On the third Duane Reade of the night, 31-year-old Anna Sacks, a dumpster diver followed by @trashwalker on TikTok, hit the jackpot. Half a dozen clean garbage bags stood on Second Avenue, not far from his home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Kneeling on the floor, Miss Sacks untied the bags with her gloved hand and using her iPhone flashlight, she pulled out her purse: Tresemmé hairspray. Rimmel London Stay Glossy lip gloss. Two bags of Ghirardelli sea salt caramel. Six bags of Cretors popcorn mix. Wet mop refills. Febreze air freshener. Finger warmers. A bottle of Motrin. All are unopened, in their packaging and not expired.
“Oh my God,” said Miss Sacks, pulling out a 6-pack, one of which was missing. “My mom loves Diet Dr Pepper.”
The total value was maybe $75, but it wasn’t the money. Ms. Sacks, a former investment bank analyst, has been filming what she calls “garbage walks” and posting videos to expose what retailers see as a waste of money, instead of reusing returned, damaged or otherwise unwanted products. .
Tired of wasteful practices, dumpster divers like Ms. Sacks have started posting videos of their loads on TikTok in recent years to embarrass companies and raise awareness of wasteful behavior.
Searching for #dumpsterdiving on TikTok collectively brings up tens of thousands of videos with billions of views. There’s also a video of Tiffany Butler known as Dumpster Diving Mama, who found several handbags in the trash outside of a Coach store in Dallas last year, all of which were apparently cut by employees. Mrs. Sacks bought the bags and made a TikTok about her fashion brand. After the video went viral and sparked outrage (and was picked up by Diet Prada), Coach said it would stop “destroying in-store returns of damaged, defective, worn and otherwise unsalable items” and try reusing them instead.
Many of the trash activists target major retailers like CVS, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods and Party City. Luxury fashion brands tend to have tighter control over their excess stock and sometimes pay to have unsold items burned.
A video released this month by Liz Wilson, 37, a mother of two in Bucks County, Penn., shows Salty Stella next to a trash can filled with Halloween-themed mugs, plates, dog bowls, and holiday decorations at a nearby HomeGoods store. . “This is absolutely horrible,” Ms. Wilson told her 1.2 million TikTok followers. “The only reason they’re thrown away is because Halloween is over.”
Ella Rose, known by GlamourDDive, posted a video two months ago showing a trash can filled with Zara dresses, Fekkai brand care products and Victoria’s Secret clothing outside a TJ Maxx store.
At a time when companies are voicing their commitment to the environment, seeing $500 handbags or even $6 Ghirardelli chocolates thrown in the trash can be a bad sight.
“Companies don’t want people to see overproduction, wastefulness, lack of donations,” said Ms. Sacks, who has 400,000 followers and a prominent presence in the media. “It’s important to bring out the extravagance in order to change behavior.”
Michael O’Heaney, executive director of The Story of Stuff Project, an environmental group in Berkeley, California, that raises awareness about waste through storytelling, called Ms. Sacks and other environmentally-minded trash can divers “metal detectors for system flaws.” . “What they found in the trash is a fascinating lens into our waste economy,” said Mr O’Heaney, whose organization recently filmed a garbage walk with Ms. Sacks.
Going dumpster diving every week, Ms. Wilson gives herself up on her mission. Credit… Cory Foote for The New York Times
Some do more than raise awareness. Ms. Wilson assembles “Stella’s Kits” containing feminine hygiene items such as pads, tampons and washable wipes collected from dumpster dives and distributes them to homeless shelters and other places where women experience what is known as menstrual poverty.
Wilson, while also sharing on YouTube and Instagram, said that his videos got the most reaction on TikTok. “People are just shocked and upset,” she said. “I get the same reaction every day: ‘Oh my god. Why do stores do this?’”
Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School, said the practice is based on the cold calculation that “the simplest and fastest way for a retailer to dispose of something of typically low value is to sacrifice it.” dump your stock.”
Mr. Cohen said that returned goods cannot always be resold due to regulations to protect consumer health, including food, some over-the-counter medicines and health and beauty aids. Items that are damaged or worn, or out-of-season such as holiday decorations, may have lost a lot of value, even to third-party buyers.
“As scary as it is to see a seemingly perfect product end up in a landfill, it’s the shortest and cheapest route,” said Mr. Cohen.
Activists like Ms. Wilson and Ms. Sacks prefer to see retailers donate products to charities and others in need. “We should ideally encourage companies to produce less overall,” Ms. Sacks said, but if that’s not possible, “rather than destroy it, we should donate it or sell it or save it for next year.”
Many retailers actually say they donate unsold goods, but some goods still need to be sent to landfills. “The idea that all leftovers can be donated is a good idea to have, but it’s unrealistic,” Cohen said.
For example, CVS said it diverted 50 percent of its unsold goods to recycling or reuse, and donated nearly $140 million worth of goods to charities, including Feeding America. Ethan Slavin, a spokesperson, said CVS is “working with nonprofits to organize damaged or expired products from our stores to donate to communities in need.”
Andrew Mastrangelo, spokesman for TJX, parent company of TJ Maxx and HomeGoods, said that “only a very small percentage of the products that come from our stores are not sold” and that many of the unsold products are purchased by third parties or donated to charities. .
Walgreens, which owns Duane Reade, said it donated £10m of goods in 2021. “Walgreens is working diligently to remove unsold or discontinued products from landfills, such as food, toiletries, and household goods,” said Candace Johnson, a spokesperson.
However, some items cannot be donated, including perishable items within one month of expiration. “Items that do not meet applicable standards for donation or disposal,” Ms Johnson added, “can be thrown away.”
Discarded goods are perhaps most abundant during the holiday season. Last Halloween, Ms. Wilson said she found more than 120 Halloween-themed dishcloths, all in excellent condition, outside two HomeGoods stores near her home.
Ms. Wilson has dozens of retailers around southeast Pennsylvania that she visits each week. It never comes empty. “Today I can go to a bin and pick up a bunch of stuff, and 24 hours later I can go back to the same bin and find new things in it,” said Ms. Wilson.