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Euro trash tour: Dumpster diver's war on waste

By Barry Neild, CNN
updated 4:08 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Frenchman Baptiste Dubanchet cycled from Paris to Warsaw eating only food that was consigned to the rubbish heap. Frenchman Baptiste Dubanchet cycled from Paris to Warsaw eating only food that was consigned to the rubbish heap.
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Traveling Europe by trashcan
Man with a mission
Garbage to some, a meal to others
Two-wheeled trash tour
No time for sightseeing
Learning to love leftovers
Hunger pains
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Baptiste Dubanchet traveled from France to Poland eating food only found in trash cans
  • The Frenchman says Germany was the easiest country in which to find food, the Czech Republic the trickiest
  • Dubanchet embarked on his mission to highlight the issue of food waste

(CNN) -- For most people a trip across Europe is a chance to see the sights and sample the continent's cuisine.

Unless, like Baptiste Dubanchet, they've got their head buried in a trash can.

The Frenchman, who celebrates his 26th birthday this month, has spent the last 10 weeks dumpster diving -- eating only discarded food -- from France to Poland on a mission to highlight the issue of food waste.

"I didn't really believe I would succeed," Dubanchet told CNN by phone from Warsaw shortly after completing his 3,000-kilometer (1,900 miles) journey by bicycle.

"I thought I would probably starve for four or five days and then I would have to buy something."

Instead, Dubanchet was surprised at the abundance of discarded produce he was able to scavenge from supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants.

He was easily able to fuel himself on his epic trek through Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Along the way, the former fast food worker has learned valuable lessons about the trash habits of the different European nations he visited.

MORE: 25 things we love about Poland

Food for thought.
Food for thought.

Rooting through refuse

"I'm trying to protest against the huge waste of food. It's completely absurd and pointless," says Dubanchet, who planned his trip to coincide with the European Union's declared "Year Against Food Waste."

"We're wasting really good resources -- there's so much water, energy and pollution involved in creating something that ends up in the trash. And there are millions of people starving."

Sticking to a strict rule of only eating food that had been thrown out or was destined for the trash, Dubanchet asked the permission of supermarket and restaurant staff before rooting through their refuse.

Occasionally he climbed fences to access dumpsters.

People in some countries were more understanding than others, he says.

"In the Czech Republic, it was quite difficult," he says. "People didn't really understand what the project was -- they thought I was homeless, they didn't really understand the foreigner who asked for food from the trash and all the supermarkets had it quite well locked up.

"I went for days eating mainly just bread."

Germany, he says, was the easiest country for dumpster diving, not because there was more food waste, but because people were more receptive to his mission.

"I think all the countries' waste is about the same. The supermarkets in all countries work in a similar way: the fruit and vegetables must look perfect and the ones that don't go in the trash.

"In Germany, a lot of people were supportive of the project -- sometimes at supermarkets, my request would be asked of the boss and the boss would say no. But then a guy would come back and say, 'I'm really sorry my boss says no, but wait, my boss is a jerk, so come back later and I will get you something."

MORE: Amsterdam's Wurlitzer wizards bring back the music

Right place, right time

Luxembourg, too, is a land of plenty for dumpster divers, according to Dubanchet, something he puts down to its relative wealth and relaxed rules on food disposal.

As part of his mission, the sustainable development graduate also visited schools to explain his mission to students -- and at the same time chow down on leftovers from the school cafeteria.

Hungry for change.
Hungry for change.

While he admits growing weary of a diet of stale bread and raw vegetables, there were some culinary highlights -- particularly during his darkest days in the Czech Republic.

"I arrived at a vegan restaurant in Prague where they were so busy they were turning people away," he recalls. "I explained what I was doing to the waiter and he came back minutes later with this beautifully designed plate of food and said 'do you want this?'

"It was the wrong order for the customer and they were going to throw it away. I was starving and I arrived at the right place at the right time."

Other highlights included a jar of honey and dried apricots found in Germany, some tinned goods from Luxembourg and a box of 12 eggs -- consigned to the garbage can because just one was broken.

"I was always happy when I had cakes and sweet things because they don't need cooking and when you're on a bicycle, you need the energy," he adds.

Dubanchet says he hopes in the future to work with supermarkets and restaurants to find ways of reducing waste.

He doesn't rule out further dumpster diving missions.

"Why not? Although when you're eating absolutely nothing that doesn't come from the trash, you go a long time without eating what you want.

"And it's a very long time to go without drinking a single beer."

You can follow Dubanchet's ongoing project at La Faim du Monde.

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