I’d heard a lot about dumpster diving but never thought I’d try it. Honestly I’ve always been a little wary and intimidated. I always associated it with radical young environmental activists and super-duper hippies. It always seems like a bit risky, a bit gross, and a bit illegal.
Dumpster diving is definitely very different depending on what country, what city, and what trash can you are in. But I ever imagined it would be so easy!
What even is “dumpster diving” anyway? It’s essentially just searching waste bins for food.
As the name suggests, dumpster diving is when you forage in dumpster for food, valuable items, or anything at all. In some areas dumpster diving has gone from a taboo topic to a fun weekend activity.
It’s a personal challenge. A community-oriented event. And a way to avoid supporting unsustainable food markets.
Dumpster diving can also be a bonding moment for “alternative” consumers. A usual dumpster diver might call themselves a “freegan” or collectively, “a community of free food people”.
Why go to all that trouble for a few free vegetables?
There are many reasons why someone might investigate trash. Anyone can try out dumpster diving – from backpackers, to students, to people simply living on a budget.
You might search for free food because of economic reasons, to reduce food waste, or to have some fun scavenging with friends.
As a one-time dumpster diver I felt good that for once I wasn’t guiltily contributing to the problem by placing plastic-encased lettuce into my grocery basket. (The fact that organic produce is always covered in plastic is seriously baffling.) Dumpster diving is a way to have a neutral environmental impact by consuming perfectly good food on its way to the trash usually because of small blemishes. Instead of tons of zucchinis rotting in the garbage, I get to eat them for dinner!
Why should you Dumpster Dive? Because food waste is a huge financial and humanitarian issue worldwide.
Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world every year (for humans, that is) gets lost or wasted. Thats almost 1.3 billion tonnes of food!
Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
That means that the food waste globally amounts to 990 billion dollars. Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world’s leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty, stated that the cost to end poverty is $175 billion per year for 20 years. So If we lived in an idealistic and unrealistic world where no one wasted food ever, we could reutilize that money to irradicate poverty
Food waste is also an environmental problem, and dumpster diving helps solve it.
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:
Which is nothing like what I got from my trip to Queen Victoria Market during closing hours:
Here’s how I just walked through the largest outdoor market in Melbourne at closing time and got this. much. food.
How did I do it?
I was chatting with a friend who mentioned that many people regularly go dumpster diving at Melbourne’s largest and most touristy outdoor market, Queen Victoria Market. I looked up a few reddit pages and decided to walk over after closing hours on a Saturday.
I didn’t realize that just before closing is the most crowded time. People flock to the market before they close for better deals. A little overwhelmed by all the people, I walked around a bit awkwardly, searching for the dumpsters. After all, before today I had no need to know where the massive market dumpsters were.
It started to get a bit quieter and since I couldn’t find the dumpsters so I decided to just walk between the market stalls to see if I could find anything.
At first I just saw lots of cauliflower leaves (yuck) but then I opened a small trash behind a vegetable vendor and found bell peppers, onions, and turnips with a few blemishes. I snatched those right up!
Then I started walking in the market itself, picking up pieces of perfectly good sweet potatoes and yellow onions that had dropped on the ground. I expected them to be grimy but they were perfectly edible. Even though I knew these items wouldn’t sell, I felt like I was stealing!
Is it legal?
It depends where you are. When I lived in Montreal, dumpster diving was always done at night because it is illegal in many areas to tamper with garbage sites. In Melbourne, however, dumpster diving seems to be an accepted and even common activity. When I was Googling how to Dumpster Dive at Queen Victoria Market there were Reddit comments about how this is a way for many local asian families to get their groceries!
Is dumpster diving a good strategy while traveling?
Certainly! Traveling sustainably is important and minimizing food waste is a great tip for how to travel more sustainably. Just make sure to read up on local rules surrounding private property and garbage sites. In some places it is very illegal to go through waste, while other areas couldn’t care less. Look for dumpster diving meet-ups on Facebook or Couchsurfing to get involved with people who have probably done it before. It can be a great way to meet locals and travelers who share common ideas about sustainability and food waste.
Be safe, have fun, and go budget travel!