Dumpster Diving: Trash or Treasure?

Annabel Ley is a ‘professional’ dumpster diver.

Ms Ley forages in supermarket skip bins for discarded food products, and recycles the abandoned produce into meals for housemates and friends. 

While she first began dumpster diving 10 years out of financial necessity, she says it’s become a means of prosperity and a sustainable practice in her immediate community.

 “Originally, when I was younger, I was a student and I didn’t have much money,” she says.

“Now I’m a professional, and I have a career.  It’s not about money now, but more being disgusted with all the food waste in our society. I’d rather take those resources home and share them amongst friends.”

While you might visualise dumpster diving as a grubby affair, Ms Ley says this is not the case, and there are plenty of students, backpackers, and professionals like herself going through the trash for food.

“A lot of people think we’re going through these dirty bins, but most of the stuff is covered in plastic. Unfortunately, a lot of our fruit and veg we get today is all packaged up so it’s actually pretty clean, and most of the time there’s nothing really wrong with it.”

The Australian government estimates food wastage costs the economy $20 billion each year, and have committed to developing a National Food Waste Strategy to halve that figure by 2030.

However, dumpster diving is technically illegal, and the practice is discouraged by supermarket corporations and food charities. 

A Woolworths’ spokesperson said it was considered best practice to lock the dumpsters outside of operational hours. 

“If the food in our supermarkets cannot be sold, Woolworths is committed to directing food waste to other forms of beneficial reuse,” she said. 

Food rescue group OzHarvest spokesperson Fiona Nearn said while there were adequate avenues for people in need, food waste remains a major problem in Australia. 

“Dumpster diving is a reflection of the fact there is still good food going to waste,” she said. 

“Food rescue charities are all doing their best to rescue food, but the reality is there’s still 4 million tonnes of food going to waste in this country every year.  There is still a lot more that can be done.”