds down a full-time job. While she did not approve of his lifestyle initially, she has now come to terms with it - even occasionally eating some of the produce he finds, said Mr Tay.

He said that he first started by asking his neighbours, who live in flats adjacent to his unit in Ang Mo Kio, for their leftovers. He reciprocated by giving them vegetables and produce that he told them he found.

Mr Tay said the produce he picks up is often as fresh as those bought in stores, just a little bruised. Since he first started dumpster diving late last year, Mr Tay has moved beyond diving for items for his own household of two. He also has two cats.

Mr Daniel Tay examining a watch that he found discarded at the void deck of a Housing Board block near his flat in Ang Mo Kio. He says it does not make any sense that people here waste tonnes of food every year when there are others who do not have e
Mr Daniel Tay examining a watch that he found discarded at the void deck of a Housing Board block near his flat in Ang Mo Kio. He says it does not make any sense that people here waste tonnes of food every year when there are others who do not have enough to eat. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

He said that he never eats out any more, instead planning his day around his meals - taking food along with him, if necessary.

He generally scavenges in the bins and void decks around his neighbourhood, but will occasionally go to other areas including Little India, his favourite place for fresh produce.

Mr Tay goes dumpster diving three times a week, depending on the weather, and will spend a few hours each time depending on how much he is able to find and how many trips to and from his home he has to take, to offload his trolley.

He prefers to dumpster dive after dark to avoid curious eyes as he rummages through bins and relies on his senses and instincts to tell if something is edible or not. Mr Tay claimed he has been sick only twice this year, and neither time has been from eating scavenged foods.

 
 
 

But it is not for everyone.

Dietitian Claudia Correia, 30, warned that picking out cooked food from a bin might carry higher risks of food poisoning.

"If food is packaged, always check if it is way past the expiry date. If it is, don't take it," she said. "If it is produce and is uncooked, clean very thoroughly and cook well before eating. In places like bins, there can be high risk of contamination."

She said it is best if the food is received from the establishment before it gets put in the disposal areas.

There are others like Mr Tay, and they have formed a community through social media platform Telegram, called Dumpster Diving SG. The 150 members often donate food and clothing to the less fortunate.

Mr Tay has no plans to stop just yet.

He said: "For most people, they wait till one or two special occasions a year to give and give freely, but for us, every day is Christmas, every day we can have the satisfaction of giving and sharing regardless of how deep our pockets are."

•Those interested to know more about dumpster diving can go to https://freeganinsingapore. wordpress.com/

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'He goes dumpster diving to reduce waste'. Print Edition | Subscribe