CANTA issue #13, 2017

Dumpster diving is a not so popular way to get free stuff. It’s easy to see why most people turn their noses up at the thought of dumpster diving. Dumpsters evoke the worst smells, slime, rotten food, flies, and used tissues. Why would there be anything of value in the dumpster? Somebody threw that out for a reason. Why risk your health and respectability for someone’s trash?

While these are valid arguments, and often apply, it IS possible to circumvent the grossness, while pulling in a massive amount of loot including clothes, uni supplies, and electronics. This, however, requires careful planning, knowledge, and a little bit of shamelessness. Whether or not dumpster diving is a crime is a bit of a grey area. New Zealand laws don’t specifically cover dumpster diving.

However, it can be classed as theft, as it’s understood that rubbish is still the property of the disposer until an operator has collected it. There’s definite advantages to dumpster diving, but it’s best to use your better judgement here. Is it worth it? Being caught in a bin, with a Pak N Save boston bun in your chops might not be the best look.

Play the numbers game.

Going to a few dumpsters, finding them locked or just a bunch compactors is certain to end in failure. If you have a car, move quickly between places if you don’t find anything. You can plan out a route on Google maps prior to going out, so that you know exactly where you are going and can stay organized and motivated. Don’t give up.

Go to the source.

You want to dive at the place that sells the food that you want. It is common sense but easy to forget the dumpsters are only going to have the same stuff that is sold inside the store. So, for food you want to go to the places that sell a lot of food. This is mainly grocery stores like New World and Pak N Save. Don’t forget farmer’s markets. Don’t limit yourself to these by any means; check the big chains, and the local stores in your area and check them all.

Get in and look around.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked into a dumpster to see nothing and then hopped in to realize there were 5 entire bags full of muesli bars, cereal, and bread. Get in and move the bags around. A lot of the time food is all bagged up, often double bagged, fresh off the shelf and put straight into the bin.

Manage your fear.

Don’t be running around all nervous and scared. Take your time, own up to what you are doing and have some confidence. I’ve spent an hour or more at a time in a dumpster. Make sure you don’t run from the dumpster out of fear and leave it full of the food you are after. It’s rare that anyone gets a ticket for dumpster diving. The worst-case scenario I’ve seen is a $200 ‘minor trespassing’ ticket. If you’re good at diving, this ticket quickly would pay for itself.

One way to reduce your fear is to do this for something greater than feeding yourself. Flip the stigma by becoming a food waste warrior and collect food to help others out.

Be prepared.

By arriving at the dumpster prepared with everything you need, you’ll feel calmer and be much quicker. Clean out your car and empty the boot and backseat so that you have plenty of space for the food you collect. You can bring boxes or containers or you can just grab them out of the recycling bins or dumpsters of the store you are at. If you go at night a headlamp is definitely key. I suggest bringing some soap and water and a reusable towel to wash your hands. Wearing clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty will also make you more comfortable.

Focus on middle and upper income areas.

I’ve found that middle and upper income neighborhoods are where I have the best success. The very low-income neighborhoods tend to have more locked dumpsters. If you live in a low-income area with very few supermarkets it could be worth it to drive a half hour to a higher income area to dumpster dive.

Go with a friend if you can.

Having the support of another person can be really helpful but it’s also very practical. One person can be in the dumpster filling boxes while the other person can be taking them to a car. Sometimes one person will be in the dumpster handing stuff out to the person holding the lid up. It often makes it more enjoyable to be out with a friend or a group.

Don’t let locks fool you.

I’ve seen it dozens of times where I take someone out, they see a lock, and they start walking away. I walk over and see that the padlock is just resting there and the dumpster is not locked at all. Check to see if the dumpster is actually locked before assuming that it is.

Come up with a route and a schedule.

After you’ve been doing this for a little while you’ll know which stores you should skip and which are worth your time. You’ll also start to create patterns so you know when the best times and days to go are. Combine this together and you’ll have an efficient route and schedule where you can hit all the places in as little time as it would have taken you to go grocery shopping.

What are the basic rules a Kiwi dumpster diver should adhere to?

Think of your peers. If you trash the dumpster site, the shop will likely make it harder for everyone. The same goes for getting caught-if you are seen, the shop is more likely to tighten up because it is after all ‘illegal’ and they do have some liability.

Find out when the shop closes, and then leave around two hours for the night manager to finish up and leave.

If you do get caught, be polite and apologise. Often they will just tell you to leave nicely.

The freezer is your friend! Throw almost everything straight in the freezer and slowly work through it all.

If you have too much, share the love, I have been known to leave bags of ciabatta buns on the free table at uni because our freezer was so full it wouldn’t shut.

What happens if you arrive and there’s already someone going through your ‘spot’?

Join in…the more, the merrier. It is often a situation of ‘when it rains, it pours’, so often all of you will get nothing, or you will both have too much to carry. As with kiwi surf breaks, climbing cliffs and swimming holes, some respect should be paid to the locals but most local divers will be happy to share their winnings.

Any tips on what to avoid collecting?

Salmon and cream cheese filo pastries… I’ve thrown up at the gym after knocking back two of those (albeit) delicious bad boys. Also, cooked chickens. Often, they are still warm and are super tempting but don’t give in to their seduction. It will only hurt in the long run.

Generally we stick to things that have their own sealed packaging, because then you can be sure that no cross contamination has occurred.

What’s been your best find when out dumpster diving?

On our best night we scored: ten kilo of free range bacon, two trays of eggs, six bags of bagels, and a couple packs of mixed muffins!

Do you think supermarkets in New Zealand should follow France’s lead and donate their excess food to charity?

Heck yes! Sure, we are hungry students, but there are people who need this food a whole lot more than we do, and it makes me truly sad when we see how much is getting thrown out. Yet kids are still going to school hungry all over the country!

Issue Five: Tiny House 6