Illustration by Hope McConnell
Dumpster diving is one of those things that most of us can say we have at least thought of doing, be it for novelty or for necessity. Having so far lived a fruitful life full of dumpster-created dinners made by my beautiful friends, I thought it was time to put the hard yards in myself and get inside a couple of dumpsters.
For those who haven’t heard of it, dumpster diving involves looking through rubbish bins outside of supermarkets and food vendors and taking food that they’ve thrown out that is still perfectly edible. Technically dumpster diving could be classed as illegal but it’s still a bit of grey area as the law does not specifically cover it. Depending on who catches you, it could be framed as theft or trespassing, so bear that in mind when you make your decisions about whether to do it or not.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional dumpster diver. In fact, I have about zero idea of what I’m doing (despite all the reading I did on online forums). Your attempts may be more fruitful than mine.
The rest of this piece is written as it happened.
The First Trip
SUNDAY: It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I’m putting off writing this article – putting off having to jump into what will most likely be a dirty, sticky dumpster. I am sitting in my cosy bed, reading a book that I am probably learning nothing substantial from.
I’ve forgotten that earlier in the week I invited my friend Shannon to come and scour some dumpsters with me this evening. So naturally I am surprised when she shows up dressed all in black, giving off the air of somebody who is ready to do something a bit ambiguous and potentially illegal.
We spend a few hours waiting around at mine, discussing what we will do if we are caught and going on bouts of self-righteous rants, raging against the people who would hypothetically reprimand us. After we have come up with an impressive amount of cover stories and indulge in the incorrect use of the word ‘fascist’ innumerable times, we are ready to go. It is 10pm.
We roll out to the ‘burbs, having read that we will have better luck in the ‘nicer’ neighbourhoods.
First mistake: it’s 10pm. Countdown is still open. Idiots.
We cruise out the back of a slightly more ‘boutique’, if you will, supermarket. It is closed but there are still some people working in the store room. We manage to snaffle some slimy bananas out of their bins and run away giggling like maniacs. To be 100 percent honest, my heart is pumping really fast.
I am tired and full of adrenaline, so we call it a night.
The Fruits of Last Night’s Labour
MONDAY MORNING: It’s morning and I peel a couple of bananas to chuck in my smoothie. There is nothing wrong with them, minus the slime, which is easily washed off. Slightly brown, these free fruits are perfect smoothie material. After this first taste of perfectly good food taken from the bin and at least $5 saved, I can’t wait to go on my next venture – slightly more prepared this time.
WEDNESDAY: It’s now a couple of days after my first trip to the dumpsters (albeit not the most successful haul). I speak to my good friend who is well versed in the art of dumpster diving. She puts her thoughts on the matter exceptionally eloquently and we have a conversation about how we as humans can help to rectify what we are doing to our planet and people. For some, it may be quite easy to forget that growing food is a process; it is process where the earth creates sustenance for us. However, we have come to abuse this process through mistreating our soils and making them infertile, which is an unsustainable practice that desperately needs to stop. It is also easy for some to forget that people have grown this food; that this may be their livelihood and their pride and joy, and for it to just end up in a dumpster destined for decay may be deeply saddening.
We also talk about how taking food from a bin can be done for monetary reasons. For those with less money it could be their only option, or it could just be a thrifty way for people to save a bit of cash.
We manage to snaffle some slimy bananas out of their bins and run away giggling like maniacs.
The Second Trip
SUNDAY WEEK 2: The second Sunday has come around and once again I am lethargic, but determined. Shannon rolls up and we decide to leave the house at a more appropriate time this trip: after 12am.
Broadening our horizons, we decide to visit more than just the richer inner-city suburbs. Already we have more luck; Countdown is closed and we are armed with boxes and head torches.
Being the instigator of this Sunday night outing, I am the one in the dumpster and, I won’t lie to you, it stinks. Shannon stands outside, a cardboard box at her feet. We find bananas (a popular throwaway item), broccoli, an abundance of potatoes, kumara, onions, oranges, capsicum and more. Sorting through so that we would only take the really good stuff, we ended up with a half full banana box of fruit and veg.
Onto our next location, a ‘boutique’ supermarket. Here we find a bit more fruit and veg, however the true highlight of this dive is the abundance of bread obviously baked that morning, but gone unsold. We also find some misshapen cans of lentils and beans, which is a more than welcome score.
Feeling pleased with our success, we decide to go home and sort through our findings. As we went through our haul, I must admit, it did make me feel a sense of overwhelming sadness for the food we didn’t save. Vowing to meet up again on our next free night, Shannon and I decide we want to see what we can salvage and then pass on food to people and organisations truly in need.
Over the next few days I make some delicious meals from our dumpster food and altogether I must have saved between $60 to $70 dollars. I’ll admit, I did use supermarket spices and a few other staple ingredients. However on the whole, the bulk of my meals came from the bin.
I understand that dumpster diving is not such a popular way to get free stuff, however it is effective, and despite what you might think, it is hygienic if you are smart about it. Just make sure you wash your fruit and veggies and don’t eat it if you think it has been contaminated. Soak it in a water/vinegar solution to kill mould and germs, and only take the stuff that can be peeled if you’re that worried.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to only take what you need. If you are taking stuff that is not going to be eaten or donated, don’t take it. You’re just perpetuating the cycle of wasting food. Only take what will be used.
The last point I will make is that if you do end up going dumpster diving, follow the golden rule: leave it cleaner than when you arrived. If you don’t do this, all it will result in is locked dumpsters, inconvenience for other people and more stigma around the people who do participate in dumpster diving.
Dumpster diving is not a dirty or bad thing; it is earth conscious, inventive and a good step in the direction of having less food waste. Using the resources we have available to us is not rocket science; we have an abundance, so why not be thrifty and share with those who go without?