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 – retrieving treasures, discarded by other people. One man's trash is another girl's rave dream, right?
Collins calls herself a “real-life wombler," after Elizabeth Beresford's cute pointy-nosed animals, which became TV favorites as they creatively recycled trash.
Laura and her cat (PA Real Life/Collect)
Despite “bin-diving" being permitted in the UK, where she lives, trespassing is not, meaning that Laura runs the risk of arrest on every hunting trip.
“I stick to shops and bins on the outskirts of the city and no one has tried to arrest me yet," she said. “I tend to avoid the city center 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 foraging has netted helped her furnish the room she rents.
“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," she said. “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)
“I also regularly find food," she continued. "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)
“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," she continued. “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 was shocked by that attitude, but understood that not everyone was raised the same way.
“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," she said.
Now, recycling is so important to her that she could not have a relationship with anyone who did not share her values.
Her current boyfriend, Oscar Adedeji, 27, works for an environmental conservation agency. Together they 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 posts her wombling tips on her Instagram account (@lauracollins95) in hopes that it will inspire consumers to be more conscious.
Wombling at Glastonbury 2015 (PA Real Life/Collect)
She 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)
“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," she said. “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."
I think we can all learn a little bit about the importance of recycling.