If you’ve ever wondered what’s involved in dumpster diving for food, you’re in the right place! In this Eco Chat I’m joined by a dumpster diving friend of mine, Dushan Popovic. We’re chatting everything dumpster diving including how to get started, the best times to go diving, and how to come out to your friends as a dumpster diver.

Let’s Dive In!

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Laura:

Welcome to Eco Chat, Dushan. It’s really, really cool to have you here.

Dushan:

Thanks so much for having me, Laura. I’m really excited to do the show.

What compels someone to go diving in dumpsters for food? Why did you start?

Laura:

So I’m curious. What compels someone like you to go diving into dumpsters for food? Why did you even start, or what got you started?

Dushan:

I think I’ve always been concerned about the amount of food that we waste, and I’d come across a girl, a really cool chick at a permaculture course some time ago who was quite into dumpster diving and had a bit of a chat with her then, and that sort of piqued my interest. I’d seen documentaries about it, and just knowing … You’re probably well aware of the stats, but generally, about a third of the food that we produce for human consumption globally gets thrown out, literally wasted, which I think is something in the order of 1.3 billion tonnes of food, and that’s always just been totally shocking for me. So I guess I just wanted to do something about that at a very local level, and dumpster diving seemed like the perfect way to solve the problem.

What do you find Dumpster Diving? What are Supermarkets Throwing Away?

Laura:

It is a perfect way to solve the problem right at the ground, right where it’s happening. Tell me. What are some of the sort of things that you find? I gather you’re doing this dumpster diving at the back of supermarkets, not necessarily at the back of restaurants. What are supermarkets throwing away? Yeah. What are you finding?

Dushan:

Yeah, I haven’t explored restaurants yet. That might be another little source for me, and I think what sort of got me started was after talking to people and seeing about this whole dumpster diving thing, most supermarkets generally lock their dumpsters, and it wasn’t until I had sort of driven past one by chance, and the lid was up, and I thought, “Oh, hang on. Might be a little bit of an opportunity here.” So I just sort of went ferreting around in there and was absolutely blown away at some of the food that was in there. So literally, supermarkets are just throwing absolutely everything that you could imagine away. So often, bread, vegetables, fruits, and even yogurts, and milk dairy and meat products are obviously a little bit risky because of the chance of them going off and being a little bit dangerous, but fruit with literally not even blemishes on them, sometimes, I scratch my head as to what someone would think would be wrong with this that would need to end up in the bin. They’re in there in the dumpster.

Laura:

And I think when we first got started talking about this, you were telling me about a loaf of sourdough, I think, and like what you were just saying with the fruit thing, you can’t imagine why it’s actually in the bin in the first place, but I recall you saying this sourdough, and you were scratching your head why, and you noticed it had been labelled incorrectly. It was still in date. It was perfect, but maybe it was olive sourdough in a plain sourdough bag or something like that, baked fresh in the store that day. I mean, that was obviously a pretty good haul that day.

Dushan:

Yeah. That was a great find, and the only problem with that was that it was, I think, a jalapeno and something sourdough that had been accidentally put into an olive sourdough wrapper, and so rather than pulling it out and putting it into the correct packet, they’d just thrown it away, and I think there were about five or six of them in the dumpster that day, but … Yeah, that one was actually within it’s “best before” date, but a lot of the times, if packaged food actually gets to the “best before” date, then obviously, legally, the supermarkets have to throw it out. I think that’s sort of where a bit of the problem lies as well. I think that, generally, people’s perceptions of where the food is okay just because it’s reached that “best before” date. I mean, maybe I’m a little bit more courageous with that type of stuff, but generally, if milk or yogurt or cream or that kind of stuff, even if it reaches its “best before” date, I’ll often eat it, I guess, a few days past that, and it’s still perfectly fine.

Laura:

We did the same thing. Of course, there’s milkshakes around on the day that the milk’s technically going off, but we find that milk is generally pretty good, sometimes up to a week later, and natural yogurt can even go a lot longer, but we’re finding that. But yeah, back on that bread haul, what have been some of the other really good hauls that you’ve had? Are there any chocolate or things like that in dumpsters?

Dushan:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Definitely. I’ve pulled some boxes of Kinder Surprise out. I think boxes of M&M’s. So that’s the thing. Particularly, the ones that … packaged food that’s just gone to its “best before” date, chocolate, that’ll all go, generally, in a sort of big box. So you can get some pretty good hauls. Had some Mentos packets and that kind of thing, which I actually shared them around the office. I hadn’t actually told people they’d been pulled out the bin, though.

Do you have dumpster diving friends? Is there like a secret society of dumpster divers and you tip each other off to the good finds? Or do you all have your patches that you protect?

Laura:

I could imagine that. So let’s talk about the community side of it. I’ve got this image of you dressed up in black with a balaclava on diving into a dumpster in the middle of the night, but yeah, I’d love for you, first, to share with us the reality of what it looks like, but also, I’m really curious if you’ve got dumpster-diving friends. Is there a secret society of dumpster divers, and do you tip each other off for the good finds? Like, “Oh, I’ve found like five boxes of Mentos. Here, you can have one,” or is it quite secretive, and you’re all protective of your patch, and you’ve got your own little dumpsters? I don’t know. Tell us what it’s like in reality.

Dushan:

Yeah. I’m probably, I guess, a little bit on the underground side. I haven’t come across too many other dumpster divers, and there’s not … A lot of my friends laugh at me about it, but they haven’t joined in. My wife thinks it’s pretty cool, and a lot of the stuff I pull out of there, she sort of shares in my joy when we get to harvest, and she’s joined me on one diving expedition, but yeah. There’s a massive underground community, I think, and the girl that I was talking about before who sort of first introduced me to it, she was at the point where she had keys to a lot of the locked bins, and I guess a little bit of a under-the-table kind of agreement with the security or people who were collecting the bins that they would actually leave them unlocked for her and those types of things. So some of the people that are probably a little bit more serious with it, they sort of have those kinds of agreements. The thing that my wife in particular sort of laughs about quite a bit … Obviously, I work in the corporate world, so I’m usually dressed quite … in business attire, and she often laughs when she sits in the car and watches me in my full suit diving in through a dumpster.

How do you officially come out to friends as a Dumpster Diver?

Laura:

Wow. I guess that’s the sort of image I had, and we’ve known each other for a couple months now. As an environmental engineer in the same office as you are, so you’re a corporate engineer, look at you right now, show up back inside, lovely crisp shirt, and I think we did a sustainability training altogether, and then we kept chatting afterwards, and then you came out to me as a dumpster diver, and that’s another question I’ve got. How do you officially come out friends as a dumpster diver? Yeah. Is it something that you’re proud of or something that you’re ashamed of in some circles?

Dushan:

Yeah. I’m quite proud of it because I think it’s such an important issue that needs people to really focus and to address. Some people often find it a little bit disgusting. I think my mother-in-law is a little bit sort of taken aback when I talk about it, so I usually try to avoid the conversations with people like that, but a lot of other people … I often use it as a bit of a starting point for conversation because you can really get something interesting reactions from people, and I think because, yeah, it’s such a … The reason I do it, I guess, is an environmental one, and I think the only way that we can actually counteract a lot of the damage that we’re doing is to change people’s attitudes. So we need to start those kind of conversations so that … I don’t think that me talking to someone might necessarily make them become a dumpster diver, but hopefully, it would actually get them to consider their own attitudes towards food and food waste and possibly change some of their behaviour that way.

Laura:

I think that’s really true, and I guess a lot of the small things that I do in my lifestyle to live simpler and have less impact, a lot of my family and friends look at them and, sometimes, might start changing their behaviour on the periphery, or they get curious about it and ask questions, and then over time, they might make some changes, too. But you’re right. By being out there and talking about it and making it a normal part of conversation or just something that you do … Even joking about it, like you said, I think it helps normalise some of these things, and perhaps people are thinking, “Oh, well, he does that. That’s really cool. That’s not for me, but I think I might do this instead.”

Dushan:

Yeah. You always say about making green mainstream, so maybe that’s one of the ways to just sort of make joking conversations, then people realise, “Oh, hang on. Maybe these people are onto something.”

Have you ever been worried about your safety while dumpster diving or getting caught by the authorities?

Laura:

So you’ve invited me to come dumpster diving with you, and I’ve accepted the challenge, and I’m looking forward to it, but I will be honest and say that I am a little bit apprehensive, and I’m kind of apprehensive because I’m worried about getting caught, and if I’m going to get locked up or arrested or my fact is going to be in the newspaper or all over the news or anything like that, or even maybe we go to a dumpster that’s on someone else’s patch and a gang turns on us or something like that. Have you ever been worried about your safety or getting caught while dumpster diving? Have you got any stories, or do you take any precautions to make sure that you stay safe?

Dushan:

Not so much physical safety issues, but certainly, some of the dumpsters that I go to have CCTV cameras and that kind of thing around. Usually, I’ll just sort of stare straight into the camera and give them a nod, but I’ve never run into any trouble. There are some other people, obviously, that I’ve come across at some of the dumpsters, and usually, we’ll either just sort of say hello or maybe split up some of the reapings, but usually, I try to go alone and at night when no one else is around, and yeah. I think the issue for me is that although it probably is illegal, it’s not really something that should get me in trouble because I feel like I’m doing a service to the universe. So yeah, nothing to be worried about.

Laura:

I wonder if that argument would hold up in the court of law. “So Dushan, we’re charging you with stealing food from this organisation or trespassing.” and you say “I’m doing a service to the universe”…..

Dushan:

Yeah. Hopefully, I’d get a bit of a hippy judge. Maybe they’d let me off.

What are your best tips for people wanting to get started dumpster diving?

Laura:

Let’s hope that they exist. All right. So for our listeners today who are curious about going dumpster diving, have you got any tips for them on how they can get started? So what do you recommend? What are some of the traps for young players?

Dushan:

So I think that first thing to get started is to actually find a dumpster that’s not locked. A lot of the bigger chain supermarkets will actually put a padlock on their dumpsters, and so then, the only way to get in is to … I do know some people that have either been able to get the keys to the padlocks, of they’ll break them. I, generally, wouldn’t recommend that because you don’t want to be … I think you would then possibly get in trouble for vandalism or trespassing. So have a look around, do a bit of scouting, and try to find dumpsters that are left open. So probably the first tip is, yeah, do a bit of a reconnaissance mission, and then, I guess the next tip would be try to find out when food is actually thrown in the bin at those supermarkets so that you can try to get there as quick as possible. Often for refrigerated food and perishables, obviously, you don’t want to leave that sitting in the bin on a 40 degree day for too long. So if you can find out when a lot of that stuff’s being thrown away, and then, usually, it would be the same time daily, weekly, and whatnot, so that you can actually get there and grab it while it’s still as fresh as possible.

What’s the best time to go Dumpster Diving?

Laura:

Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. I guess that almost ticks off my next question, too. So what do you find the best times to go dumpster diving are? So do you go in the middle of the night when it’s no one around or, as you say, when you know that the food’s just been thrown out? So what is the best time?

Dushan:

Yeah. I’m maybe not that sort of routine about it. I probably go, really, whenever I have the opportunity. One of the dumpsters that I go past is on the way home from work. So I’ve been known to dive in full broad daylight, but yeah. Generally, I think because a lot of people would probably be a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. It’s better to go at night. I haven’t really been diving on super hot days. It’s probably something that I’d try to avoid. So yeah, winter and nighttime’s probably the best times, and probably the other thing worth noting, I guess, is to actually go diving when you actually need food rather than, I guess, stockpiling a whole bunch of food that you’re going to end up wasting anyway because you don’t actually need it, and I have had a couple of cases where we’ve run out of food.

It’s been quite late. Shops are shut, and I do remember one particular instance when my wife was trying to slap together a meal, probably about 10 o’clock at night, which is pretty usual for us anyway, and she needed some quite specific and obscure ingredients. I think we needed some spring onions and some leeks and some cream to get this meal done, and I said, “Oh, how about I just go for a dive and see what I can find,” and I managed to head down to my local dumpster and pick out exactly the ingredients that we needed in perfectly good condition. So yeah, that’s the other thing. I guess just go whenever you can and when you need stuff. Hopefully, the universe will provide for you.

Laura:

Gosh. What’s the chances of that? That’s really cool. That’s a really cool story. Can you ever see yourself stopping dumpster diving?

Can you ever see yourself stopping Dumpster Diving?

Dushan:

No, I don’t think I’d ever stop. In a way, I enjoy doing it, and I think that it’s important to try to use that food rather than let it go to waste. Ronni Khan from Ozharvest says that she essentially, wants to drive herself out of business in terms of using food wastage, which I guess it’s kind of the same for me. So ideally, we wouldn’t have any food to waste, so I wouldn’t have to go dumpster diving. That would be the ultimate solution, but when there’s still perfectly good food that’s in there, and it’s just going to landfill, I’ll keep doing it as much as I can.

Laura:

I’ve just got an image of you diving with grey hair and beard in your grandpa slippers and dressing gown. Ha ha!

All right. Well, thank you so much, Dushan, for coming onto Eco Chat today and sharing your experience of being a dumpster diver. I hope you sparked interest in some of our listeners to give it a go, and I know I’m definitely coming out with you next week for an After Christmas haul, which you’ve recommended is one of the best times of the year to go dumpster diving. So we’ll go give it a crack then. I guess it’s one extra step that I’m now taking to make green mainstream!!

Dushan:

Yeah. Thanks very much for having me. And so, yeah, it looks like starting that conversation just gets people thinking about these kind of things, so that’s awesome. Thanks so much for having me on Eco Chat, Laura.

Over to You?

Have you ever dived in dumpsters to rescue food? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Like this post? You may also like:

Meet Ronni Khan from Ozharvest

How to Host a Zero Waste Party

How to Reduce Food Waste in Your Home

How to Reduce Food Waste from your Pantry

How to Create a Weekly Meal Plan

Laura

Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. Fusing her professional expertise as an environmental engineer with the down-to-earth pragmatism that comes from being a busy mum, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Laura