The Beginner’s Guide: How to Dumpster Dive for Food Safely
Interested in a hands-on way to combat the waste from our flawed food system? Dumpster diving could be an eye-opening experience for you. Though it doesn’t solve the root problem, it does offer a way to rescue food and items that would otherwise go straight to landfill. In this guide, we’ll unravel the ins and outs of dumpster diving in Australia, offering you practical tips on how and where to dive safely. Ready to give it a go? Let’s dive in!
What is Dumpster Diving?
Dumpster diving is the practice of salvaging usable items, particularly food, from commercial or residential waste bins. The activity aims to rescue materials that have been discarded but still have value, reducing the burden on landfills and contributing to a more sustainable cycle of consumption. In Australia, dumpster diving has gained traction as a form of activism, community building, and resourcefulness. Far from a fringe activity, it has increasingly become a part of broader conversations about waste management and food security. While dumpster diving alone won’t fix the issues in our food system, it does provide an immediate way to mitigate waste and make use of items that would otherwise contribute to environmental degradation.
What You Find Dumpster Diving Will Shock You
The first time I went dumpster diving, I was stunned at the amount of perfectly good food discarded by big-name supermarkets like Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Foodland and smaller fruit & veg shops. The shock didn’t just stop with me—when I shared my findings with friends and family, they were equally flabbergasted.
Why is Good Food Being Thrown In The Bin?
The unfortunate reality is that our current food system is primarily designed to generate profit, not to ensure that everyone is fed or that resources are used sustainably. Here are some key reasons why good food often ends up in the bin:
- Profit-Driven Cosmetic Standards: Aesthetically pleasing fruits and vegetables are more likely to sell, leading retailers to discard produce that is perfectly edible but doesn’t meet cosmetic standards.
- Expiry Date Confusion: ‘Best before’ and ‘use by’ labels are often misunderstood, leading to the unnecessary disposal of food that is still safe to eat. Retailers find it easier to discard these items rather than risk affecting their reputation.
- Overproduction for Market Demand: The system overproduces to ensure shelves are fully stocked, generating surplus that is easier to discard than to redistribute.
- Economic Incentives: Sometimes it’s more economically viable for businesses to throw out food than to pay for additional storage, transport, or reduced pricing for quick sale.
- Consumer Culture: The tendency to buy in bulk contributes to domestic food waste, as people cannot consume everything before it spoils.
- Lack of Awareness or Incentives: Both businesses and individuals often lack information about the environmental impact of food waste or the options available for food redistribution.
- Logistical Barriers: The costs and complexity associated with storing and transporting food for donations are often deterrents for businesses.
- Legal Fears: Some retailers are concerned about the legal ramifications of donating food, even though laws exist to protect good-faith donations.
Although dumpster diving can’t solve the systemic issues with a profit-driven food system, it does offer a way to repurpose food that would otherwise go to waste.
Is Dumpster Diving Illegal?
While dumpster diving is often not explicitly prohibited by law, the rules can be complicated due to a variety of factors. For one, dumpsters are usually located on private property, making divers susceptible to trespassing charges. This risk varies as law enforcement might not always rigorously enforce trespassing laws in relation to dumpster diving.
Another consideration is the principle of “abandonment of property,” which theoretically allows for the recovery of discarded materials. However, businesses may counter this by locking their dumpsters.
While the act of dumpster diving itself may not be directly outlawed, various other legal principles like trespassing and property rights can make this a legally risky endeavour. Always be aware of your local laws and consider contacting local law enforcement for clarification before you engage in dumpster diving.
- In Western Australia and New South Wales, police have explicitly stated that taking items from bins could result in accusations of trespassing and stealing.
- Queensland Police will consider complaints from property owners and may press charges for trespass offenses.
- South Australian Police have gone a step further, warning that not only is it illegal to take items from any bin—whether residential, council, or commercial—it’s also considered dangerous.
- Victoria Police have indicated that the legality would depend on specific circumstances, but individuals could potentially face theft and other charges.
- There are no specific Australian figures that indicate whether people have been convicted solely for stealing from bins. Any such convictions would be categorized with other thefts.
I personally think it is worth the risk of breaking a trespassing law when it comes to dumpster diving. Throwing away edible food is what should be illegal! I have never had an issue with any staff, security or police at any of the bins I have been to but I go outside of trading hours.
If staff or security see you taking things from a bin and they ask you to leave and you leave immediately I doubt any further action would be taken. Use your own discretion and weigh up the risks based on your own judgement.
Is Dumpster Diving Worth It?
The question of whether dumpster diving is “worth it” can depend on various factors such as your location, the time you’re willing to invest, and your comfort level with the activity. Here are some points to consider:
Pros of Dumpster Diving
- Waste Reduction: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, as the saying goes. By dumpster diving, you help to divert items from landfills, contributing to less waste.
- Cost Savings: It’s hard to argue with free. Dumpster diving can save you money, especially on items like food and furniture that are still in good condition.
- Unexpected Finds: The unpredictability is part of the excitement. You never know what you’re going to get, and sometimes you can find truly valuable items.
- Community: There’s a whole community of dumpster divers out there. Sharing tips and treasures can be part of the fun.
Cons of Dumpster Diving
- Legal Risks: As discussed earlier, dumpster diving can sometimes put you at risk of trespassing charges or other legal issues.
- Safety Concerns: Without proper preparation, dumpster diving can be dangerous. Always take precautions like wearing gloves and being aware of your surroundings.
- Time-Consuming: Like any form of treasure hunting, it can require a considerable time investment.
- Stigma: Some people look down on dumpster diving as a desperate or “dirty” activity, even though many do it for ethical reasons like reducing waste.
So, is dumpster diving worth it? The answer varies from person to person. If you’re someone who’s conscious about waste reduction and doesn’t mind the occasional treasure hunt, then dumpster diving could indeed be worth the effort. However, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully, especially considering the potential legal risks involved.
How to Dumpster Dive
If you’re considering dumpster diving as a way to reduce waste and perhaps find some hidden treasures, preparation and caution are key. Here’s a guide to get you started:
- Gloves: Ideal to have for hygiene and safety but I have pulled things out of bins gloveless with no issues.
- Bags: Bring reusable bags or containers to carry your finds.
- Torchlight or Headlamp: You’ll likely be doing this in the dark, so a good light source is crucial. I use my torch phone but a headlamp makes things a lot easier!
- Hand Sanitizer: For obvious reasons.
- Comfortable Clothing: Clothes that you don’t mind getting a little dirty. Dark clothing with a hood is good if you are worried about being noticed or captured on security cameras.
- A Grabber Tool or Tongs: Sometimes the goodies are deep in the bin so extending your reach means you don’t need to miss something or get into the bin.
- A buddy: Optional but it is more fun going bin diving with a friend. The downside is you have to split the
Steps To Dumpster Diving
Choose the Right Time and Place: Timing is everything in dumpster diving. Late evening or early morning is often best when the stores are closed. You may need to check out multiple stores before you find anything. Don’t give up!
Weekends are also a good option for this kind of treasure hunt because shops close earlier. This means you don’t have to wait until late in the night to make your move. Learning how to dumpster dive includes getting to learn your local area and the best times. This is a process of trial and error but once you get a feel for it you will be more confident in your new found skill.
Sort Through the Waste: Once you’re at the dumpster, begin by carefully sorting through the waste. You can spot pretty quickly if there is anything worth taking.
Safety Precautions: Wear your gloves and be cautious when reaching into unknown areas. Be aware of your surroundings and watch for cars or security personnel. It is unlikely shop staff, security or the police will be too worried about you getting food out of the bin but if they ask you to stop and leave just follow their direction.
What to Take and What to Avoid: Look for items that are still sealed or in their original packaging. When it comes to food, trust your senses. If it looks or smells off, it probably is. Being vegan I don’t take much food that isn’t fruit, veg and bread. Meat and dairy are risky so use your own judgement here. Look for expiry and best-before dates. Often food is still within the best-before date.
Dumpster Diving for Food
When I get home with all my goodies I clean everything by filling my sink with lukewarm water and a splash of vinegar and give everything a good rinse. I leave it on the sink to dry before storing in my cupboard, fridge or freezer. I’ve found that veggie saver bags are fantastic for extending the life of your finds.
Where to Dumpster Dive
Aldi Dumpster Diving
The Aldi stores near me throw out loads of fresh produce as well as packaged goods. The bins are found behind a chain link fence but I’ve never found one locked so they are easily accessible.
Coles Dumpster Diving
Coles is a great place to find packaged bakery goods. Not all Coles stores have an accessible bin but you will get to know your best local spots by investigating. There is a particular Coles near me that throws out loads of bread still in packaging and then in another plastic bag. It’s stupid that they put food waste in the bin in plastic so it can’t be composted but I am never short of bread anymore!
Foodland – Best Food Dumpster Diving
Foodland is a bit of a mixed bag as there is a huge range of different Foodlands owned by different businesses. The high-end Foodlands in the wealthier suburbs have the best stuff! They can also be popular so if you go late at night you might find an already-visited bin.
Woolworths – Food Bins
There are good bin finds to be found at Woolworths too but some bins are not very accessible. My local Woolworths seems better at managing waste than some other stores so I don’t find a whole lot but the way each store is run depends on the store manager so you might have better luck at your local Woolies.
Local Fruit and Veg Shops
My favourite bin to visit is a Tony & Marks greengrocer. This is a premium retailer with high-quality produce which means they throw out a lot of produce that is still super fresh. They also close earlier than the big supermarkets so I can go earlier in. the evening.
Baked goods are best fresh which means lots of waste! 😩 Check your local bakery to see what they throw out.
Why Is Dumpster Food Not Donated?
The supermarkets have a lot to answer for! Why is this food in the bin is something I ask myself every time I open a bin to see it full of edible food. There are organisations in Australia that take food donations and distribute to people in need.
OzHarvest is an Australian food rescue organisation that collects surplus food from various outlets like supermarkets and restaurants and delivers it to charities that serve vulnerable communities.
Foodbank operates as a pantry for charities and social service organisations, providing them with both fresh and shelf-stable foods to help combat hunger across Australia.
Despite the efforts of organisations like OzHarvest and Foodbank, significant amounts of edible food still end up in the bin. This is often due to systemic issues within the food industry, which prioritises profit over waste reduction. Strict cosmetic standards for produce, overstocking, and short expiration dates are among the factors that contribute to this waste. There’s also the logistical challenge of getting the food to these organisations in a timely manner. So while food rescue programs do make a difference, they aren’t yet a complete solution to the problem of food waste.
Concluding: How To Dumpster Dive
Dumpster diving offers an immediate and tangible way to rescue valuable items from being lost to landfill. While it doesn’t fix the flawed system that leads to such waste, it does give the waste another chance for use. For those conscious of waste and interested in a less conventional approach to sustainability, diving into a dumpster might just be worth a try.
My dumpster diving adventures have been eye-opening, to say the least. It’s shocking how much good food is wasted every day, and it’s time we do something about it. Now you have learnt how to dumpster dive it’s time to get out there and give urban food recovery a try!
If you’re interested in taking your efforts against waste to the next level, be sure to check out our post on how to stop food waste.