A skilled shopper revealed how she only spent $300 for an entire year on groceries after she started diving in the trash for free food.
Sophie, who used to love in Sydney but is now in Denmark, documents her dumpster dive on her Instagram page, which has benches of fresh fruit and vegetables, canned meats, cans of drinks, and just about anything else you can do. Anytime you want to buy from your local Woolies – all without spending a cent.
news.com told me: “I started garbage diving myself in Sydney in October 2020… My sister sent me this video of her dumpster diving in Denmark and I said, ‘Oh, I wonder if you could trash diving in Sydney?’” au podcast I have news for you.
“I was so amazed at all the things I could find in the trash and that kind of shocked me.”
Sophie is among a growing, albeit quiet, community of people who regularly frequent the industrial bins of supermarkets and grocery stores to find food.
While living in Australia, Sophie dipped in trash for a year, which means she only spent $300 total on necessities while living here with loads of freebies.
But while Sophie dunks in the trash regularly, it’s not because she “compels” for financial reasons, but because she “wants” to.
“I’ve started doing a lot of research on the environmental part and seeing how much all that food affects,” she explained.
“Especially in Australia… It’s like billions of dollars are dumped every year. It’s a big problem.”
While the concept of dumpster diving may sound dangerous or even annoying, the huge amount of edible and often expensive food that gets thrown away due to the use of dates means there is a surplus of “free” food found in industrial bins.
That’s why Sophie has started documenting her dumpster dips on Instagram – to spread awareness about the problem of food waste in Australia and to encourage others to join in.
Supermarkets waste billions of edible food
According to Food Bank Australia, 7.6 million tons of food is lost or wasted each year, and 70 percent of it is still fit for consumption.
Although there are charities and non-profits dedicated to redistributing expired or damaged but edible items, use dates and manufacturing defects are still some of the biggest causes of waste.
“I remember finding 12 Chili Chips one day because one (bottles) had broken in that package – so they tossed the whole thing out instead of taking out the broken one and only selling the rest,” Sophie said.
“One day I came home with 11kg of gum. I calculated that if one person were to have one piece of gum every day, it would last for about 10 years.”
How much will you save?
Here’s exactly what Sophie grabbed to prep for a house party in October of last year:
* Prices are calculated based on current published prices from where the items were obtained. In the event that certain products could not be obtained, the equivalent of Woolworths was used.
8 x tomatoes: $1.31 (each) 10.48 USD
4 x avocados: $1.60 (each) $6.40
1 x Australian Pea Sprouts: $3.20
3 x yellow bell peppers: $3.73 (each) USD 11.19
3 bunches of white, seedless grapes: $15.11 (each) $45.33
1 x Washed White Potato (2kg): 5 dollars
2 x Community Co Baby Salad Leaf Mix (300g): $5.00 (each) 10 bucks
1 x Organic Petango Soup (600g): 6.50 US dollars
3 x La Famiglia Kitchen Traditional Garlic Bread (400g): $4.50 (each) USD 13.50
3 x San Marino Sopressa Light Salami (100g): $7 (each) $21
6 x Fresh Latina Spinach and Ricotta (625g): $9 (each) $54
2 x Primo Duos Mild Twiggy Bites & Cheddar Cheese (50g): $4 (each) 8 dollars
6 x Baby Yogurt Balls Strawberry: $1.20 (each) 7.20 dollars
1 x Croissant baked goods 3 or 4 packages: $2.50
1 x Woolworths Mini Banana Muffin 8-Pack: $3.75
1 x Original 6 Pack English Muffin Top Tip: $5.30
1 x Coles Bagels Plain 4 Pack (360g): $2.50
2 x whole burgon bread and seeds: $5.20 (each) 10.40 USD
1 x Abbott’s Bakery Farmhouse Sandwich Sliced Loaf (750 g): 4 dollars
3 x Bundaberg Ginger Bear (375ml): $2.90 (each) $8.70
3 x Bottle of Coca-Cola Classic Soft Drink (385ml): $3.75 (each) $11.25
1 x daily juice pulp-free orange juice (2 liters): $5.30
Total value: $248
How to dive into a dumpster: rules and safety
Sophie said that over the course of nearly two years of dumpster diving, she’s learned the vital importance of maintaining good health and hygiene practices.
There are other rules and practices that the litter divers community adheres to.
Founding trash diver ‘Big B’ explained to ‘Got News For You’ that potential divers should stick to the ‘code’:
1. Safety first
Diving into the trash is more than just jumping into an artificial crate and finding a prize item on the edge. You will most likely cut open garbage bags and sift into the actual garbage.
“Be prepared to have the tools and gloves needed to be safe — always be safe — and use tools that will make the job easier for you,” Big B said.
To ensure that what you eat will not make you sick, generally do not keep products where the packaging is broken or damaged.
When it comes to meat and dairy products, always check for smell and be wary of any potential contamination issues. For fresh fruits and vegetables, if they look and smell good and you wash them well, you should be fine.
In order to make sure your fresh food caught from the trash is as fresh as possible, said Sophie, make sure you cross the bins during the evening right after the stores have disposed of their produce. However, in Denmark, fresh produce from the day before is discarded in the morning.
2. First in, first serve
It’s no surprise that making sure you respect each other for other divers will only promote a safer diving experience.
“If you come across someone already in the dumpster, so be it,” Big B said.
“If you are asked to move on, just move forward, and don’t cause any problems.”
3. Leave the boxes more tidy than when they arrived
Nobody likes a slob—even more so when your boxes look like the possums you’ve got.
But Big B also said that garbage-dive hygiene is more than a respectful gesture — it also helps prevent stores from deliberately sabotaging edible produce.
“If you want to keep going into those litter boxes without any problems, or (without shops) closing the bins or damaging other merchandise, you should leave them cleaner than you found,” he said.
Once the bins are closed by stores, or taken to private property, it is illegal to dive into the trash. Ensuring that stores leave their boxes within reach of the public allows divers to continue their practice safely and legally.
Sophie noticed how, before she left Australia, the local grocery store began “cutting the package” and “smashing the fruit” before throwing it in the trash.
4. Don’t be greedy
Once you get used to dumpster diving, it can be tempting to stock up on kilograms of food for one trip.
But with so many products found near or at expiration, withdrawing more food than you can consume or share can do more harm and pose more health and safety risks than just leaving it behind, Big B said. .
“If you know you can share it, share it. Otherwise you only change the geography of the garbage if you don’t use it or do anything with it.”
“I share nearly 95 percent of what I find – my donation pile is bigger than my ‘keep it to myself’ pile.”
Originally published as How an Australian woman cut her grocery spending to just $300 a year