Dive Inside Auckland’s Dumpsters
This is a first-hand account of dumpster diving in Auckland.
Dumpster diving is illegal in New Zealand because it is both trespassing and stealing. Love Food Hate Waste does not endorse dumpster diving. We published this anonymous blog because we wanted to raise awareness of food waste at all stages of the supply chain. If you want to help make a difference, you can encourage your local supermarket to partner with a food rescue group. You can also volunteer your time or donate money to support these food rescue groups.
As we pulled out yet another packet of flatbread, I heard a car approaching the narrow alleyway. I looked over to see the tell-tale yellow and blue on white creeping closer.
“Shit, the cops!” I called to my diving buddies. “Don’t panic, just stay calm, act normal and confident.”
That was easier said than done considering we were all wearing black outfits, beanies and head torches on a muggy night, whilst hanging out around a supermarket skip.
A few weeks ago I decided to take up my old pastime of dumpster diving. That is, willingly jumping into rubbish skips to rescue food destined for the landfill.
The rules of dumpster diving are simple: don’t leave a mess. Everyone I have been diving with is always respectful of this rule, often leaving the place tidier than they found it because the bins are no longer overflowing.
Another rule of dumpster diving is not to take more than you can actually use. There is a lot of work involved in salvaging dumpster food; checking it is safe to eat, washing produce, finding somewhere to store it, freezing, preserving and redistributing. Any surplus food from a dive gets redistributed to friends and family (with a full disclaimer of course!), where it is gratefully received.
I had been dumpster diving on multiple occasions years before, but eventually stopped going as the local bins were getting harder to access. Supermarkets were locking up their bins and installing infra-red cameras to deter people like me – hungry people looking for a free meal of food which was otherwise going to be wasted, that is. One of my best finds was a box of 11 bottles of extra virgin olive oil (the expensive brand too) thrown away because one bottle had broken and the bottles were oily. I have heard stories and seen pictures of much greater ‘scores,’ – I have even been to a house where the hallway was lined with Coke cans all rescued from the bin.
So had anything changed since I last went dumpster diving all those years ago? Would it still be possible to find food in the skips of Auckland supermarkets?
I met up with specifically acquired friends I had found online; “Wanted: People to jump in rubbish bins and possibly break the law with on Friday night.” Although my actual friends would be keen to go dumpster diving, my new diving buddies were experienced, having dived in other cities and they knew the right places.
We went to three supermarkets on this particular night, quitting because it was getting late and the car had hit capacity. There were boxes of food in the boot, the back seat, the floor and on our laps.
None of the bins were locked, and the food was easy enough to find. The most common items we were finding were fruit and vegetables which were often in separate food waste bins. We also found 30 packets of flat bread which had a ‘best before’ date for the following day. We discovered bins full of one particular fruit or vegetable, an entire rubbish bag of packaged crackers, and packaged meal kits containing tin cans, herb packets, fresh vegetables and dried couscous. This is only a small fraction of what we found dumpster diving on one night.
No matter how often you go dumpster diving, it is still shocking to see the amount of food and non-food items that have been deemed ‘rubbish.’
As we were wrapping up at an upmarket shop situated in a low demographic area, a police car pulled up behind us. One of my counterparts continued to rummage in the bin, unfazed by the police.
The officers wanted to know what we were doing, primarily that we were not planning a robbery or coordinated heist. They shone their torches on our treasure pile, silently studying the packaged bread, gourmet salt, chocolates, crackers, hot cross buns and used but still working kitchen appliances. We engaged the police officers in a conversation about food waste, poverty and environmental issues. We assured them we had no ill intent and would leave the bin area tidier than we found it. We were lucky, the cops took our details, “in case you witness anything suspicious” and left us to haul off our food to my car, an unapologetic getaway vehicle that groaned off to the next supermarket bin.
Considering the rising costs of living and the many food rescue organisations currently operating in Auckland, seeing landfill bins overflowing with perfectly edible food is sickening. The majority of this food can easily be saved with a little effort to redistribute it to someone in need. Having seen the success and positive reaction to the Community Fridge established in Auckland last year (and still going), I know there would be no shortage of people willing to volunteer their time to redistribute this food. I urge store managers to look at what you are throwing away, revise your current food safety policies and get in touch with an organisation that can benefit from donated food.