At the third Duane Reade pharmacy of the night, Anna Sachs, 31, whose TikTok handle is @thetrashwalker, hit the jackpot. Half a dozen bags of trash were lying on the street not far from his home in New York City.
Sacks opened the bags with a gloved hand and pulled out his loot: Tresemme hairspray. Rimmel London Stay Glossy Lip Gloss. Two bags of Ghirardelli Sea Salt Caramels. Six bags of Craters Popcorn Mix. A Febreze air freshener. A bottle of Motrin.
All unopened, in its original packaging and far past the expiration date. The total cost was probably $75, but money didn’t matter. Sachs, a former investment bank analyst, records her “garbage runs,” as she calls them, and posts videos to expose what she sees as retail waste.
Garbage scavengers like Sacks have started posting videos of their loot on TikTok as a way of shaming corporations. A search for #dumpsterdiving on TikTok yields tens of thousands of videos that have collectively been viewed billions of times.
A video posted last month by Liz Wilson, a 37-year-old mother of two in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who calls herself Salty Stella, shows a dumpster full of Halloween-themed treats and Christmas decorations at a HomeGoods store . “The only reason to throw these things away is because Halloween is over,” Wilson told his 1.2 million TikTok followers.
In a time when corporations profess their commitment to the environment, seeing $30 shampoo or $6 chocolate end up in the trash can be a bad omen.
“Corporations don’t want people to see overproduction, waste, less charity,” said Sachs, who has 400,000 supporters. “In order to change behavior, it is important to expose the waste.”
Michael O’Heaney, executive director of The Story of Stuff Project, a group in Berkeley, California that raises awareness about litter through storytelling, called eco-minded scavengers “metal detectors for bugs in the system.” goes.
Wilson assembles “Stella’s Kits” of feminine hygiene items and distributes them to homeless shelters. Although she also posts on YouTube and Instagram, she said that her videos get the most reactions on TikTok. “Every day, I get the same response: ‘Oh my god. Why do stores do this?'”
Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School in NY, said the practice is based on the calculation that “the fastest way for a retailer to get rid of something, usually of low value, is to mark it up.” of your stock and throw it away.
The workers would prefer the items go to charity. Several companies, including TJX, the parent company of TJ Maxx and HomeGoods, and Walgreens, owned by Duane Reade, claim they actually donate unsold products, but some still need to be sent to landfills.
Wilson said, “I can go to a trash can today and get a bunch of stuff, and 24 hours later I can come back to the same trash can and find new stuff.”