Here is the full transcript of Environmental activist Rob Greenfield’s TEDx Talk: How To End The Food Waste Fiasco at TEDxTeen conference.
Rob Greenfield – Environmental activist
My name is Rob Greenfield and I am a dumpster diver. Now, at first, that might sound a little bit crazy, maybe even a little bit gross.
But there is actually a very important message at the bottom of these dumpsters. You see, I am an adventurer and an activist on a mission to effect positive change on Earth. And I tend to go about it in some pretty interesting ways. This is my first bike ride across the country. The idea was to travel across the country on a bamboo bicycle and leave as little of environmental impact as possible.
In a 104 days of riding, I used just a 160 gallons of water, created only two pounds of trash, plugged into just five outlets, turned on not a single light, and learned how to live an environmentally friendly life.
Today is a monumental day for me because it’s my first shower in 1000 days. A lot of you might assume I would stink like some sort of swamp monster, like this guy. But I was bathing in natural bodies of water like lakes, and rivers and waterfalls, or in leaky sources of water, like this fire hydrant in Brooklyn. The idea was to really get into people’s heads and get them to think about the crazy things we do on a daily basis, the crazy amounts of water we use.
Right now, I live off the grid in a 50-square-foot tiny house in San Diego without a single bill or debt to my name. I found the more simply I live, the more freely I live. And last fall, I landed in Brazil without a penny in my pocket on a mission to travel across the continent of South America. I found that by traveling with no money, I’m forced outside of my comfort zone and really get to see the world as it truly is. A lot of people say that the Earth revolves around money but I’ve seen otherwise.
Now, back to the dumpster. Not only do I dive into the dumpsters but I actually eat out of them too. This is a dumpster banana. This is one of the many bananas that I got out of the dumpsters of London last night. Hmm! Who wants some? Over there.
It all started with that first bike ride across the country and this dumpster right here. I was crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains and decided to roll around the back of a local grocery store and see what I might find. Well, what I found was a surprising amount of what looked and tasted like perfectly good food. From that point on, I was hooked. City after city, I would roll around back of the grocery store to see what there would be.
And I found that dumpster after dumpster after dumpster was filled to the bream with perfectly good food. I was just blown away by what I was finding. This is a dumpster score in Nebraska. And this is what I found in one dumpster on a typical day.
It was enough food to feed about a hundred families. I was eating like a dumpster king and managed to even gain five pounds while riding my bike every single day. So, even when I wasn’t in the dumpsters, I was thinking about what was in the dumpster I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. So I decided to do some research.
And I found out that we waste a ton of food in the United States. By a ton, I mean a 165 billion dollars worth of food per year. Now, to put that into a little bit of perspective, that’s more than the budget for America’s national parks, public libraries, veteran’s healthcare, all the federal prisons, the FBI, and the FDA combined. But, still, that’s just a big number and most of us can’t really understand issues like this through a bunch of numbers. We need to really see it to believe it.
I wanted to show everybody what I was finding but I knew I couldn’t take everyone to the dumpsters with me. So I decided to bring it to them. This is the food waste fiasco. In cities across America, I went out dumpster-diving and took what I found to a park nearby. Usually I just had one or two days to dive as I was cycling across the country.
This is two-days’ worth of dumpster diving in Madison, Wisconsin. Before each city, I would use Facebook to find a volunteer that could help me out with a car since I couldn’t carry all the food on just my bicycle. This is Chicago, Illinois, one or two days out of the dumpster. Before each city, I would call a local media, the news stations, the newspapers, letting know what I was doing, tell them “I’m diving into the dumpsters,” and they pretty much always came out.
So, when I was in Detroit, I woke up on Sunday morning and had an event planned that night, but I was worried there was going to be some major media there and I hadn’t even started diving for the day and had an event to put on at 5 o’clock that night.
So when my volunteers came and picked me up, I had a pretty big knot in my stomach. I was worried. All that worry was for nothing; this is two hours of dumpster diving in Detroit In Cleveland, I went out dumpster diving for seven hours the night before the event, and this is what we took to Cleveland Public Square. Now, it was really hot that day.
Mid-July, the fruit flies were swarming; most of the food had already been spoiled. And this is just the good stuff that I managed to pull-out. My next stop was Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to pull it off here; it’s kind of a more rural area and I’ve only done big cities so far.
When I rolled up in town, there was about eight people waiting to hit the dumpsters with me, very excited, and we had two cars. This is what a night of dumpster-diving in Lancaster brought together.
This is 10 dumpsters in total. Few days later, I rolled up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at 9 o’clock pm, was out dumpster diving an hour later and was sound asleep at 1am with this score. This is rolling up in Philadelphia, using Google Maps to find the grocery stores that are nearby and the car of someone that I met on Facebook.
By this point, I had realized I could roll up any day in nearly any city across america and collect enough perfectly good food to feed hundreds of people. The only thing that really seemed to be limiting to me was the size of my vehicle.
This is New York City. In the United States, we waste about half of all the food we produce, which means we produce enough food to feed about two entire American populations all while 50 millions American are food insecure. And the face of food insecurity is not laziness. We’re talking about children at school who are too hungry to concentrate, elders who are stuck at home with rumbling tummies and families who are working two jobs just to make ends meet. To me, it does not make sense to have so much food going to waste while so many people are hungry.
Now my next stop was Burlington, Vermont. And I was very worried. We’re talking about maybe the most environmentally friendly city in the country. Surely their dumpsters would be empty. Well, this is what me and a couple of college students pulled together in my short visit.