Chronicles of a novice dumpster diver in Melbourne


Almost one year ago, I started working casually at
OzHarvest rescuing food going to waste and delivering it to people in need around Melbourne. I feel very privileged to be exposed to what goes on behind the scenes of the food retail industry in Melbourne. It has been an eye-opening journey and I would like to take this opportunity to share my experience with you.

Me and my van on a shift at OzHarvest

 

The tale of an inconvenient truth by an OzHarvest driver

We have heard a lot recently about food waste and the massive impact it has on the environment, in terms of methane emission in landfills but also all the resources that go into growing that food. When we talk about food waste, we often picture this:

Food waste as we picture it

Well, let me show you what we call “food waste” in the world of food rescue:

Surplus eggs at the end of the laying period that cannot be sold to supermarkets


Surplus restaurant quality food rescued from Channel 7’s Restaurant Revolution showOver a tonne of fresh produce, meat and dairy rescued from the Woolworths stand at the Royal Melbourne Show last year

Surplus bread (all the pallets on the left side) from a high end commercial bakery

Pallets of drinks that are approaching their ‘Best Before Date’

Surplus fruit and veggies that supermarkets have taken off their shelves because they have new stock coming in and/or the vegetable/fruit is showing one too many signs of ripeness (we usually try to stack things a bit better as we need to need to fit a lot more in the van!)

Office and event catering surplus

Yummy food prepared during Cooking For A Cause, all from rescued ingredients


The pictures say it all and as you can see, the food “waste” I am talking about is perfectly edible and beautiful food that does not deserve to go into the bin!

Thanks to social enterprises like OzHarvest, all the pictured food was saved and ended up in the tummy of a hungry person in Melbourne. The charities we work with include women shelters, soup vans, food emergency relief centres, youth services, school breakfast clubs, special accommodations for mental health and the disadvantaged. All rescued food is dropped-off the same day at these agencies before they are redistributed within their networks – either as is, or after being turned into nutritious cooked meals.

Every year since opening in Melbourne just over two years ago, OzHarvest has been rescuing exponentially more and more food. Last year we rescued 140,000 kg of food (equivalent to 425,000 meals). While it is great to allocate this excess food to those who need it in Melbourne, we also know that even with the combined efforts of other food rescue charities such as Food Bank, Second Bite and Fare Share, what we are working with is only the tip of the iceberg and a sample of a much larger glitch in our system.

When you have seen with your own eyes the quality and amount of food that gets wasted and you hear that 2 million people rely on food relief in Australia, with agencies not able to meet the growing demand, it is really hard to comprehend that these contrasting realities coexist in our society.

A go at dumpster diving by a novice food rescue warrior

As I uncovered the phenomenon of good food going to waste, one of the other drivers at OzHarvest casually explained to me that he never steps into a supermarket, and instead gets all his food from the bins of a few shops around him. He would come to work sometimes bragging about how he was still full from the feast he foraged the night before!

That sparked my curiosity; I started to read a bit more about dumpster diving in general but was struggling to find specific information about Melbourne. I put a call out for experienced dumpster divers in my area on social media in the hopes of joining them on their runs. I just had to see it for myself! My attempts failed; it seems there aren’t many dumpster divers in South Yarra for obvious reasons! This added another edge to my quest – what would dumpster diving look like in affluent South Yarra??

Armed with a few pieces of advice from my dumpster diver friends from the North and some cleverly put together public google maps, I managed to come up with a plan, or rather a route, to visit some of the most known wasteful retailers. On a Friday at 6 pm, dressed in loose black clothing and a torch, I was ready.

First stop was a bakery (which I’ll call Bakery 1) in Hawksburn Village. I parked at the back where I located their bins just as they were closing the shop and waited in the car for any signs of the abominable accounts that I had heard about their practices. After 30 minutes, the staff started to come out to dispose of large black bin bags. 1, 2, 3… after nearly 8 rounds of that same routine, things quietened down. It was time to come out and do it! Despite the bin being locked I was able to lift the lid and open a few of these bags and from what I could see, it was full of fresh, untouched bread and pastries. I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was legal, so it all happened very quickly under a lot of stress! I decided to quickly take a bag away to inspect away from the scene. Once in a safer environment, I discovered to my utmost surprise and disbelief that I had just laid my hands on 6kg worth of unsold croissants and scrolls of the day… I assume the 7 bags I left behind had similar contents. We ate a few at home and there was nothing wrong with them. Not being a huge fan of Bakery 1 ourselves, I gave most of it away to friends. Even though I had heard about it before, the reality of the scandal of commercial food waste really hit me hard that night.

Heavy bag of fresh pastries from Bakery 1’s bin

Some of the bounty exposed (we had already eaten and put in the freezer the best bits, this is the picture that I sent to my friends asking if they wanted any of it!)


Second stop was Bakery 2 in manicured Toorak Village. I couldn’t find their bins at the back of the shop so I checked out the front on Toorak Road. The staff inside were cleaning and all the shelves were empty so the leftovers must have already ended somewhere. In front of the shop was a regular 120L wheelie bin that seemed to be overflowing, and I thought… “Nooooo! Really??? Right here on Toorak Road in the open??” The answer was yes, the picture tells the rest of the story.

Bakery 2’s bin on Toorak Road overflowing with untouched pastries and cakes


So it was a successful mission and I was still in shock from what I discovered. However, I wondered if dumpster diving was really such a big movement as described in my readings. Who were these people? Students? Homeless? Activists? During my research I stumbled upon this article that mentions some urban foraging activity at the Queen Victoria Market – I had been told previously that it was a well-known, reliable and abundant source of free food. So you guessed it, I headed off to the market on a Sunday at 4pm which is the perfect time just after closing. I arrived there and quickly spotted the “Food Waste Only” containers in between the aisles that I’d read about, as well as the man operating the small forklift emptying them to a larger container. I had to beat him to the containers which was a challenge in some of the narrow alleys.

QV market’s “Food Waste Only” container overflowing

Inside a “Food Waste Only” containers

Abandoned strawberries left on top of a bin


The hunt was again very successful and I got to see other dumpster divers which was the main purpose of this visit. A few people were casually walking around with their trolley, poking at bins and abandoned boxes and picking up what looked delectable. It was like shopping for free bargains in a slow-paced, informal and exclusive market! On that particular day, there were mainly Asian men and women, adults and elderly. I got to speak with a few of them; they all seem to be regulars and were talking about it like it was the most normal and common thing to do. On the contrary, I was clearly standing out as a newbie taking pictures and running around in excitement with the bounties that I found. Here is a picture of my scavenging, which was plenty enough to cook nutritious meals for a whole week for two!

A fellow dumpster diver in action

My bounty foraged from the QV market


After the high from getting a week’s worth of free fruit and vegetables, I was once again horrified to face the reality of our wasteful society. I think one of the reasons that allows this to happen is that it is invisible and unknown to most of us. I wanted to share this story to make you all aware of what is going on at the end of trading hours (without having to go and spy in the dark yourself!) and I hope that I have planted a seed for more respectful practices and attitudes towards food in our city.

Original post on the Sustainability Hub – http://sustainability.ceres.org.au

By Emmanuelle Delomenede, CERES Outreach Educator

By | 2017-02-28T08:40:58+00:00 March 28th, 2016|CERES Education|19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Kristine July 14, 2016 at 7:17 am - Reply

    Great article! Are you still dumpster diving?

    • Michelle Sanahon July 25, 2016 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Krissy! Glad that you enjoyed the article 😀 I haven’t made any more attempts at dumpster diving in South Yarra however I moved to Northcote a couple of months ago and I immediately contacted my colleague at OzHarvest that I mentioned who is a regular dumspter diver for some tips in the area… and turns out there are heaps! I have been out a few times (enrolled a colleague in my team here along the way :b) and got enough food for a week! The food from the dumpsters is not always the healthiest and best quality so I’ll be certainly doing it again but in moderation 🙂 – Emmanuelle

  2. Amber November 29, 2016 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    This is great! I appreciate your story as I’m in the South Yarra area too.

    Today I went on my first dumpster diving expedition and I must say it was extremely unsuccessful. I hit up Balaclava, Elsternwick, parts of South Yarra, and Richmond, and I actually didn’t find anything. I did see a few things at the bottom of empty dumpsters (like cans of coconut cream) but I couldn’t reach them. 🙁

    I’m going to have another go tomorrow. Your story gives me hope! I know exactly where your “Bakery 1” is so maybe I’ll check it out 🙂

    • Michelle Sanahon December 14, 2016 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Amber! Woo congrats on your first dumpster dive 😀 From my experience and talking to a few dumpster divers around me, it does take a few goes when you’re new to an area to find the sweet spots and times, and there are days when the dive is not as bountiful BUT overall definitely worth it. I can guarantee you’ll find yourself some treats very soon!! Thank you for sharing your experience and standing up for all these resources & farmers involved 🙂 – Emmanuelle

  3. Mummy D January 9, 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Fabulous article! I had regular OH deliveries in west melbourne so firsty, love your teams work 🙂 you aren’t the french lady by any chance are you? You look alike lol
    I am so curious about diving too – I used to dive as a kid as my family was poor, and I saw biscuits in the big bin so that was me every Tuesday after school lol! Taking home a trolley full, feeling accomplished.
    I’d really like to do it again, the waste is appauling! Thanks for the inspiration

    • Michelle Sanahon January 19, 2017 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Hi! Thank you for your support! Our purpose would not be fully accomplished without the hard work and generosity of the amazing agencies we work with so big shout out to them!! Not sure if you are a volunteer, employee or client at one of these? And yes you guessed it right, I am the French female driver 😀 I totally understand what you felt when you were a kid, you really have a sense of pride and respect for that rescued food. It is also a lot tastier! I think you should enroll a friend with the prospect of a bounty of free treats, do some research online on nearby potential diving spots and get out there! All the best. – Emmanuelle

  4. Anna-Lena February 7, 2017 at 9:24 am - Reply

    Hi Emmanuelle, i’m a journalist and interested in having a chat to you about dumpster diving. it would be great if you could get in touch with me via email. Thank you and kind regards, Anna-Lena

    • Michelle Sanahon February 10, 2017 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Anna- Lena, many thanks for your interest and absolutely open to a chat, I’ll be in touch via email! – Emmanuelle

  5. Jules Cote-bilodeau February 26, 2017 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Such a great article! There’s also a google map with pin location of dumpsters in melbourne area that you can find easily on internet ! As a traveller getting really low on money I feel stupid I always paid for my food, and never considered dumpster diving! I will now invastigate and hopefully get some food 🙂

    • Emmanuelle March 30, 2017 at 11:23 am - Reply

      Hi Jules, thanks for reading and your feedback 🙂 Yes I have seen and used this map before, it is very handy and a lot of the content is still relevant! Once you start opening your eyes to all the sources of free food around us (your own backyard, food swaps, edible weeds, foraging, dumpsters…), you truly barely need the supermarkets anymore for your fruit & veggies it is very satisfying and empowering! Have fun with your first dive, it will be so exciting!

  6. Claire March 26, 2017 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    Hi Krissy! I love your blogg. I live in South Australia and have started dumpster diving again after having become unemployed. I started dumpster diving about two years ago when i was in a similar situation, but stopped when i found employment. However circumstances have forced me to once again turn to dumpster diving, both to feed myself and my pets. Since i started d.d. i have found everything from near new kitchen and electrical items to cleaning products, to clothes (a couple of times i have scored new shoes still in their boxes and once i got a smart phone that was thrown away by the supermarket because it did not have a charger) to personal hygiene products and standard grocery lines. Last night i hit three different sites and managed to get in date milk (full cream) x 2 containers, a packet of high end pate (still cold and in date) a full unopened bbq chicken cooked that evening and still very hot. Several smaller bags of bbq ckicken pieces, several pieces of end of ham and bacon, packet of four gourmet organic potatoes (still in packaging) a full 500gram unopened packet of San Remo pasta and some loose fruit and vegetables. The highlight of the night was when i found a brand new (high end) stewing saucepan wrapped in plastic, that was minus its glass see through lid. (I have seen then on the shelves at Supermarket (X) and theyretail for around $60.00

    I fed some of the cooked chicken to my pets as soon as i got home (which was around midnight) and then went to bed. This morning i opened up the gourmet pate (three different types in the packet) and ate some of that (delicious) along with a cup of gourmet Jasmine and Pear Flowered tea, (which i got d.d. last week) Wonderful.

    Just an afterthought, d.d. is great, but there are times when it is not advisable. (e.g. during heat waves or downpours where the changes of rain/moisture and or heat risks damaging or spoiling food, in a very short time frame.. Also people need to be really mindful that it is technically illegal and that some retail sites employ security guards and or have sensor cameras and or alarms that will go off if they detect someone tampering with bins or in an out of areas zone. On a lighter night, it makes sound economic sense and apart from the occasionally jucky substance or bad smells, i actually enjoy doing it!

    LONG LIVE DUMPSTER DIVING!!!

    • Emmanuelle March 30, 2017 at 11:49 am - Reply

      Hi Claire, thanks for sharing your story with us – such good findings you’ve had! Yes I’ve also found quite often great kitchen equipment like salad bowls, can opener etc, so exciting! Thank you for highlighting considerations about temperature and weather when dumpster diving – really true, we need to be aware of the risks and apply our common sense. I am very confused myself about whether it is or not legal, I’ve heard different stances on the topic and have not found a clear answer yet. What I have been using as a guide for myself is avoiding bins that have a ‘no trespassing’ sign but also mainly talking to other experienced divers in the area. Wishing you lots more of diving treats findings!

      • Kate May 18, 2017 at 5:51 am - Reply

        Hello I’m a single mum and I’m skating in each fortnight to make rent and buy food etc. I’m in the inner north and you mentioned there are some good spots to DD around here. Are you able to be more specific with locations please? Cheers Kate

        • Emmanuelle May 29, 2017 at 12:07 pm - Reply

          Hi Kate, I can’t mention any specific locations here publicly as I would not want to threaten the access to these bins for other people that might use/need them but I can recommend a couple of open resources online where you can find very valuable and reliable info :’Melbourne Dumpster Map’ Google Map and ‘Freegan Melbourne’ Facebook group. Hope this helps, many thanks for your message.

  7. Izy Delahunty May 23, 2017 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    Hi Emmanuelle,
    I’m a student journalist writing about the environmental and social benefits of dumpster diving, would you be interested in having an interview about it? I’d love to chat with you as I am an experienced diver myself! It would be great if you could get in touch via email. Thanks, Izy

  8. Andrew Lee May 28, 2017 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Do you know any areas in South Melbourne or Albert Park as well as the City area in Melbourne?

    Fellow interest and a novice at dumpster diving.

    • Emmanuelle May 29, 2017 at 12:15 pm - Reply

      Hi Andrew, I don’t personally know these areas’ diving spots however the two resources that I have shared with Kate in the comment above should have some information. Good luck!!

  9. Owen M. July 25, 2017 at 11:11 am - Reply

    It makes me cringe to see how food goes to waste through spoilage, but what more if the food is still good and edible but has to be thrown away just for the sake of business profit? Your article brings to mind the novel/movie series Hunger Games. I think if the government and charity organisations would have a platform that connects supermarkets, food shops, and restaurants with their soup kitchens and other distribution lines, that can help lessen food wastage and hunger for the poor people, too in a win and win situation. Incentives like tax rebates can also encourage businessmen to extend some efforts in charity and environmental programs.

  10. Claire December 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    Hi to everyone on this site. Thought I would leave a comment about BIN DIVING over Christmas and the new year period (in S.A). I went on a B.D expedition on Saturday and Sunday just past. Saturday was okay but Sunday pretty much netted me enough food, to last until I get paid again (I am currently on Newstart) I got enough food to feed myself and my pets until the end of this week. I will go B.D’ing again on the weekend. In regards to whether it is legal or not, I understand its a bit of a grey area, but I guess you need to be mindful of the following. If a bin is inside a locked area (e.g. behind a locked or unlocked gate (but still a gate) or is locked and you either climb into a locked area or break locks or hinges to get to food (deliberately) then you could technically be charged with trespassing, illegally entering property or loitering with intent to commit a felonious act or deliberate and wilful damage to property. However if a bin is facing a public walkway or not encased behind a fence or gate and is unlocked, then you cannot be charged with illegally entering a property or damaging property. I personally try and err on the side of caution and will (wherever and whenever possible) go bin diving when nobody is around (or there are as few persons around as humanly possible) I also make every attempt to close lids after I have opened them and return any rubbish back to the bin, that might have fallen out. I also don’t as a rule advertise to all and sunder (these blogs aside) that I am bin diving and at what times, I do these trips. (Not everyone in this world is trustworthy or has MY best interests at heart) (This is to keep ME safe) I also take care when I am driving alone and make sure that when I do go bin diving late at night, I do NOT put myself in a situation, where either I can be honed into a space by anyone in particular. I haven’t had a lot of issues, except one time in the early hours of the morning when a guy thought I had parked opposite his shed to break into it, and had come out of his house swinging a piece of two by four. (After he realised I was ONLY interested in going through the Supermarket bin across the road, he left me alone (Nevertheless, it shook me up somewhat and I now carry a can of pepper spray (dog repellent) in the car.)

    I have been bin diving now near to where I live, for about two years and I guess the best thing I can say about bin diving, is that it has kept me and my pets (fed) (and me sometimes clothed) more than once. Having intermittent work at best ( I survive on a mix of short term contract work and newstart) .I can say that without bin diving, I would be at serious risk of not being able to feed myself and my pets. 85% of meat products I feed my pets (cats and dogs) comes from the bins. Most dairy products I consume (and feed my pets) comes from the bins. Bakery goods comes from the bins. ALL MY FRUIT and VEGETABLES comes from the bins. The only products I buy at the supermarkets I shop at (I divide my shopping between Aldi, Coles and Woolworths, as they are cheapest) .are those that I either never find (or rarely) find in the bins (such as cat litter, toilet rolls, shampoo, toothpaste etc.) Everything else (consumable wise) I try as much as possible, to get from bins. Yeah some people might find it a bit of a yucky topic, but then again so is good food and perfectly useable consumables going to the tip??? Aside from food products, I have managed to collect numerous perfectly useable products out of bins (everything from bubble wrap, to food grade containers, electronics, kitchenware to scrap metal. (All destined to go to landfill) so will someone please explain to me what I am doing wrong here? I believe that I am being proactive and at least attempting to make a dent in the huge waste problems that we have here in Australia (and other parts of the developed world)

    For anyone contemplating bin diving, I would suggest they start in the following way; Get to know supermarkets NEAR to you. (I have found smaller independent supermarkets to be easier to get products out of, as opposed to larger multinational shopping complexes) (They seem to be less inclined to lock their bins or install high level security (such as hourly security patrols) Find out what times the stores OPEN and CLOSE. (Usually on the front door of the main entrance) Find out when stores are going to be opened and closed over holiday and long weekend time periods (this is usually a bonanza period for bin divers as supermarkets dispose of a lot of waste, if they know they are going to be shut for a couple of days at a time.)Get to know WHERE the bins are located and what entrances the employees leave by (usually its a door near the back dock/portal near where the bin/s are located. Be patient (I have sat in my car for up to three hours at a time, waiting for EVERYONE to leave) Don’t take stupid risks (breaking into a site for a couple of loaves of bread and a few cartons of milk, only to end up with a criminal conviction, is just NOT worth it!) Be aware that you are probably NOT the only person who is bin diving in your area, so please ONLY take as much as you need and don’t destroy or damage produce that others can use. Also shop inside the stores you intend to go bin diving in. (Even if its just to buy a box of matches or a 90 cent bar of chocolate) Casual talk to the checkout chicks (such as you must have had a long day…….do you have to stay back after the store closes)can give you a reasonable idea of how long, you will have to wait, until all supermarket staff are gone, and you can get down to some serious bin diving….. and once you are free to dive, good luck and go your hardest!! The rewards are great….

    if anyone wants any more personal info they can email me via
    claireobeythekitty@gmail.com

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