Dumpster diving hailed as a cost-effective alternative lifestyle

With the cost of living soaring and households across the country struggling, some Australians are promoting a cost-effective alternative lifestyle.

Though it is considered extreme by most people, proponents say that binge diving is a solution to the food waste problem and food insecurity felt by many.

Dumpster diving hailed as a cost-effective alternative lifestyle

As the name suggests, bin diving involves rummaging through garbage cans to collect edible food or useful items thrown away as trash.

Camera IconDumpster divers find hundreds of dollars worth of food and goods are thrown away in bins. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

Most dumpster divers stick to commercial bins outside supermarkets or food companies, although municipal cleanups have also yielded a good harvest.

NSW resident Markus Schuldig is enthusiastic about the eco-friendly and economical method of reducing waste going to landfills while filling empty stomachs.

He’s been diving for the past four years – one year of which he only ate food he found in the trash.

“I’ve never been hungry,” he said.

“I got smarter and smarter at seeing what is being wasted. You see opportunities where you need them.”

Mr. Guilty started flipping through bins as he walked his dog around Sydney, and he was shocked at how much edible food was wasted each day.

Camera icon Markus Schuldig is an avid diver who has saved an estimated $500 a week by snooping through dumpsters in Sydney. Credit provided: News Corp Australia

He noted that most food is thrown away while still wrapped in plastic, which protects it from contamination and prevents it from ending up in landfills. Environmental data shows that lettuce takes two weeks to break down naturally but more than 25 years in plastic wrap.

Dumpster divers like Mr. Guilty strive to minimize their environmental impact by reclaiming food destined to blow up overcrowded garbage dumps.

“It’s normal to check for resources that would otherwise be lost,” he said.

“(We) spread them out and do something better with them.”

When diving through bins, the expert diver said he was looking for items protected from the surrounding debris and in good condition.

“I rarely go through or into bins,” he said.

“I look at the top of the bins and pick the easily accessible items. That’s enough to get enough.”

Camera Icon Millions of tons of food are wasted in Australia every year. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

When selecting food from the bins, Mr. Guilty said he always uses his instincts to judge food quality and freshness. He has found that the expiration date does not necessarily mean the food is no longer good.

While freshness recommendations vary from person to person, there is always one exception.

“Everyone is lowering their standards for binding chocolate,” he laughs.

The former high-paid professional estimates that he saves more than $500 a week by sifting through trash cans and municipal cleaning services for food, clothing, and anything else he needs at the time.

Meanwhile, the 2021 National Food Waste Strategy Feasibility Study revealed that Australian households spend up to $2500 yearly on wasted food.

Nationally, food waste costs Australians a staggering $36.6 billion a year. According to The Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre, Australia wastes approximately 7.6 million tons of food annually, 70 percent of which is edible.

Camera IconDumpster divers often find perishable goods in bins, which they have to sort for freshness. Credit: Included

The most wasted foods are bread, vegetables, fruits, bagged salads, and leftovers.

Founder and CEO of food rescue organization OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn, was shocked to see how much edible food was thrown away when she went diving.

“Dumpster diving is a sad reflection that good food is still being wasted unnecessarily,” she said.

OzHarvest is working with businesses across Australia to collect unsaleable food and send it to those in need, but Ms. Kahn said more needs to be done.

“Food waste occurs throughout the supply chain, and while OzHarvest can salvage food from food companies such as supermarkets and restaurants, a huge amount is still lost,” she said.

“More than a third (2.5 million tons) comes from our homes!”

It’s a problem divers have seen firsthand.

Camera IconChocolate is one of the most prized finds for bin divers. Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr. Schuldig explains that divers are generally motivated by making the most of what is available.

“There are a lot of intelligent people who see that it’s insane not to use the resources we have, but there are people who have a hard time and need[the food],” he said.

The number of people needing food security has increased rapidly over the past year. Ms. Khan said the demand for food aid has reached “a record high” amid the perfect storm of the pandemic, inflation, and rising cost of living.

“We’ve seen demand rise in the past month,” she says.

The number of people seeking food aid has increased by more than 62 percent from pre-Covid levels, as charity workers report that people have chosen between food and medicine.

According to last year’s Food Bank Hunger Report, one in six adults was not getting enough to eat from 12 months to July 2021. Kahn said this figure would likely rise as the price of basic commodities rises.

Camera icon Vegetables are some of the most wasted food items. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia

“Continuous supply disruptions and economic uncertainty have made it harder for people to meet their core needs,” she said.

“There is an urgent need to address this problem at a national level as it will only get worse.”

During his year of eating exclusively from the bin, Mr. Guilty said he was surprised to learn that even hungry people had their limits. He cited several occasions when homeless people declined his offer of food from a trash can, sometimes with an air of disgust.

“Even the homeless have higher standards than me,” he laughed.

The NSW resident said the food refusals demonstrate the entrenched stigma about bin diving that he hopes people can overcome.

Mr. Guild is the moderator of a popular Facebook group dedicated to dumpster diving in Sydney, with over 4,000 members. He said the group had seen a “steady stream of people coming in” as environmental awareness and costs rise.

Camera IconDumpster divers often find refrigerated goods that are still cold in the bins. Credit: News Corp Australia

As a long-time advocate for chasing frugal bins, Mr. Schuldig said he hoped people would become more open-minded.

“I want to encourage people to be more creative,” he said.

“I almost think that if you live in the bigger cities, you need next to nothing – you have to open your eyes.

“There are useful things everywhere; I haven’t found nothing. Everything is possible.”

Lori J. Kile
I love to write and create. I love photography, design, travel and art. I am a full time freelance writer and photographer.I am very excited to be creating new content and opportunities for my readers.