When Trash Is a Journalist’s Treasure

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Talk about your plenty and talk about your ills,

One man gathers what another man spills

— “St. Stephen,” The Grateful Dead

Around two years ago, a reporter who had just joined The Times, Sheera Frenkel, told me she had heard that trash pickers in San Francisco were congregating at the dumpsters of tech companies because the food they threw away was high quality. I was intrigued by this and over the next year, whenever I had a free evening, I hung out near the dumpsters of Twitter and smaller tech companies, talking to trash pickers and the homeless.

Recyclers came for the plentiful cardboard and cans, but I never found evidence that tech companies were throwing out particularly good food on a mass scale. In fact it was the contrary: I discovered nonprofit organizations — like Replate, founded by a Syrian migrant who had studied at the University of California, Berkeley — that collect uneaten food from tech companies and deliver it to homeless shelters and soup kitchens across the San Francisco Bay Area.

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