Technology · August 3, 2022

Aussie garbage truck diver snatches huge amounts of free groceries

A savvy shopper has revealed how she spent just $300 on groceries for a whole year after she started dumpster diving for free food.

Sophie, who used to love Sydney but now lives in Denmark, documents her dumpster dives on her Instagram page, which features fresh fruit and veg spreads, packaged meats, crates of drinks and just about anything else you’ll ever find at your local Want to buy Woolies – all without spending a dime.

“I started dumpster diving myself in Sydney in October 2020…my sister sent me this video of her dumpster diving in Denmark and I was like, ‘Oh, I was wondering if you could do dumpster diving in Sydney?'” she told Opposite au podcast I have news for you.

“I was so amazed at all the things I could find in the Dumpster and it kind of shocked me.”

Sophie is part of a growing, albeit quiet, community of people who regularly frequent the industrial bins of supermarkets and grocery stores to find groceries.

While living in Australia, Sophie dumpster dived for a year, meaning she only spent a total of $300 on essentials while living here on massive amounts of freebies.

But while Sophie Dumpster dives regularly, it’s not because she “needs” for financial reasons, it’s because she “wants”.

I started doing a lot of research about the environment and seeing the impact of all these foods,” she explained.

And especially in Australia… it’s like billions of dollars just thrown away every year. It’s a huge problem.”

While the concept of dumpster diving may seem dangerous or even disconcerting, the sheer volume of edible and often expensive food being thrown away due to sell-by dates means there is a surplus of “free” food lying around in industrial bins.

That’s why Sophie started documenting her dumpster dives on Instagram – both to raise awareness of the problem of food waste in Australia and to encourage others to get involved.

Supermarkets throw away billions of dollars of edible food

According to Food Bank Australia, 7.6 million tonnes of food are lost or wasted every year, 70 percent of which is still fit for human consumption.

Despite the existence of charities and non-profit organizations dedicated to the redistribution of short-expired or damaged but edible goods, expiration dates and manufacturing defects remain the biggest sources of waste.

“I remember one day I found 12 chili sauces because one of the (glass bottles) in that pack was broken – so they just threw everything away instead of taking out the broken one and just selling the rest. But they threw everything out,” said Sophie.

“One day I came home with 11 kg of chewing gum. And I calculated that if a person has a piece of gum every day, it will last almost 10 years.

How much does it save?

Here’s exactly what Sophie brought to get ready for a house party last October:

* Prices are calculated using the current advertised prices from which the items were sourced. Where certain products could not be sourced, their Woolworths equivalent was used.

8 x Tomatoes: $1.31 (each) $10.48

4 x Avocados: $1.60 (each) $6.40

1 x Aussie Sprouts Pea Sprouts: $3.20

3 x Yellow Peppers: $3.73 (each) $11.19

3 x White Seedless Grapes: $15.11 (each) $45.33

1 x white, washed potatoes (2kg): $5

2 x Community Co Baby Lettuce Leaf Mix (300g): $5.00 (each) $10

1 x Pitango Organic Minestrone Soup (600g): $6.50

3 x La Famiglia Kitchen Traditional Garlic Bread (400g): $4.50 (each) $13.50

3 x San Marino Sopressa Mild Salami (100g): $7 (each) $21

6 x Latina Fresh Spinach & Ricotta Agnolotti (625g): $9 (each) $54

2 x Primo Duos Mild Twiggy Bites & Cheddar Cheese (50g): $4 (each) $8

6 x Paul’s Kids Yogurt Strawberry: $1.20 (each) $7.20

1 x your bakery croissants 3 or 4 pack: $2.50

1 x Woolworths Mini Banana Muffin 8-Pack: $3.75

1 x Tip Top English Muffins Original 6-pack: $5.30

1 x Coles Bagels Natural 4er Pack (360g): $2.50

2 x Burgener Whole Wheat & Seed Bread: $5.20 (each) $10.40

1 x Abbott’s Bakery Farmhouse Whole Wheat Sandwich Slice Loaf (750g): $4

3 x Bundaberg Ginger Beer (12oz): $2.90 (each) $8.70

3 x Coca-Cola Classic Soft Drink Bottle (385ml): $3.75 (each) $11.25

1 x Daily Juice Pulp-free Orange Juice (2L): $5.30

Total Value: $248

How to dive into a dumpster: rules and safety

Sophie said that in her nearly two years of dumpster diving, she learned the importance of maintaining good health and hygiene practices.

And there are other rules and practices that the dumpster diving community adheres to.

Established dumpster diver “Big B” told I’ve Got News For You that aspiring divers must abide by “the code”:

1. Safety first

Dumpster Diving is more than swinging to an industrial barrel and finding a valuable item on the edge. Most likely you will cut open garbage bags and search through the actual garbage.

“Be prepared to have the tools you need, gloves to be safe — always be safe — and use tools that make the job easier for you,” Big B said.

To make sure what you eat doesn’t make you sick, in general, don’t store products that have broken or damaged packaging.

When it comes to meat and dairy, always check for smell and be alert for possible contamination issues. With fresh fruit and veg, if it looks good, smells good, and you’ve washed it thoroughly, you should be fine.

Sophie said to make sure your fresh food from a dumpster is as fresh as possible, you should rummage through the bins in the evening, right after stores have dumped their produce. In Denmark, on the other hand, fresh produce from the day before is thrown away in the morning.

2. First come, first served

Not surprisingly, mutual respect for other divers only promotes a safer diving experience.

“If you’re going to meet someone on the dumpster, leave them alone. Say hello and just move on to the next one,” Big B said.

“If you’re asked to move on, just keep walking, don’t cause problems.”

3. Leave the bins tidier than when you arrived

Nobody likes a mess – especially when your garbage cans look like a possum got their hands on them.

But Big B also said that cleanliness in dumpster diving is more than just a respectful gesture — it also helps prevent stores from intentionally sabotaging edible products.

“If you want to continue going into those dumpsters with no problem or (without shops) locking the bins or destroying other goods, you have to leave them cleaner than you found them,” he said.

Once store dumpsters are sealed or moved to private property, it becomes illegal to dive into dumpsters. Ensuring that businesses leave their trash cans open to the public allows dumpster divers to safely and legally continue their practice.

Sophie noted how, before she left Australia, her local grocery store began “cutting open the packaging” and “smashing the fruit” before throwing it in the bin.

4. Don’t be greedy

Once you get the hang of dumpster diving, it can be tempting to stow away kilos of groceries found in a single transport.

But with so many products found near or on the sell-by date, transporting more food than you can consume or share can cause more damage and pose more health and safety risks than simply leaving it behind, Big B said.

“If you know you can share it, then share it. Otherwise, if you don’t use it or do anything with it, you’re just changing the geography of the garbage,” he added.

“I share almost 95 percent of what I find – my donation stack is bigger than my keep for myself stack.”

Originally published as How an Australian Woman Cut Her Grocery Spending to Just $300 a Year