chronicles of a novice dumpster diver

chronicles of a novice dumpster diver

My bounty foraged from the QV Market
We have heard a lot 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

But what we’re really talking about is unopened packets of pastries, fresh, untouched fruit and vegetables, and cans of goods left to go to landfill!

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! 

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 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 this bakery 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 another bakery in 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.

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? 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.

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! 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

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.

By Emmanuelle Delomenede, CERES Educator

Bakery 2's bin on Toorak Road overflowing with untouched pastries and cakes
QV Market's 'Food Waste Only' container overflowing
Inside 'Food Waste Only' containers
Abandoned strawberries left on top of a bin
A fellow dumpster diver in action
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