Rubbish Bin Robinhoods Go Viral To Turn Foodwaste Into An Activist Cause

Bin-diving in protest at the growing scandal of supermarket food-waste has been turned into a high art-form by the Gars’pilleurs, a small Lyon-based group of anonymous French activists operating across the country.

Gars’pilleurs at the Place de L’Étoile, Paris  giving away the proceeds of the previous evening's bin-diving (Credit Facebook)

Gars’pilleurs at the Place de L’Étoile, Paris giving away the proceeds of the previous evening’s bin-diving. (Credit Facebook)

Making increasingly sophisticated use of a mix of social media platforms including YouTube, national TV programmes and unauthorised food giveaways in central Paris and other major urban centres, the Gars’pilleurs collective says it is raising public awareness by way of a protest weapon branded: “Rien ne se perd, tout se récupère” – Nothing is lost everything is recycled.

A TV reportage, l’Autre JT broadcast February 6 on France 4 and entitled Le Robin des bois des poubelles — Rubbish bin Robin hoods – noted: “Food waste is a global scandal. More than 41,200 kilos of food are thrown away every second and that is a third of the global food production all ending up in the trash. Our reporter Matilda accompanied a group of bin-diving young citizens aiming to denounce this scourge.”

Watch it here:

As French news Online’s Mike Alexander reported earlier:”According to PlanetoScope each year France wastes between 1.2 and 6mn tonnes of foodstuffs or some 2 – 100kgs of food per person per year, or in other words some 38kgs of food are binned every second. (Sources: Rapport d’Urban Food Lab pour le ministère de l’Agriculture, and FAO [Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture], 2011)”

The growing success of Gars’pilleurs‘ very public actions launched March 3, 2013, can to some extent be measured by the reactions of some of the major hypermarkets as French News Online reported here: “Intermarché France’s third largest hypermarket chain claims massive consumer acceptance for its recently launched “Inglorious Foods“, campaign celebrating ugly fruits and vegetables and aimed to cut food waste. The chain is now successfully niche marketing its ‘Grotesque Apples, Ridiculous Potatoes, Hideous Oranges, Failed Lemons, Disfigured Eggplants, Ugly Carrots, and Unfortunate Clementines’. “

A German supermarket puts its to be dumped foodstuff in a fridge instore and lets people help themselves

A German supermarket puts its to-be-dumped foodstuff in a fridge in-store and lets people help themselves (Credit Facebook)

The film clip above shows members of the collective with their faces disguised while all reports in French media identify the collective activists by pseudonyms only because in France, as in most EU countries, bin-diving is illegal and severely punished.

For instance and according to the Sud Quest paper: “On February 2 this year a court in Montpellier tried a case involving three local youngsters identified in the report as Leah, Adrian and Mike, aged 24 to 32 years old and living in a squat. They were charged with ‘recovering from waste containers at Intermarket Frontignan, about 20 kms from Montpellier perishables, disposed of because they were past their sell by date’ . The court was told they had filled seven 100 litre bin bags with dumped food . ‘The products were past their sell by date by about a day but they were still ok to eat that night and there was plenty of foie gras and salmon in the bin, — a good haul enough food for eight people for two weeks,’ Adrien told the judge. Legally, their offence is classified as, ‘fraudulent removal of perishable past sell by date goods’ and is treated as a robbery, aggravated because it occurs on private property. The maximum sentence is up to seven years in prison and a 100,000 euro fine. In Nantes in July a ‘Zsadist’ ( a protester opposed to plans to build a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Loire-Atlantique) was given a three months suspended sentence and 105 hours of community service for ‘theft’ of stale food from a garbage bin at the local Super U.”

Les Gars'pilleurs show off the finer arts of professional bin-diving   (Credit Facebook)

Les Gars’pilleurs show off the finer arts of professional bin-diving (Credit Facebook)

This photograph from the Gars’pilleurs Facebook page shows one of the group’s earliest sorties in  Lyon, “shopping in the supermarket waste bins”, the caption says.

The movement claims that of 750 000 tonnes of unsold fresh produce dumped because of overcautious sell-by regulations, only 12% is redistributed to Food Banks. The Gars’pilleurs, described as a free and open collective says its is not a charity nor does it aim to be a channel for redistributing dumped food from supermarkets. Rather it is agitprop whose surprise street actions, mounted in town and city centres around France without authorisation or prior notice, are designed to create consumer awareness about the enormous wastage. “We want to encourage grassroots demands for change”, says Guillaume (not his real name) one of the co-founders of the group.

“We go round collecting and distributing free on the streets, all the food discarded by supermarkets, bakeries, shops, etc. The movement was established in Lyon in February 2013. Recently we shared out 130 kg of food in just 90 minutes and the movement is growing. We vary our tactics sometimes making the distribution on bikes, or by knocking on people’s front doors. We set up a treasure hunt in Lyon with the prize a shopping bag full of discarded food. We also hold festive events at Christmas including a Soup Disco, and have staged activity squats in some towns. We are not a charity nor a food bank, we do not target the poor. We want to use our raids on supermarket bins as a way of showing the importance of a transition in our modes of consumption, moving towards local, ethical and sustainable consumption”, he added.

The message appears to be spreading and a number of food wastage initiatives can be found on the Internet. Among them is Zero-Gachis set-up to offer one solution to the problem of food waste.

The Zero-Gachis website describes itself as: “a free service that provides a reference to products that are close to sell-by date and thus need to be consumed rapidly. Consequently the consumer benefits from a significant reduction — as much as 70% — on the marked price… Every day, huge amounts of food does not find a buyer. As this approaches the sell-by date more and more distributors are happy to move it out at reduced prices, but consumers are often unaware of these bargains. This is where Zero-Gâchis comes in. Thanks to our partner stores Zero Gâchis has to date: helped consumers save more 1.2 million euros and ‘rescued’ 315 tonnes of products or the equivalent of more than 630,000 meals!”

Zero-Gachis website offers some insights into the significance of food wastage: “To get an idea of the importance of the quantities thrown away, it may be useful to examine these orders of magnitude: “It takes 1,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of flour so each baguette thrown away equals a full bath of water. It takes 15,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of meat, so discarded pork or lamb is equivalent to 70 full bathtubs”. (Source: ADEME)

“Food waste is an ethical scandal to which we cannot remain indifferent. A third of the food produced in the world is dumped, while one-in-six, or a billion people, are malnourished”, Zero-Gachis adds.

1,000 litre of water reuired to produce a kilo of flour

1,000 litre of water required to produce a kilo of flour


Watch the GARS’PILLEURS Tour de France collecting dumped food for recycling : GARS’PILLEURS : Le tour de France de la Récup’ fait halte à Rennes by TARANIS NEWS.


Here is a gallery of photos —  some screen captures from the TV clips, others from the collectives’ Facebook page — showing a range of actions staged to date:

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Story: Ken Pottinger

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