Lifting the lid on Australia's dumpster divers

Dumpster diver David is trying to reduce food wastage by rescuing groceries from supermarket skip bins.
Anna Kucera/Fairfax Media

Dumpster diver David is trying to reduce food wastage by rescuing groceries from supermarket skip bins.

Sam first started foraging for food in supermarket bins when he was in his teens, concerned about wastage of resources and its impact on the environment.

"I read about all the cool things you could find in dumpsters; not just food but pretty much anything if you look in the right places," the Australian man said.

"I decided to give it a shot and it didn't disappoint – I found a dumpster full to the brim with bags of Doritos."

Dumpster diver David retrieved this food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

Dumpster diver David retrieved this food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

The Sydney resident is still shocked by the volume of discarded products he finds and believes he has saved thousands of dollars on groceries over the years.

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"Anything you would find in a grocery store you would find in good condition in a bin, even really expensive things," he said. "Once I found packets of really expensive vacuum-sealed swordfish still cold from the refrigerator."

This chocolate was destined for landfill.

This chocolate was destined for landfill.

Now a professional in his 30s, he said he doesn't scavenge out of necessity but due to a fierce opposition to waste.

"There's so much food being wasted, just going to landfill, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it," he said.

"Plus, going through dumpsters is a lot of fun. It's like opening a Christmas present. You lift the lid and you just don't know what's inside. It could be stinky and gross or full of really good food."

Tasty dips taken from a skip by dumpster diver David.

Tasty dips taken from a skip by dumpster diver David.

Sam is one of Sydney's so-called "dumpster divers", a diverse group of people who comb supermarket bins in search of useful products. Some are motivated out of financial necessity; others because they hate seeing food go to waste.

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While the large supermarket chains have arrangements with food rescue groups, dumpster divers say there is still plenty of product which can't be donated and would end up as landfill if it weren't for their bin burrowing, usually carried out at night once the shops have closed.

Some are angered by the depiction of dumpster diving on the ABC's War on Waste series, which they say has led to a renewed crackdown with an increasing number of supermarkets locking bins.

Major retailers contacted by the Sydney Morning Herald reject this, saying locking bins for health and safety reasons is standard practice at many supermarkets and has been going on for years.

But dumpster divers say there are still plenty of rich pickings if you know where to look.

David*, who lives in the inner-west, has a few favourite foraging spots on Sydney's lower north shore where he regularly finds "high end, gourmet" products. 

The 36-year-old film maker describes food wastage as "obscene" and believes Australia should enact a law similar to a French ruling that bans supermarkets from destroying unsold food.

"I am shocked at the wastage of perfectly good food," he said.

"For me, this is not about saving money – I still dumpster dived when I was on a six-figure salary. This is about reducing waste."

* The dumpster divers who spoke to Fairfax Media asked for their names to be de-identified.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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