Thursday, March 12, 2020

Dumpster Diving

The dumpster haul from a better than average dive, with a good variety of food. November 2016.
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but dumpster diving seems to be steadily growing in popularity. “Dumpster Diving”, also known as “Urban Foraging” or “Skip Dipping”, or simply “Diving” involves reclaiming discarded food and other goods from the bins of supermarkets, bakeries, fruit and veggie shops/markets, etc. The general awareness of dumpster diving amongst the public also seems to be increasing. I thought I’d write this post describing my experience as a diver and giving a few tips and answering some common questions for new dumpster-divers or those curious about diving.

I can remember when I started diving back in around 2012, the typical response I got when I mentioned dumpster diving was “what’s dumpster diving?” And then after my explanation, an exclamation of “yuck, that’s disgusting!” or something to that effect. At that time, I lived with one of my sisters, Rosie, who I dived with, and another housemate, known as “The Prawn,” or “Prawno” (not his real names), who refused to eat anything we dived, or anything we cooked containing dumpstered food, unless of course we neglected to tell him it contained dumpstered food, which happened on occasion, especially if the he was hungry/didn’t want to cook, or the food looked delicious (like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation”). 
Our dumpster haul with a few Swedish couchsurfers (Catherine and Sointu)  that we were hosting at the time, back in November 2012. The photo quality isn't great, as it was taken on my iPhone 4; phone cameras have come a long way!
Our Dumpster haul from Aldi, with our German couchsurfer at the time (Lukas) and my sister Rosie. December 2012.
During that time, it was also a matter of contention if we should warn dinner guests in advance that the meal included dumpstered ingredients. We would usually tell them, and usually they’d be okay with it, though some people definitely weren’t comfortable with it. 
A Christmas dinner party at my share-house with many of the dishes prepared from dumpstered food.
My old housemate Prawno moved out long ago now, and he never came round to willingly eating the dumpstered food while he lived with us. He at least softened his stance though and would eat the meals we created without asking about the ingredients origins, nor would we tell him. I got in touch with Prawn to confirm this, which he did: “I probably wouldn't say I came around to willingly eating the dumpster food... but I did eat it. Probably more because I'm a tightass lol.” I also wondered if his stance on dumpstered food had changed since then, to which he replied: “Prob still the same view I'd say at this stage...”
This was not an atypical dinner for my housemate Prawn - less healthy than your typical dinner cooked from dumpstered food!
Over the years I’ve dived a huge amount of food, and fed a huge number of people with it, and a huge amount of dumpster food has been consumed in my sharehouse over the past nine years. Fast-forwarding to the present day (March 2020) and the typical response I get when I tell people I dumpster dive is “cool, I’d love to dumpster dive, can you take me next time you go?!” I guess this is because I mix in different circles to before; as a friend once commented, I live in the “Northcote-Preston Reality Distortion Field”, and their responses would not be typical of the wider population!

I live with five other housemates, all of whom are current dumpster-divers. In fact we’ve even recently set up a diving roster to more fairly distribute the workload of diving. When we have guests for dinner, they are, more often than not, excited and delighted to be eating dumpstered food. And there is genuine interest and curiosity around dumpster diving amongst my friends whom I mention it to.

Many of them are keen to dive, but are hesitant and unsure of how to get started. I’m always keen to increase awareness of dumpster diving and food waste and to encourage people to dive, because the less food that goes to waste, the better, in my books. It was great to see the War on Waste documentary series screened a few years ago on the ABC being watched and positively received by so many. They covered dumpster diving in the first episode. And I noticed that dumpster diving was also covered on a Radio National Program (Blueprint for Living).

I starred in a little segment myself a few years ago too, on another TV show called the Project, on Channel 31. And I’ve previously written an article called “How to Eat for Free”, in which I touched on dumpster diving, and this post resulted in me being interviewed about dumpster diving on ABC Drive a few years back, and  also led to me being contacted by a freelance journalist who was writing an article on dumpster diving for the Herald Sun. Fittingly, I met up with her at Lentil as Anything in Thornbury (they commonly use rescued or donated food) and discussed dumpster diving. She got in touch with me again the following day, said she found my story interesting and asked if I wouldn’t mind being the feature of the article. So I went diving a few days later for a photo shoot.
My housemate Charlie and I diving a Woolworths bin while taking The Leak reporter Pam Rana and their camera crew along on the dive with us. November 2016.
My housemate Charlie with our haul of dumpster food after taking The Leak reporter Pam Rana on one of our dumpster-diving expeditions. November 2016.
I typically don’t have run-ins with employees when I dive, but on this occasion I did, probably because we were there for so long. The shoot itself went well, and the photographer took plenty of photos, mostly of me posing holding food I’d taken out of the bin, but also of all the food I retrieved, which was a huge amount. Some friends who I’d previously arranged to meet up with there came, and the photographer left. As we were packing the food into my panniers and their car, one of the Coles employees walked over and the exchange went something like this: 
Him: “are you aware this is private property?”
Me: “oh, no, sorry I didn’t realise”
Him: “Yeah, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave...sometimes the bins get damaged by people you know?”
Me: “Oh really? That’s surprising...I wonder how that happens…”
Him: “Yeah it does...anyway I don’t even know how you’ve opened the bins, I’m sure I locked them this afternoon when I put them out.”
Me: “oh right...well they were open before” [not a lie because they were open before, but after I unlocked them]
Him: “Yeah you know, we don’t want people getting in there because sometimes it gets into the media…”
Me: “oh right...there you go…!”
And as it turned out, the photos of me diving in that bin appeared in the Monday (April 10, 2017) Herald Sun three days later! I wonder if he saw it in the paper and recognised me!
Me featuring in an article on dumpster diving on page 5 of the Herald Sun on April 10, 2017.
That morning, a few 3AW producers contacted me wishing to speak about freeganism, and someone from the Project on Channel Ten wanted to chat to me about the article on the show that night. However, I slept in and missed their calls and messages.

I read some of the online comments on that article which, being the Herald Sun, were generally unsurprisingly disparaging, though there were also some positive responses (some of them from my dumpster diving housemate Charlie defending me). Most amusingly, several people were like “well that’s obviously faked”, or “obviously they’ve set that up”, when in fact all the food in the photo was in the bin when we found it, we just rearranged it a little to make it more photogenic. I guess people were surprised that that much seemingly good food would be thrown out like that, or perhaps jealous that people like me get all that good food for free?

Anyway, I thought I’d write some tips because new dumpster divers often find it a little scary to go out on their own. The easiest approach would be to get in on a dive with a friend who has experience at diving. Failing that, grab a friend who hasn’t dived and investigate your local bins. Or if you’re sufficiently brave, just head out on your own and explore, seek out the bins behind supermarkets, bakeries, etc and see what you find. I go diving on my own regularly, and it’s really not so scary, for me at least. You can minimise your risk of running into shop employees by diving after they close, but if you are approached by an employee, I guess the best option is just to be honest, and act like you’re not doing anything wrong (because really, I don’t think saving food from going to waste is wrong!) If they ask you to leave, just apologise and leave, rather than causing any trouble. Then simply head back again half an hour later, or the next night. 
Taking a bunch of newbies out on a dive with us one night. Here we're diving bread from a bakery bin. L-R: two friends of my partner's housemate, my partners housemate Mel, one of our couchsurfers Mette, my partners housemate Meli, me, and my partner Marce. My housemate Tom took the photo. July 2017.
Top Tips for new dumpster divers

1. Just get out there and do it. Explore your local area. You’ll learn as you go.

2. Grab a friend to dive with, ideally a friend who has dived before.

3. Dive opportunistically, for example, when you’re riding home from somewhere. The more frequently you check the bins, the more likely you’ll find good stuff.

4. Hop on a Facebook page to get involved in the dumpster diving community in your area (see list of resources below).

5. Take a head-torch, and don’t wear your Sunday best clothes. Old, closed shoes are recommended. Some clean plastic bags or boxes are handy for putting food in (though often you can find these in the bin). Some people like to wear those thin latex gloves to stop ickiness; thick garden gloves are good if there is any broken glass, which is common enough - I don’t use them personally but it’s worth being careful, I’ve cut my finger on broken glass on multiple occasions. Also a bottle of water is good for washing your hands after a dive.

6. Be wary of meat, particularly white meat such as chicken, which is more likely to have grown harmful bacteria such as salmonella. Having said that, don’t automatically ignore it either, just use your common sense. A lot of resources have gone into producing it, and meat is nutrient dense. Remember that cooked meat will last longer than uncooked meat. And consider the ambient temperature - food will go off much more slowly in cool weather.

7. If you don't find anything initially, often you can find things with more rummaging and digging down deeper into the bin. A fellow dumpster diver once told me "always check in the corners, that's where the good stuff is!

8. Take use-by and best-before dates as a guide. Use them along with the sniff-test, visual test, your knowledge of the history of the item (e.g. was it sitting in a warm dumpster?) and any other relevant information to make a judgement on whether it's safe to eat. If it passes your judgement, then use the taste-test. If you're still unsure, just eat a small amount of it and wait a while to see if it makes you feel sick at all. If not, it's probably good to eat!

9. Wash the food you dive. To be even safer, you can add a dash of vinegar to the washing water, though I normally don’t bother.

10. If you're organised and like spreadsheets, you could do what we've done and create a Google Sheet to keep records of which nights you've dived at which bins and what you've found. Over time you'll probably see patterns so you can make better decisions about which nights are the best for diving, and what you're likely to find.
The contents of a Coles bin on one occasion - and this was after we dived, what we left behind! October 2016.
Dumpster Diving Etiquette
1. Dive at night/after the shop has closed to minimise the risk of running into the shop owners/employees and potentially upsetting them.

2. Be friendly, polite and reasonable with any shop owners/employees you come into contact with. Don't’ assume they’ll want you to leave, as sometimes they don’t mind, but if they ask you to leave, respect their wishes.

3. Leave the bins as clean/tidy as practicable to avoid upsetting shop owners/employees. 

4. Leave the dumpster as you found it. Don’t damage property. If you’ve unlocked the padlock, ensure you lock it again, to avoid potentially upsetting the shop owner/employee. Keeping the shop owners/employees happy means they will be less likely to take any action to thwart dumpster divers. 

5. Share food with other divers you come across at the bins and be cordial. Consider the type of person who is doing it (e.g. homeless person, opportunist, unemployed, pensioner eco-warrior, well-off person, someone collecting for charity, bird feeder, etc)

6. Take only what you need/will consume, as other divers may come after you to take food also.
This is fairly typical of how I might find the local Aldi bin, if I get there before other divers. November 2018.
Frequently Asked Questions

1. Have you ever gotten sick from eating dumpstered food?
This is often the first question people ask. I’ve been eating dumpstered food for a decade now, and I’ve had food poisoning just once. And I can’t say I’ve been particularly careful with what I’ve eaten from the bins either. I’ve eaten fish and meat on plenty of occasions. The only time I’ve been sick after eating dumpster food was from eating potatoes that were a bit old and green. I can’t be sure that this was the cause, but my partner and I both had a tummy ache afterwards, and we suspected we poisoned ourselves a little from the green potatoes. Having said that, I actually eat old green potatoes all the time with no issue, I just make sure I peel the greenness off first (most of it is just below the skin). Maybe we missed some that time we got sick, or there was more poison deeper in the potato?

2. What’s the best thing you’ve found in the dumpster?
Difficult question, there are so many things, but nothing really amazing like a gold nugget or a million dollars. Because in diving supermarket bins, you generally only find the things that you can buy in the supermarket, none of which is particularly amazing. My favourite “normal” things I find are chocolate, mango, avocado, mushrooms and cheese, and flavoured milk. And I’m a big fan of licorice, so I love when I find that on the odd occasion. Some of the more unusual dives I’ve had include: 
  • Around 50 kg of cheese, all different types, including fancy ones up to like $85 per kg, all seemingly fresh/untainted. On this particular dive, I got home with the haul only to discover that my housemate Charlie had already dived the same bin earlier in the evening and basically filled the fridge with cheese! We had to totally re-stack the fridge, very efficiently, to fit as much as we could in. And then we were giving cheese away to our friends for weeks, and eating it for months. Oh, and the icing on the cake for this dive was that I also found an entire box of Cadbury Caramilk Chocolate blocks, which had been recalled (which didn’t discourage me). Due to the recall, and the popularity of that flavour, they were selling for $10 - $15 per block on eBay at the time!
This was the cheese we left behind in the bin after taking all the cheese we wanted. The photo was taken to post in the Freegan Co-op Facebook group to let other's know that it was there. February 2018.
My housemate Charlie after we carefully stacked all of the cheese we dived into our fridge. February 2018.

Two of the boxes of blocks of the popular limited edition Cadbury Caramilk Chocolate that we dived. February 2018. 
  • On occasion, I’ve found slabs of nice beer, which many people value highly, but not so exciting for me because I’m not much of a drinker. People are often surprised when they hear that we find alcohol thrown out in the bins. I've dived at an alcohol distributor on occasion, but generally don't go there because I'm not so interested in beer.
My housemate Charlie with the food we took from a Coles bin during a diving expedition, including two full slabs of beer (which from memory were thrown out because they were past their best-before date - yes beer does have a best-before date, but it's usually still fine for a while after it!) October 2016.
  • Once we found an entire massive skip full of what seemed like the entire range of yoghurts and cream cheeses in the supermarket. I think their fridges/freezers must have broken down and they were forced by food safety regulations to throw it out (even though it would have all been totally fine to eat in practice). We took a few back-packs full, what we thought we’d be able to realistically eat over the next few weeks, and gave other divers a heads-up on the Facebook group, but unfortunately most of it would have gone to waste. It must have been thousands of dollars worth! Interestingly on this occasion, there was a truck delivering goods at the time we got there, and the truck driver saw us taking the food from the skip, and he said to my partner Marce, who is from Chile, something like: “you shouldn’t be taking food from the bin, it’ll make you sick. I know what it’s like to be an immigrant to this country, here, take this [he offered a $50 note] and go and buy yourself some food that won’t make you sick” My partner Marce tried to explain that we weren't doing it out of desperation so much as for wanting to reduce waste and live frugally. However he insisted, and Marce reluctantly accepted his $50 note, and thanked him, and used the money to pay for half of her ticket to ConFest.
A skip full of many brands and varieties of yoghurt and cream cheeses. March 2017.
  • After Easter or Christmas, the supermarkets tend to throw out all of the unsold Easter or Christmas goods. We’ve found many kilograms of chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies after Easter, and many packets of bon-bons, wrapping paper, pretzel snack mixes, jars of lollies, tins of short-bread, packets of figs, bags of dried fruit (for making Christmas plum puddings) etc after Christmas. 
  • Aldi stock unusual random things each week, so I’ve found a range of unexpected things like micro-greenhouses, potting mix, t-shirts, five-piece scraper set, drill-bit set, spanners, big jump start battery pack, bread boards, toys for my nephew, etc.
  • I occasionally dive at food wholesalers, and once I found literally almost a ton of tofu. Each block was in a tetra-pack, inside a larger box, weighing about 4 kg per box. It was thrown out because it was past it’s best-before date, but that stuff doesn’t go off in the tetra-paks - it lasts a very long time. Three years after their best-before date, they’re still as good as new. We have a massive stockpile under the house still, which should last us many years to come, or serve us well in the apocalypse (in which case, don’t tell anyone!) Speaking of food wholesalers, we also once found 114 litres of Bonsoy (also past it’s best-before, but again, in Tetra Paks and also fine!) My partner rates this as the best thing we’ve dived.
Boxes of Bonsoy Nigari Premium Organic Tofu. Each box contains twelve tetra paks of tofu, each 'pak' weighing 325 g, meaning each box weighed 3.9 kg net. October 2017.
Packing the tofu into the back of my housemate Marcos's car. This housemate wasn't joining in the diving back then, and I had to call on him for a favour as I don't own a car. I later borrowed my sisters car and returned for more trips. As a bonus I found multiple boxes of minced chilli, minced ginger, minced garlic, peanut butter and tahini - jackpot! October 2017.
  • Outdoor shops can be good diving locations as they throw out a lot of nice products with little wrong with them. Unfortunately they often slash them so that no-one else can use them. However sometimes you get lucky and the employee perhaps felt bad about slashing them, or neglected to follow the rules, and you get products that are fine. My housemate found several large tents, up to ten people, and sold them for like $300 each on Gumtree (they were selling for $850 in the shop from memory).
Diving at Rays Outdoors (which is now Macpac) with my housemates Charlie and Marcos. Items from left to right are: camping chair (slashed in the back), 10 person tent, blundstone boots, sleeping bag (slashed), stove (missing hose), 4 person tent, mattress. April 2018.
  • Once while in the Blue Mountains, we stopped at an IGA bin and found it half full of all the different packets of nuts and seeds you can imagine. We were busily filling up boxes with it when the garage door at the back of the supermarket started opening, the manager walked out and forced us to put it back in bin. We argued it was a waste to throw them out, that they’re in packets, that they’re fine (they were past their expiry date, but come on, they’re nuts and seeds, they’re not going to go off!), but he wouldn’t have a bar of it, and explained he should have slashed them all when he put them in, and proceeded to do so as we glumly plodded off back to the car, empty-handed. In hindsight, I kind of regret not running off with the couple of boxes we had already pulled out. I doubt he would have chased us. Also we probably should have hit that bin after the shop had closed.

3. Have you had any run-ins with the police?
Yes, on several occasions the police have appeared while we’ve been diving. However, it’s never been an issue, and usually they are quite friendly and polite. My approach is to always be completely honest with them, and not act like I’m doing anything wrong. The first few times the police came while I was diving, the exchange went something like this: Police pull up nearby, wind their window down, I walk over, and they say “what are you up to?” I say “hi, I’m just taking some food from this bin that the supermarket has thrown out, I think it’s such a waste. Would you like any?” They decline the offer, and usually they then ask for my details to look me up on their database, and I tell them forthcomingly. They confirm my address, and ask if I’m currently working, or if I’m perhaps falling on hard times (they see the act of taking food from the bins as a desperate thing to do). I tell them I’m not working but I have enough money saved and can afford the rent and bills no problems. They tell me that if I need any help or information in applying for unemployment benefits, finding housing, etc, that I can just come into the police office and tell them my situation and they’ll help me out. I thank them politely and they head off and I continue diving. The exchange is perhaps a bit condescending, but I felt they really were speaking out of genuine concern and willingness to help. 
The last two times I’ve run into police while diving were actually during the commute to and from the bins. Last time I was on my way there, riding the backstreets when they pulled me over. Unfortunately I wasn’t wearing a helmet (it’s annoying to wear a head-torch and helmet at the same time), so they were automatically suspicious/had a genuine reason to pull me over, because I was breaking the law (I don’t agree with mandatory helmet laws, but that’s a another story). They were very suspicious, apparently (as they later explained) because there had been a lot of thefts in the area by people on bicycles. And I was riding the back-streets, at 1 am, without a helmet, and with four empty panniers and an empty back-pack on my back. Again I was totally polite, open and honest with them, eventually they came round and let me go no problems. The time before that, I’d just started riding with a full load back from the bin, and I had just received an email that caught my attention. Apparently loitering on the footpath at 1 am in a residential area seemed suspicious, and again I wasn’t wearing my helmet. However my panniers were obviously full of dumpster-dived food, and after a normal conversation they let me go no problem. 
Police stopping by to chat with us while we were rescuing food from a Coles supermarket bin. July 2017.
4. Have you come across other dumpster divers while diving?
Yes, frequently, and it seems to be more frequent than ever these days. At bins where I never saw anyone back in the day, I run into other divers regularly nowadays. Last year at the Northcote Aldi bin, I ran into five different parties on one dive there! I often speculate that the Northcote Aldi must be the most dived bin in Melbourne! Though recently they’ve cracked down on their security and started locking the bins in a cage. 
Depending on where you dive, coming across other divers will be more or less common. Where I live in the inner north of Melbourne, running into other divers is common, because the area probably has the highest rate of diving in Melbourne. I would guess that in many outer suburbs, you’ll be the only one diving the bins.
Running into other divers is no big deal, I suggest being friendly, say hello, tell them how the bin is, offer them some of the stuff you’ve just taken if you’ve got more than you need, and they’ll likely do the same. Often there’s plenty of food to go round between multiple parties. 

5. Do you want to encourage or discourage people from diving at your local bins?
There’s a few competing desires here. I’ve been “funemployed” for the past five years, primarily because I saved up enough money from working full-time for five years, and because I live very frugally. I love my lifestyle of freedom from having to work, and part of what I rely on is not having to spend much money on food. I grow some of my own food, but rely on the dumpsters for most of the rest. If lots of other people start diving at my local bins, and every time I go, I don’t find much left to take, that’s kind of annoying, because I’m wasting my time in going to the bin or spending more time going to bins further away, or having to buy more of my food. That in turn means I’ll use more of my savings and have to go back to work again sooner. 
On the other hand, having more people diving means less food going to waste, which from an objective perspective is a good thing! I’m a very environmentally concerned citizen and very waste averse, so I’m inclined to be encouraging to other people diving (part of that is writing this post!)
In my past ten years of experience, while coming across other divers is common, there is such a large volume of food being thrown out that there has always been enough to go around between divers. Perhaps if diving becomes more competitive in the future, I’ll be a little annoyed that I can’t get my food for free anymore, and I might have to focus on growing it in my own garden, and working more to buy my food, but I’ll appreciate that less food is going to waste. If it’s because supermarkets have gotten better at reducing their waste and/or donating to food charities, that would be a positive thing!
On this occasion we borrowed my housemate Polly's car and filled it with dumpstered food the night before taking it to a festival for New Years Eve. Left-right: my housemates Virginie, Albane and Charlie. December 2016.
6. Have you ever had to fight off the possums to get your food?
Haha - no! Interestingly I don’t ever recall a time when I’ve come across animals at the bins, whether it be cats, possums, rats or mice. Maybe they use certain chemicals to deter pests? The only thing I can think of is coming across a group of foxes on the way to the bins once, which was surprising, given I live in Northcote.

7. Is it legal?
Good question, I’m not sure, it seems to be a bit of a grey area. Sometimes if you run into staff while you’re diving, they’ll tell you to piss off and that what you’re doing is stealing. To me it doesn’t seem like stealing if they’ve thrown it out. I have a friend who is a lawyer and was defending a man that was arrested for dumpster diving in Ballarat. In this case, the police were really nasty unfortunately. From what she said, it isn’t clear from the law that dumpster diving is stealing, legally - it’s a legal grey area.
To me, what makes dumpster diving more clearly illegal in many cases is that you are technically trespassing to access the bins. 
Realistically, you’d be unlikely to be arrested for dumpster diving (most people have enough common sense to see that what you’re doing is not bad, not harming anyone, etc). My run-ins with the police demonstrate this. And at any rate, the law doesn’t always tell you what is ethical. 
Police stopping to chat with us while we were dumpster diving. July 2017.
8. Do you still buy food/how much do you spend on food/do you find enough food to live off?
Yes, I still buy food, but it’s quite a small proportion of what I eat. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have any dietary restrictions, I consider myself flexitarian and eat anything and everything. Being flexible with what I eat means I can happily eat more of the food I dive. I just eat what’s available. If we have a lot of fruit and milk, I’ll make porridge (with dived or bought oats) and eat that for breakfast. If we have a lot of bread, veggies and eggs, I’ll eat that for breakfast. If we have pastries, I’ll eat those. And I eat whatever food is available from the garden at the time too. So my diet is always varying, and I think this is healthy, especially with all the greens from the garden. If you have limited garden space, I think herbs and greens are the best thing to focus on growing, because these are much fresher and more nutritious than eating from the supermarket or supermarket bins. And there’s plenty of greens you can’t even get from the supermarket, like all the edible weeds (which I eat a lot of, and which are supposed to be very healthy). I find this a great thing to supplement dived food with, for lots of nutrients.
There are some things which are quite uncommon to find in the dumpsters, but which are things we still need and so we buy from the supermarket. These would include: olive oil, soy-sauce, pasta, rice, toilet paper, rolled oats, sugar, etc. We actually still find all of these things in the bins, just generally not enough to supply our needs. 
Overall I’d say I spend very little on food relative to the average. Occasionally I go out for dinner with friends/family/partner, but not often. And I’ve never in my life ordered Uber eats or similar. And I never eat at fast-food franchises like McDonalds. I usually have to buy more food when I’m travelling/hiking/bike touring/camping. I estimate I’d spend around $20 a week on food. 
Me and two of my housemates (my partner Marce, and Astrid), after processing the food from one of our dumpster dives. March 2019.
9. What do you mean you found a slab of beer? Beer doesn’t go off...why would the supermarkets throw that out?
Once you start diving, this will be a common question that others will ask you and that you’ll ask yourself. Sometimes it’s obvious, like the packet has been ruptured, or the box has been torn/damaged, the egg-carton was dropped and a few of the eggs in the carton were broken, the food is beyond its best-before or use-by date, etc. However, often it seems like food is thrown out for no apparent reason. The fruit seems to be in perfect condition, the jar is well-within it’s best-before date, the bread is still fresh, etc. I guess there can be many reasons, I’ll speculate on some now. Perhaps new stock has come in, and they need to throw the old stock out (even though there’s nothing wrong with it) to make way for the new stock. The individual truss tomatoes/individual bananas aren’t selling so we’ll throw them out. A product is found at a random spot in the supermarket, it’s easier to throw it out than find where it goes. These vegetables look like they’re getting on a bit, and customers aren’t buying them, so we’ll just throw them out. These fruits look funny and customers aren’t buying them, so we’ll throw them out. Sometimes there’s been a power outage of a fridge/freezer break down and the law requires it all to be thrown out. Sometimes, and this might be something you want to check if you find a lot of one thing in the bin for no apparent reason, there has been a recall. Supermarkets will post on their websites if there’s been a recall. This happened with cantaloupes a while back; we were finding dozens of them in the bins, and it was because they were recalled. However, even if it’s been recalled, use your judgement. I find that the risk is usually still very low and I eat the food with no problem anyway. 
Diving with a few friends. A lot of this produce seems completely fresh, yet it's been thrown in the bin! November 2016.
10. Is there anything you can’t find in the dumpster?
Basically anything which is sold in the supermarket, or the shop you’re diving at, is liable to be found in the dumpster, unless there is some regulation requiring certain products to be disposed in a specific way. I’d guess that basically any food you can think of that is sold at a supermarket, I would have found in a dumpster at some point. 
Dumpstered food, before processing; we often find a large variety of items on a typical dive. September 2017.
11. Do you always ”dive” into/get into the bin?
No, often I just reach in from the outside, it depends on the situation. For the larger bins, you’re more likely to have to get in to reach things, though sometimes you can reach just from standing on the side. For the smaller bins, I usually just lean in over the edge. And for the 240 litre wheelie bins, you can reach in no problem. Taking a milk crate or similar with you to a dive can be a good idea as you can stand on them to reach in much more easily, and they can double as a receptacle to carry your dived goods in too. 
My dear friend Steph and I diving at a Woollies bin. Diving with a friend is often easier, as one person can climb in and pass the items out to the other person who can pack it. August 2016.
12. What do you wear when you go diving?
Usually I just continue wearing the clothes that I was already wearing, my “around home” clothes. Often I dive opportunistically, on my way home from somewhere, and I’ll be wearing nicer clothes, but it’s usually not an issue because it’s not hard to avoid getting your clothes dirty when you drive. If you stand in the bin, just stand on something solid without sinking in up to your knees or waist. If you’re leaning in over the edge, grab a piece of cardboard or plastic bag from the bin to place over the edge to protect your clothes from the bin grime when you lean in on it. 
I would also suggest taking a water bottle along with you (mine live on my bike that I dive with) so that you can wash your hands after diving. 
Diving at Woollies with some friends: L-R, Albane, Charlie, Gaia and Olivia. Note the white cardboard on the edge of the bin so that Albane can lean in. I would argue that Gaia is dressed too well, in a white dress, for the occasion. December 2016.
13. How do you deal with surplus food you dive, or large amounts of the same thing?
One of the things about diving is that you tend to find a lot of the same thing. Maybe a new load of tomatoes have come in, and they’ve thrown all the old ones out to make space for the new stock. Maybe stone-fruit is in season and there’s been some sunny weather, and they can’t sell all the produce quick enough? Maybe some brand of granola muesli didn’t sell well and a whole bunch of it has gone out of date? Depending on the nature of the product, there are different ways to deal with a surplus of it.
One neat way is to live with a lot of other people. A surplus of one thing which is far more than you could eat on your own can easily be distributed amongst housemates and consumed before it goes bad. We have six people in our share-house so it works quite well. You can also distribute surplus food to guests, or proactively take it to friends, though this can be a bit more effort. Donating food to restaurants like Lentil as Anything, or charities like Food Not Bombs, or Second Bite, I believe, are also options (though not options I have personally explored).
If you’re flexible with what you eat, perhaps you can even eat through that glut of eggs and potatoes in a week on your own? Being adaptable with what you eat based on what food you have means less food will go to waste. Be creative with your cooking, and cook based on what you have. 
With processed foods and staples which last a long time, you can often choose to stockpile them (if you have the space) and gradually eat through the stockpile over weeks, months or even years (like we are doing with our stockpile of tofu). Things like flour, rice, pasta, oats, sugar, etc are easy to store for a long time, though in our house we have to store them in airtight glass jars or those annoying little moths/grubs get in!
Finally for your perishables, there are many options for preserving, if you have the time and inclination. Tomatoes are easy to can, even using normal jars left over from your typical supermarket ready-made sauces or whatever. You can pickle things, or get more experimental and ferment them (cabbage -> sauerkraut is the obvious one but there are many other options). You can make jam with a surplus of fruit, or can it in a syrup. Stewing stone-fruit and refrigerating might give you an extra week on it going bad. There are many fruits/veggies that you can freeze. We often freeze things like berries (which have a short shelf-life), chopped banana, mango purée, chopped cantaloupe or water-melon, etc, and then use them for making green or milk smoothies, porridge, or adding to a kombucha second brew.
Me with my housemates Charlie and Albane, after blending up dived mangoes to freeze for later use. December 2016.

Canning dived tomatoes. The process I use is to blend the tomatoes, cook them all in a big pot (or pots), and boil them for ~15 minutes. Add a bit of vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and salt to help preserve them. Sterilise jars and lids by heating them in the oven at ~140 degrees celcius for ~10 minutes. Pour/spoon the hot tomato into the jars, and put the lids on tight. The lids should pop in as they cool - if they don't, you haven't got a seal, and they'll go off. December 2016.
A haul of crumpets which I dived from Aldi, destined for the freezer for later consumption. October 2016.
There are also many fruits and veggies that you can dehydrate (though be aware that dehydrating in a conventional electric dehydrator can consume a lot of energy and might defeat the purpose, for example it might be cheaper to buy it fresh from the supermarket than to pay for the power to dehydrate it. However there are alternative types of dehydrators. You can use an oven, but in warmer weather you can also just put your food on a tray on a corrugated iron roof. Or if you’re really keen, you can build your own solar dehydrator like I did! I used it recently to provide all the dehydrated fruit and veg we needed for three of us to hike the Overland Track over eight days in Tassie. It would have been expensive to buy the equivalent amount of dehydrated food!
With milk, a good tip is to place it in the freezer for an hour or two as soon as you get home, in order to drop it’s temperature faster and reduce the opportunity for any bacteria to proliferate.
With eggs, a good tip if you’re handling them and moving them into a new carton is to place them pointy-end down. This reduces pressure on the gas bubble inside the egg at the wide end, and keeps the yolk centred and further from the gas pocket, and therefore makes it less likely to go off. Also, a lot of people are familiar with the floating egg test (pop an egg in some water and if it floats, it's off). I think this test is too conservative, in that it gives too many false positives (tells you the egg is off when it's not). We no longer use this test in my house. Instead we break each egg into a small glass, inspect it visually, smell it, and if it passes those tests, we use it. If it looks black, or green, or the yolk is all mixed in with the albumen, it fails the test. Though my housemate once fried up a bunch of eggs which were quite green, and ate them and he was fine!
Dehydrating dived and home-grown produce in my solar dehydrator. January 2020.
Dehydrating dived and home-grown produce in my solar dehydrators. The model in the foreground is just a screen on the corrugated iron roof and works quite well in warm weather. You don't need to build one like the one I built at the back of the photo. The only drawback I know of is that food in direct sunlight will lose more nutrients. January 2020.
In the past I have even taken the organics from the bin to make compost (though I took out the good veggies). One night I collected about five trolley-loads from the local Coles. August 2015.
14. What vehicle do you use for diving?
Personally I always ride my bike because I think it is the most sustainable means of transport, while also being practical enough for diving. I use my Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike, equipped with front and rear panniers and a handlebar bag as well as a large-ish back-pack (which I use for lighter items such as bread), so I can carry quite a lot in one trip. I’ve carried more than 100 kg of dived goods on my bike on some occasions. Setting up racks and panniers on any bike normally isn’t too hard, even if they lack eyelets (for example, by using p-clips). Bike trailers and cargo bikes are also options. 
I’m not sure on the stats for how people commute to dive, but from my observations, many people choose to drive to dive. It’s less effortful, and easier to fit and carry whatever you dive in the bin. However, I’m a bit of a purist and fairly anti-car, and frown upon this. 
Some people who don’t have a car or bike, or simply live close to the dumpster, just walk there, or use public transport.
A full load of dumpstered goods on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. August 2019.

A full load of dumpster goods on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. December 2019.
A full load of Dumpster goods on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. February 2017.
15. How much time do you spend diving?
Diving can be a lot more time-consuming than people think. I say the food I get from the dumpsters is free, but it’s not really. For a big dive, it would literally take me hours, like five hours, to ride to the bins, sift through them and extract what I want, pack my panniers and load my bike up, (slowly) ride home again, sort and wash through all the food that night or the next day (which I call “processing”), putting away all the food wherever it lives, and potentially preserving some of it in various ways too. It’s quite a time investment, and something that probably doesn’t make much sense for someone who works full time. Full-time workers tend to be short on time but financially rich and it often makes more sense for them to just buy their food, with the convenience and time-saving that offers. 
For most of the past decade I’ve spent as a regular dumpster diver, I’ve encouraged housemates to come dive with me, or to dive on their own, or to help with the processing, but not required them to help in order for them to share in the spoils. It can be tiring doing all the work yourself, and disappointing or frustrating when housemates don’t help out, but yet are happy to consume the food, but I have always still chosen to openly share all the food I dive, because often it’s likely to go to waste if I don’t, and due to my waste aversion I’d prefer it still get consumed than go to waste. Often housemates/friends take the work you as a diver do for granted, and have no problem consuming the dived food because you didn’t pay for it and there’s lots of it, but are often unaware of the work it takes to get it all. 
Recently my sharehouse of six people has instigated a diving roster to divvy out the workload of diving. We have scheduled three people on diving each week, and it is their job to dive and process the food to feed the household for that week; they can decide when and where to dive, and can split up the tasks as they choose within that team for that week. As the most committed diver in my share-house, I can attest this roster has been great for sharing the workload more fairly and reducing the strain on the more committed divers in the house. 
So I’d say with this roster running the average time commitment per person is around one to two hours per week. It’s not so bad, when you consider you’d have to be making a lot more trips to the supermarket otherwise - and I for one hate wandering around in a supermarket looking for things I can’t find!
Dumpster-dived food after washing. Some of it will then be put in the fridge, and some left out in bowls on teh bench. February 2018.
16. Do you find you have a healthy diet as a dumpster diver?
Personally, yes. But depending on how inclined you are to eat sweet food, getting into dumpster diving can be dangerous. If you have a sweet tooth, you can find sweet food to eat to your heart's desire, if your standards are low. The supermarket dumpsters will provide you endless supplies of pastries, donuts, danishes, scrolls, sweet buns, etc. Soft-drink is also very common. Things like lollies and chocolate are less common, but still easy enough to find. Basically if you’re not careful, you can end up eating a lot of sweet processed food. 
I enjoy sweet food and chocolate, but luckily I don’t have an issue with managing it and eating it in moderation. The dumpsters provide me with plenty of processed food as well as fruit and veg, and I supplement that from my garden with fresh greens and edible weeds, and more nutritious fresh home-grown vegetables when they’re in season, to have what I consider an overall healthy, very varied, and balanced diet.
A variety of pastries/danishes from the bakery bin. Good for sharing around with friends, not so good to eat them all on your own! June 2015.
17. What are the easiest things to find in the bins?
I’d say the easiest thing to find in the bins is bread. You can find good quality bread in bakery bins (many bakeries throw out all of their bread at the end of each day), and lower quality bread in your Coles, Woolies or Aldi bins ALL THE TIME! I generally avoid the supermarket bread in preference of quality bakery bread.
Fruit and vegetables are also generally easy to find - which makes sense because they’re perishables, and don’t last on the supermarket shelves for particularly long. Apples and potatoes are probably the easiest of the fruits and veggies to obtain.
We also generally have a continuous supply of eggs, even with a high household consumption.
My friend Steph and I with all the eggs we dived. August 2016.
Good quality bakery bread from Laurent's. June 2015.
A Woollies bin full of Edwards breads. I opt for these when the bakery doesn't provide. June 2019.
Woolworths bakery baked bread. Some of this stuff can be okay, but I usually don't take  it. August 2017.
Bottom of the range supermarket bread. I wouldn't grab this unless I was starving. I've included four photos of bread above to give you an idea of how much bread you find in the bins. August 2015.


How to Eat for Free
An article I wrote in 2013 describing my ideas on how to eat for free.

The Leak video on Dumpster Diving
The Leak is a TV show on Channel 31 where host Rose Bishop and her correspondents take an incisive and satirical look at the events making news. One of the correspondents contacted me one day and asked if I’d like to take part in a video they wanted to shoot about dumpster-diving. I agreed, and invited my housemate Charlie along, and we showed them out on one of our dumpster diving missions so they could film it. I think it turned out well. It runs for three minutes, check it out.
There would be many more diving options than those listed on this map. Sometimes divers like to keep their spots to themselves so they don’t list them on such maps, and sometimes good spots remain undiscovered or difficult to access.

“Food Standards” web page listing all of the food recalls in Australia

The Melbourne Freegan Co-op Facebook Group
This is the most active Facebook group about dumpster diving in Melbourne. The group is focussed on dumpster diving, foraging, food sharing, freegan events and preserving. Members of the group post photos, update a Google map with lucrative dive locations, provide updates of any food recalls and share their hauls with each other. Feel free to post here with any dumpster-diving questions, or even ask if anyone will have you along on a dive to show you the ropes.
Occasionally you also get arguments flaring up, which can be amusing. My favourite was someone who posted that since the group was a “freegan” group, didn’t that mean it was vegan,? And therefore, they asked, could people please give a trigger warning if they were posting about dairy or meat products? I wasn’t sure if they were joking or not! That one caused some commotion. But when I had a look to find the post, I couldn’t - the admins must have deleted it unfortunately.

The Melbourne Freegan Co-op Instagram Page
I haven’t followed this page, but it exists.

The Freegans of Melbourne's Northern Suburbs Facebook Group
This Facebook group is similar to the Melbourne Freegan Co-op group listed above, but younger, smaller, and less active. I think it started up due to some arguments/disagreements between some members in the other group.

The Definitive Guide to Dumpster Diving
I think this article is written by a Canadian. I skimmed over it and it looks good.

The Weed Foragers Handbook
This is an excellent little book by Melbourne locals Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland, giving info on their twenty favourite weeds. I cite this book as I mentioned edible weeds in this post a few times, and this is where I learnt about them.

Wikipedia Article on Dumpster Diving
A global and wide perspective on dumpster diving.

“How to Dumpster Dive” Wiki How article

Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
This is a feature length documentary from 2014 that I saw when it came out, and quite enjoyed and recommend watching if you can find it. It’s based in North America, and is about a couple who pledge to live off discarded food and what they learn about food waste along the way.

War on Waste program on ABC

Radio National Blueprint for Living podcast on Dumpster Diving

“Hungry Hippies Ignore Health Warnings” Herald Sun article
This is the article on dumpster diving for which I was interviewed for and I feature in the main photo. It appeared on page 5 of the Herald Sun on April 10, 2017. Unfortunately the article is locked behind a paywall (you won’t be able to read it unless you’re a subscriber) but I’ve posted a photo of the article that appeared in the paper copy above.

“‘Let them eat bin cake’: The food waste warriors dumpster-diving for their supper” article in The Age

“‘I am not buying things’: why some people see ‘dumpster diving’ as the ethical way to eat” article on The Conversation

A two-minute clip about dumpster diving on ABC news

“Dumpster Diving Should Be Legal” article on the Huffington Post

“More treasure than trash: Dumpster diving continues to rise across Australia” article on 9 News

“Freegan food: Would you dumpster dive for your weekly meals?” article on ABC News

“Dumpster diver” article on SMH

“Chronicles of a Novice Dumpster Diver in Melbourne” article on the CERES website

“Dumpster diving 101: Frank eats out of bins” article on the Greenpeace website

Lentil as Anything
‘Pay what you feel’ vegetarian restaurants, run partly by volunteers and using some donated food. There is one in Thornbury, Abbotsford, St Kilda (all in Melbourne), and Newtown (Sydney).

Food Not Bombs
A group of collectives who share free vegan and vegetarian food with others, most of which is surplus food from groceries, bakeries and markets, and would otherwise go to waste. 

Second Bite
An organisation that provides access to fresh, nutritious food for people in need across Australia. They rescue surplus food from across the retail network, and redistribute it to more than 1,300 local charities around the country providing food relief to people in need.