Recycled scraps

23:30, Sep 19 2013
Dr David Giles
TRASH TALK: Dr David Giles stands in a dumpster – a situation familiar to him. As part of his doctorate study into the economics of food consumption, he joined the dumpster-diving culture in Seattle.

The amount of food we are throwing away is growing, and one man has been jumping into dumpsters to figure out how to solve the problem.

Australian academic David Giles was in Palmerston North yesterday to speak about his research into the economics of food consumption, which he studied for his doctorate.

In doing so, he joined the dumpster-diving culture in Seattle.

Dumpster diving involves going through skip bins, usually in the dead of night, to find food that had been thrown away but was still good to eat. Dr Giles said there was a clear parallel between growing inequality and the amount of food being wasted.

"In the United States, they throw away 50 per cent of their food, and half of that is unspoiled."

Just like people squatting in empty houses, all the still-edible food created a counter-culture that took advantage of the free goods on offer, he said.


"You can't support the population of a city this way, but there are people who live almost entirely on non-economy goods."

People who dumpster dive were usually part of a wider social scene, where people were firmly anti-capitalist. "They may be the people who put on an independent music show in their basement and let everyone in for free, instead of paying a $10 cover, to have a good time."

Many documentaries into dumpster diving vilified the corporations throwing perfectly edible food away, but Dr Giles said it was not a simple case of throwing away food for the sake of it.

People were afraid of buying food past its best-before date - "some people will actually not touch it for fear of disease" - forcing shops to throw it away, he said.

"Grocers throwing away food aren't doing it because they are bad people. They have to make a profit as well."

Dr Giles said food rescue groups were around to take that food before it got into the bin, and distribute it to people who needed food but could not afford it.

However, those groups overseas were often made to distribute the food in areas where those that needed it could not get to - not that they always paid attention to the rules. "They are willingly operating outside of regulations."

He said he did not have a solution to stop food waste, but improved education about the difference between food being unsellable and uneatable could help.

Manawatu Standard