Dumpster-diver reveals how she combs festivals for freebies left behind by music lovers

  • Fri,20 Sep 2019 07:26:55 AM

By day, Laura Collins can be found leafing through storybooks with the school children she helps as a teaching assistant.

But, in the dead of night, she is more likely to be located diving head-first into a gigantic dumpster full of rubbish – retrieving treasures, discarded by other people as trash.

Also a dog walker, Laura, 24, of Bristol, calls herself a “real-life wombler,” after Elizabeth Beresford’s cute pointy-nosed animals, which became a children’s TV favourite as their antics on Wimbledon Common, where they creatively recycled rubbish, played out on the small screen.

Laura and her cat (PA Real Life/Collect)

Despite “bin-diving” – as it is called in America, where it is a massive phenomenon – being permitted in the UK, trespassing is not,  meaning that Laura runs the risk of arrest on every hunting trip.

She explained: “I stick to shops and bins on the outskirts of the city and no one has tried to arrest me yet.

“I tend to avoid the city centre where there are more people and more security, which means a bigger risk of being noticed.”

A ‘wombling’ haul from Boomtown Festival 2019 (PA Real Life/Collect)

And her controversial foraging has netted her some desirable booty- helping her to furnish the room she rents in a shared house.

She said: “Everything in my room is a cast off I have found in a bin – stuff like furniture I’ve found outside the front of people’s houses, including bookcases, drawers and a drinks bureau.

“If I’d paid for it all, I reckon it would have set me back around £1,000.”

A ‘wombling’ haul from Bestival 2018 (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added: “I also regularly find food. At festivals, in particular, there is so much dried food. I have about 100 cereal bars from festivals, which will last me about a year.”

One of her best diving treasures was found earlier this month, when she stumbled across a huge bin full of unread children’s books.

“I took as many as I could and have donated them to the local schools where I work as a teaching assistant and run after school clubs,” said Laura.

A dish Laura ate when living solely off dumpster-dive finds when in Denmark for a week in 2018 (PA Real Life/Collect)

Laura continued: “But what upset me was the waste. I can’t understand why the retailer didn’t just donate them to charity, instead of throwing the books out. I’ve always been into reusing and recycling.

“My mum brought me up that way and until I went to university, I thought everyone lived like that –  being careful not to waste anything or throw anything in the bin, if it still had a use.”

Laura was shocked into action when she started volunteering at the Oxfam charity’s festival shops and saw just how much waste festival-goers left behind.

“I was at Glastonbury in 2014 working as a volunteer at the Oxfam festival shop,” she explained. “When it finished, someone said, ‘Shall we go wombling?’

“I couldn’t believe what we found. People had just walked away and left their tents behind, as well as lots of food.

“I felt really upset and angry. We live in such a throw-away society that I think people leave their stuff behind because it’s easier than packing it up. Their attitude is, ‘We’ll just get another one.'”

Camping equipment Laura salvaged at Bestival 2018 (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added: “They haven’t been brought up thinking about what’s gone into creating a product like, for example, a tent and they’re not considering the pollution they are adding to when they just throw stuff away.”

First introduced to dumpster diving, also in 2014, by a former boyfriend, Laura, who studied fine art at the University of the West of England near Bristol, now says recycling is so important to her that she could not have a relationship with anyone who did not share her values.

She and her current boyfriend, Oscar Adedeji, 27, who works for an environmental conservation agency,  have also signed up to an app called Too Good To Go, where restaurants and other food businesses sell on dishes and food items that have not been bought that day at a discounted cost.

A ‘wombling’ haul from Boomtown Festival 2018 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“We probably use the app twice a week,” she said. “You can get a dinner that would have cost £10 for just £2.50, as long as you’re prepared to eat a bit later, because you have to go and pick the food up and it’ll probably be 9pm by the time you get back home with it.”

Laura also has an Instagram account –  @lauracollins95 –  where she posts some of her wombling tips, in the hope of inspiring others to think more about what they buy, waste and throw away.

Her pearls of wisdom include starting out at festivals, as there is so much on offer, going in a group and only taking food that’s unopened.

Wombling at Glastonbury 2015 (PA Real Life/Collect)

She also recommends wearing a hi-vis vest to “look more official” so people don’t bother her as much.

“I do want to raise awareness, but I am not a forceful, angry activist,” she said. “I’m quite a shy person, so although I want to get my point across, I don’t want to do it in a way that will upset anyone.”

Laura and her cat (PA Real Life/Collect)

Laura concluded: “When I went to the WOMAD festival this year in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, I saw that the Extinction Rebellion movement was there, doing a screen-printing workshop, so you could print their protest logos on your own bag or T-shirt.

“I think that’s a much better way to protest –  to do something peaceful as opposed to taking direct action, like blocking the M32 near Bristol, which they did earlier this year, and just made people angry.”

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