DIRTY DEALS The in­flu­encers turn­ing to crime

You know the say­ing – one woman’s trash is an­other woman’s trea­sure. Now, a new breed of free­gans are prov­ing you can get cache, and cash, from the things other peo­ple chuck. Cos­mopoli­tan went along for a rum­mage

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Words SALMA HAIDRANI Pho­to­graphs AN­TO­NIO PETRONZIO

So I’m in four-inch high black leather Chelsea boots out­side an up­mar­ket su­per­mar­ket, knee-deep in bin lin­ers that are burst­ing at the seams. Pool­ing at my feet is that sus­pect yel­low liq­uid that I usu­ally only have to face up to on bin day (and even then, I mostly rope in my flat­mate to do the dirty work). A girl I’ve met only 20 min­utes ago keeps watch as I des­per­ately wave a torch. I pick up a can of beans – own brand, nope. I throw them back into the pile. Ditto the cheap-look­ing sham­poo. There has to be some­thing here. But as nau­sea be­gins to rise up my throat, I ad­mit de­feat and clam­ber out of the pile of bags gasp­ing for air.

This isn’t ex­actly my nor­mal Satur­day night stomp­ing ground. I’m usu­ally traips­ing around Dover Street Mar­ket or Brick Lane hunt­ing out a bar­gain, but tonight I’m here, in a bin, Marigold-clad, at close to mid­night (for the record, there are no bar­gains here). It is – and I ap­pre­ci­ate the irony here – my love of lux­ury that has me tear­ing open th­ese bin lin­ers, search­ing, des­per­ately, for hid­den trea­sure. Be­cause ac­cord­ing to a new fash­ion and-beauty-ori­en­tated breed of free­gans (bin raiders to the unini­ti­ated), there’s some se­ri­ously lux­u­ri­ous loot to be found down th­ese dark, pun­gent al­leys. And I’m de­ter­mined to find it.

What was once the pas­time of the so­cially con­scious (or skint) is fast be­com­ing a so­cial­me­dia sen­sa­tion. On both YouTube and In­sta­gram, a grow­ing num­ber of ‘binfluencers’ (if you will) are gain­ing a fol­low­ing that is ea­ger to see what haute hauls they dig up next. The Zoella of the pack is Shelbi Lee (@shel­bi­zleee). Now a house­hold name in the US, her vlogs show her un­earthing Chanel No5, a Smash­box foun­da­tion and even a Keurig Cof­fee Ma­chine (worth £333!) from bins at the back of depart­ment stores.

Armed with a GoPro and a head­lamp, her 68,000 (and count­ing) YouTube sub­scribers ea­gerly wait for her ad­vice videos, which

“The bins of the world are an un­tapped source of lux­ury”

in­clude tu­to­ri­als on how to clean your finds, and the grub she man­aged to un­earth dur­ing a month-long ex­per­i­ment of eat­ing only from bins.

Search hash­tag #dump­s­ter­div­ing on In­sta­gram (54,752 posts and count­ing) or #free­gan, and hauls of high-end per­fume, from Gucci to Burberry, fill the screen. That, or posts of elab­o­rate meals made en­tirely with spoils stolen from skips.

And this isn’t just a hobby – there are women mak­ing a liv­ing from the things the rest of us cast off. US-based @dump­s­ter­div­ing­fa­natic now brings in money by sell­ing her trea­sures part-time through Ebay. She does keep some for her­self, though, in­clud­ing a Smash­box con­tour­ing pal­ette and a beau­ti­ful Nars foun­da­tion, ac­com­pa­nied by the cap­tion ‘#whathaveIbeen­miss­ing.’ If so­cial me­dia is to be be­lieved, the bins of the world are an un­tapped source of lux­ury beauty, fash­ion and food stuffs that we just can’t quite af­ford, but that are ripe for the tak­ing.


You don’t need me wad­ing around in a bin to tell you that we’re a gen­er­a­tion more skint than ever be­fore. Soar­ing house prices and rents have seen the bank of Mum and Dad bail out 450,000 18- to 24-year-olds this year alone*, while food prices have risen at the fastest rate for more than three years**. Yet while our grand­par­ents would have buck­led down and cut back, our gen­er­a­tion is un­der a huge amount of pres­sure to live a per­fectly cu­rated, glossy life that we can shout about to our friends (read: fol­low­ers).

And I’m no ex­cep­tion. But scratch be­neath the sur­face, and it’s far from the full pic­ture. Take the time I up­loaded a snap of my­self clad head-to-toe in luxe sports­wear at a bou­tique fes­ti­val last year all to clock up a de­cent amount of likes… but ended up too skint to af­ford en­try to any of the ac­tiv­i­ties – or even any drinks at the bar. It seems, for some, the an­swer to com­par­ing our­selves to our peers lies at the bot­tom of a bin.

Take Lara, 32, from Manch­ester. She got into bin raid­ing this year af­ter see­ing peo­ple post about it on In­sta­gram. “I did a lit­tle re­search and found dump­ster divers vlog­ging on YouTube,” the gamine au­thor and part-time drum­mer says. A self­con­fessed make-up lover, her first tar­get was Boots. “I got my boyfriend to drive me to a nearby re­tail park. He stayed in the car while I went around the back where the dump­sters were kept,” she re­calls. “It was flood­lit, but un­manned – and easy to get into. I had to ri­fle through a few bins be­fore I [found] the one with the make-up in.”

While she doesn’t bin raid as of­ten as she’d like to, she’s all too aware of the po­ten­tial perks that lie in­side the bin bags. “I ac­tu­ally found two bot­tles of high-end foun­da­tion [that time].”

For Teresa†, 27, an Aberys­t­wyth based stu­dent, it’s the chance to treat her mates that has her ri­fling through rub­bish. High-end choco­lates and lip­sticks have filled the draw­ers of their stu­dent kitchens and bed­rooms since she took up bin raid­ing sev­eral years ago. Oth­ers, like moth­er­daugh­ter duo @good.girl­s_­gone.trash, sell their finds and do­nate to char­ity, or dig out the best food to do­nate to those less for­tu­nate than them­selves.

No one I speak to seems to worry that they’re flout­ing the law. While it’s not tech­ni­cally il­le­gal, it’s still pun­ish­able if caught. Paul May, Ja­son Chan and William James were charged un­der the 1824 Va­grancy Act (yep, that’s a thing) back in 2014 for help­ing them­selves to toma­toes, mush­rooms, cheese and Mr Ki­pling cakes, worth £33, from a skip be­hind a branch of Ice­land, although the case against them was later dropped. But with su­per­mar­kets now throw­ing out £230 mil­lion of per­fectly ed­i­ble food a year***, some see lift­ing bin lids come dusk as a small price to pay to stop it all go­ing to land­fill.


Lurk­ing around a set of com­mu­nal bins af­ter dark, I ad­mit my mo­tive wasn’t purely al­tru­is­tic. Primed with in­for­ma­tion from my fel­low dump­ster divers, I roped in Guste, a 20-year-old artist I met on a bin-raid­ing Face­book group, as my look­out. If you’re go­ing to bin dive in earnest, do your free-search prop­erly – free­gan Face­book groups have the best tips.

On my first night, scour­ing be­hind the cafés and cof­fee shops of Lon­don’s Tower Hill, I find noth­ing. There’s a rea­son free­gan­ism isn’t quite as pop­u­lar as it should be – it’s re­ally hard work. The next night, in a dif­fer­ent part of town, we spend four hours spy­ing on staff, try­ing to dis­cover when they throw their food out so that we can fol­low them to the right bins. We’re wear­ing high-vis jack­ets – it helps le­git­imise you, so you look less sus­pect. A cou­ple of times the loot is un­der lock and key, or out of reach be­hind chained gates.

Dur­ing my third night, I end up scarper­ing down the road, leav­ing a trail of rub­bish be­hind me, af­ter

“Our gen­er­a­tion is un­der huge pres­sure to live a glossy life”

“There’s some­thing about this that is ad­dic­tive”

be­ing chased away by a burly se­cu­rity guard. Be­fore we’re caught, I no­tice a load of other bin raiders sneak­ing out in the other di­rec­tion, arms loaded with free­bies. A red-hot streak of com­pet­i­tive­ness runs through me.

The con­ver­sa­tions I had with free­gans – plus all the YouTube videos and In­sta­gram snaps I saw – made it seem as if there was some­thing valu­able loi­ter­ing in ev­ery bin. Not so. By day three, I’ve kicked so many bin bags in frus­tra­tion, the toes of my black an­kle boots are for­ever marked. I’ve shame­lessly cried on the train home be­cause some kids laughed at me, and only have some measly crois­sants and some bog roll to show for my ef­forts. Oh, and a nasty tummy bug that leaves me bed-bound for three days. An­other tip: an­tibac the shit out of ev­ery­thing af­ter you go.

Dis­ap­pointed, I of­fer up a silent whinge to the bin-raid­ing gods. Where’s my brand-new Char­lotte Til­bury pal­ette and Nike train­ers? Per­haps like #squad­goals, #din­ner­goals, #evening­goals and #out­fit­goals, the amaz­ing bin finds that lured me into this are noth­ing but an­other so­cial­me­dia hoax, de­signed to make us feel even worse about our­selves.

Then, haul­ing my arse out of my sick bed, I don a pair of wellies (an­kle boots? What was I think­ing!) and head off alone. There’s just some­thing about this that is ad­dic­tive. I head back to the same place as the sec­ond night. While I half-wish there was some­one to ‘keep guard,’ I can’t quite shake off the heady ex­cite­ment of do­ing it by my­self.

It’s only 9pm and the air is thick with ad­ven­ture. On my first day, I was con­stantly look­ing around, ter­ri­fied some­one I know would spot me – now I couldn’t care less. My greed has of­fi­cially got the bet­ter of me. I’m on the hunt in some com­mu­nal bins near Tot­ten­ham Court Road, but I find a cray­fish sarnie – and it makes me want more. I’ve got braver af­ter three nights on the job, and the bins I’m in are pretty pub­lic. Still, I get to work rip­ping the bags, drown­ing out the mul­ti­ple pairs of eyes bor­ing into me from peo­ple dawdling at the bus stop across the street. Now in the sec­ond bin, I no­tice there’s clothes and shoes in it. I give it an­other rip and a brand-new pair of Adi­das train­ers fall out. Dig­ging fur­ther, I pull out a box-fresh pair of Tim­ber­lands. I’m elated... even though they’re two sizes too big for me.

Across the road, a group of teenage boys on the up­per deck of a bus are point­ing and laugh­ing at me. Thank God they’re snig­ger­ing too much to whip out their phones and make a meme out of me. I look straight at them and join in. The adren­a­line from my new-found spoils is cours­ing through my veins.

The next day, I’m hit with the mother of all come­downs. The ela­tion of my free­bies has sub­sided, re­placed by re­gret and a lit­tle bit of shame. The ex­pe­ri­ence might have been about find­ing high-end loot, but it soon gave way to some­thing darker: try­ing to out­smart other free­gans, be­ing there be­fore them to get first dibs. Isn’t free­gan­ism, then, just an­other way of com­pet­ing with our peers – only with­out part­ing with your cash? And what about all those peo­ple who can’t af­ford any food at all? Why should I take things for free, when I have the lux­ury of be­ing able to af­ford a weekly shop?

If bin raid­ing has taught me any­thing, it’s that you can some­times get your mitts on some lux­ury perks – but just be­cause it’s free, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a price to pay. Whether that’s a dodgy stom­ach bug, your dig­nity, or just never be­ing able to walk past a bin on the street with­out that voice in your brain whis­per­ing, ‘Could you? Should you?’ More than that, it’s the sense that it’s im­pos­si­ble to be happy with what you have, when even other peo­ple’s rub­bish be­comes a source of pos­si­ble com­pe­ti­tion. What’s next? #Bin­goals?

What would Steve Jobs say…

Cin­derella never had to put up with this shit

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