Arrested for Dumpster Diving for Food? I’ve Got You Covered.

Robin Greenfield cycling in front of a police car.
ActivismDumpster DivingFood InsecurityFood WasteForget Money / Demonetize LifeJustice and EqualityLiving in Service and Volunteering

We throw away nearly half of all the food we produce in the United States while 1 in 7 US Americans are often unsure of where their next meal will come from. To me that is absurd, a country with such an abundance of food with such an abundance of hunger.

I’m not down with this.
I’m not down with throwing away all this perfectly good food.
I’m not down with hungry children and elders.
I’m not down with the environmental havoc created by dumping billions of pounds of food.
I’m not down with all the animals that are raised and killed just to end up in a dumpster.

If we all took action today, we could be well on our way to a solution tomorrow. The fact is that the solutions are all here already but many of us just have no clue about the issue. Awareness to the issue has been increasing drastically over the last few years but it still needs a big time push.

Dumpster diving is not the answer to The Global Food Waste Scandal but it really brings it to the attention of others and gets people thinking. I’ve dived into over 1,000 dumpsters in 25 states across the United States and seen The Food Waste Fiasco first hand. I’ve found that I can collect $1,000’s of dollars worth of perfectly good food in a matter of hours in nearly every city across the United States that I’ve been dumpster diving in.

This for example is how much food my friends and I found in Madison, Wisconsin dumpsters:
Food Waste Fiasco

And here’s one Panera Bread dumpster. This is just one days worth of waste at this Panera:
Panera Bread Food Waste Fiasco

Here’s what I found in two hours of opening up dumpsters in Detroit, a city with so much poverty:
Food Waste

I think getting more people out there dumpster diving for food will only help to battle the issues of wasted food and hunger. From what I can tell, the main factor that keeps people from dumpster diving even if they want to is the fear of getting arrested or ticketed. I’ve learned from experience that this fear is mostly unwarranted but I’ve also learned this from talking to people and scouring the web. I would guess that millions of people have dumpster dove for food in the United States, yet I have turned up only a few cases of arrest and they all were dismissed after the public pressured the courts to do so. These cases did make a splash in the media and raised awareness but I believe that if I was behind the scenes (and in front of the scenes) we could make it a national media affair. I know that if someone was to get arrested for dumpster diving for food in the USA it would be a win for the fight against food waste. It would be an opportunity to bring the issue to the general public and more people would see the senseless waste that we are creating.

Here’s the deal:

If you get arrested or ticketed for dumpster diving for food I promise to pay the ticket(s), get media coverage to the issue, and make sure that you are in safe hands. I will even travel to your town to be there in person if it will add to the positive impact of the event. This promise is good for the USA and Canada but if you are in another country and in need of help, please contact me and I’ll see if I can lend a hand.

IMPORTANT: I am not telling you to get arrested and if you go and do something stupid to intentionally get arrested then don’t count on me for help. Do not get arrested on purpose! I’ll take your email regardless but won’t fight a case that has obvious intent of arrest. DO NOT make a mess of the dumpster, break any lock or break into anywhere, or vandalize. DO be courteous and respectful to anyone you may come across and always leave the dumpster cleaner than you found it.

Dumpster diving is not illegal in most places but trespassing is. The act of digging through garbage and taking out the good stuff is not typically illegal in the USA but if the dumpster is on private property you may have to “trespass” to get to it. You are much more likely to get in trouble for “trespassing” than dumpster diving. If there is no sign advising against entry and the dumpsters are not locked, then I say it’s completely fair game. If the dumpsters are easily accessible and have a sign I still say go for it. But if you have to break into anywhere or hop a fence or a wall that is connected to the building, then I can’t say that I will surely be able to get on board. Definitely reach out to me though and tell me your situation.

Like I said I have been in about 1,000 dumpsters across the United States and I have never been in trouble. I have been asked to leave by employees a couple dozen times though and it’s as simple as that, leaving upon request. Most employees that have stumbled upon me in their dumpster don’t mind at all though because they think it’s absurd to toss out perfectly good food. I have had the police come a few times and every time I explained what I was doing and walked away with a new friend.

This was one of my run ins with the police in Iowa. After letting me keep most of the food both of the cops add me as a friend on Facebook and we’ve been in touch on occasion since then. Their police station even shared my story when I got this photo on the news in Wisconsin:
Arrested for Dumpster Diving
I have it easier than many though as I am pretty fluent with my knowledge and words and am easy on the eyes. A harsh reality of our society is that if I was all shabby looking or looked “dangerous” I’d probably have been in trouble by now.

Check out Dumpster Diving and the Law at to get more information about legalities and watch Dumpster Diving Across the USA to see what I’ve seen across the United States. Watch my TEDx How to End the Food Waste Fiasco to learn about the issue of food waste and the solutions to food waste and hunger. Go even deeper by reading my Solutions to The Food Waste Fiasco. The purpose behind my dumpster diving is to show how much perfectly good food is being wasted and put pressure on grocery stores to donate their excess food rather than dumping it. Grocery stores are protected from liability by The Good Samaritan Food Act and not a single grocery store has ever been sued after donating food to a nonprofit according to this University of Arkansas study. Use #DonateNotDump to tell grocery stores to donate to food rescue programs and let them know they are safe to do so.

If you are a lawyer and would like to help in the case of someone getting ticketed or arrested please email through my contact page.

Get out there and dumpster dive my friends! Feed yourself for free, feed others for free, save food from the landfills, and rest assured if you get in trouble that your financial woes are on me! Stand up for all the hungry people out there and bring attention to food waste!

Disclaimer 04/23/2016

In order for me to get involved your case must meet the following criteria:

-You must be willing to make this public so that we can use this as a means for positive change. We want to set precedence for any future times that someone might get arrested and he able to help them.

-Be arrested or ticketed for dumpster diving (or reasonable “trespassing” as explained above) and not for anything else that you may have been doing at the dumpster such as possessing illegal drugs.

-Be in the USA or Canada. I will likely be able to help in other countries but can only be certain to help in the USA or Canada.

Updated 06/26/2016

Since publishing this a year and a half ago in January 2015 I have had about 6 people email me that have gotten trespassing tickets and about as many emails from people who have been hassled by the police. I am very disappointed by the number of emails that I have received. I don’t believe that anyone should be given trouble for eating food from a dumpster. And I know that if I’ve received a dozen emails that this is happening to many more people than I know of. The most likely people to be unfairly treated by the police are the people who might not find this article such as homeless people who aren’t on the internet. In the “advanced” society that we live in we should not punish people who are in need of food. We should not fine people who are feeding their families with food that someone else didn’t value and threw out. We should help these people instead.

The good news is that nobody has reached out to me yet about being arrested. In 99.9% of scenarios with police involved I think the worst case scenario is a $200 trespassing ticket. A few of the people who have emailed me have received tickets such as this while others have had it dropped in court. Nobody that emailed me has ultimately taken me up on bringing public attention to their case but I have offered to pay their tickets. I am more committed to helping people on this issue today than I was when I wrote this. My offer still stands and I am at your service. I do ask you to please use your situation to make a greater positive change for people in similar situations in the future. Let’s work together to end food waste and hunger in the USA and around the world.


For a deeper look into food waste, detailed information on the problem and solutions, how to get involved, food rescue programs, dumpster diving, and more go to Robin’s Food Waste Activism and Dumpster Diving Resource Guide.

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