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Life hacker: dumpster diving

Lucy Watson went dumpster diving the night Sydney flooded

Photo: Lucy Watson


As a student living out of home, I’m always looking for ways to save money. Initially, dumpster diving seemed to be that one step too far. But the more I learnt about it, the more keen I was to try it.


For the unaware, it’s pretty easy to guess what dumpster diving essentially involves. My first thoughts were what you’d expect: that it was gross, unhygienic, and for people who couldn’t afford better. However, as I became more educated, these myths began to dispel. A lot of food thrown out is still packaged, and often within its [real] use by date. It’s perfectly edible.


As well as being an option for the poor, dumpster diving is also, for some, a political act. By taking discarded food, you are supposedly avoiding the market driven economy of capitalism, and saving the environment from that little bit of extra landfill. As a result, I expected to see more Environmental Studies students than bums on my dumpster run.


The night we chose to dive was the night Sydney basically flooded. We arrived at our first dumpster as the rain got torrential. Deciding that this would add to the sense of adventure, we got out of the car,  and dashed for the bin. Empty. The second one: locked. The third one: full of paper. I had thought the stray cats hanging around were a good sign. Not so.


By the time we reached our next location, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. Our bad luck continued. An empty dumpster, and one full of horrid, warm, raw meat. We’d definitely picked the wrong day.


Our third location was diving gold. Well, not quite. Perhaps bronze, or maybe copper. It was a single dumpster in a lonely alley in Newtown. On the surface, it was useless rubbish, but we could smell food in the depths. Being a bit of a princess, and not having gloves, I was afraid of getting my hands dirty. Luckily, my partner in anti-capitalist semi-crime, was happy to get down and dirty. Jumping into the bin, she rummaged through until she found three tied garbage bags full of fruit and vegetables. We took our pick and left the rest.


After this moderate success, we returned home to have a hot shower and change into dry clothes. Our final result? Three apples, two pears, two pieces of corn, a tomato and a bowlful of grapes. A perfect feast for two.


While we did some things right, we also did a lot wrong. Diving aficionados have these tips to share: go at night, preferably on a day that supermarkets receive a new shipment, or before the bins have been emptied. Go with one person; any more and you’re too conspicuous, any less and it’s too dangerous. Wear boots, gloves, and a head torch. Clean up after yourself. Take only what you need. Bring a bag, and a bike or car. If you run into any security or police, don’t run. You’ll most likely only risk a trespassing charge, a minor misdemeanour. Running will make it worse.


I’ve heard stories of people getting their weekly groceries from dumpsters. As impressed as I am by this, I don’t think I could do it regularly. It took around 90 minutes for me to find a loot that would’ve cost less than $10. Call me a capitalist pig, but I think I’ll pay for the convenience next time.