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One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure

In a disposable, throw-away society, it would seem Happy Valley shines out as an example of wastefulness.

On move-in weekends, slightly-used couches, mildly-worn dressers and out-of-date TVs get left on the curb. Every cup we use — whether at Starbucks or at a party — is disposable. Though many restaurants are within walking distance, ordering styrofoam cartons in plastic bags for delivery is much more convenient.

But where nationally half of all food winds up in the trash, several Penn Staters found a way to make use of the free meals going to waste.

It’s 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday. The distinct sound of plastic wheels on macadam echoes through the alley between Saint’s Cafe and Panera Bread.  It rings like a dinner bell for a group of 10-15 students who watch patiently as  bags of bread bowls, scones, bagels and baguettes are unloaded out of a wheeled-garbage bin from Panera.

Some bags are filled with crumbled up napkins, used plastic gloves, coffee grinds, or empty chip bags. Those end up in the dumpster. Some bags are specifically left, double bagged, on the ground for the hungry hands to scavenge.

As soon as the first plastic bag is torn, the stale garbage smell is replaced with a whiff of stale coffee and a diluted fresh-out-of-the-oven bread smell. Curiosity takes over and full loaves of bread, pastries and crumbled cookies are quickly scrounged up and stuffed in reusable shopping bags.

Everyone waits their turn. No one takes extras until an even share has been divvied out. People exchange bites out of cheese baguettes for bites out of everything bagels.  There is plenty to go around, so there’s no rush.

It’s like an unconventional family dinner, breaking bread that tastes fine but is “stale” by food industry standards. Sharing a free meal prepared with foods that would have cost an hour of minimum wage labor just one business day ago. Capitalizing off of the wasteful nature of a nation’s inefficient use of resources.

In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households yet bags of food go to waste in plastic garbage cans everyday. The worst part about that is that I don’t know what to do about it. It’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, but I think everyone is well aware there are people who are starving and living on the streets. No one knows how anyone can fix that.

A bag of starchy calories from Panera serves only for an example of the disconnect of America’s wants and needs. Consumers want fresh scones and citizens need food and shelter. But it’s bridging that gap that I’m confused on.

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Do you have any spots around State College where you can dumpster food, furniture and random oddities? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

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About the Author


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