‘I open the bins and think I’m in for a treat’: the Australian dumpster divers who find treasure in the trash

Tim Fisher stands with his arms on his hips, inspecting the bins in front of him.

“It’s always a bit of hit and miss,” he says, digging through the mountains of disposed food on a muggy night in Sydney’s inner west.

“You never know what you’ll find – some of it is obviously about opposing waste and consumption, but some of it is the thrill of the chase.”

Fisher has come equipped with plastic tubs, tongs, bags and hand sanitiser – and a sense of what to look for.

He’s part of a growing community of dumpster divers in Sydney who share tips and locations on private Facebook groups. Many are people looking to dumpster dive for the first time, interested in the practice as a way to live more ethically.

Grocery prices and supermarket profit margins have been under intense scrutiny amid an ongoing cost of living crisis. In January, prime minister Anthony Albanese announced supermarkets would be targeted in an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry.

For Fisher, dumpster diving is less about saving money, and more about reducing supermarket waste.

“It comes from a distaste for these supermarket giants, but it’s also altruistic in a way. We share locations with people, support food pantries and always leave food for others.”

‘I’m not an archaeologist’

On this particular night, there’s a bounty. Fisher finds bread, fresh vegetables, dried and frozen meat, cheese and tubs of yoghurt.

There’s so much that Fisher doesn’t need to search too hard to find anything to take home.

“I don’t dig too deep, I’m not an archaeologist like some other divers,” he says.

“For us, it’s also about leaving some stuff for others, we know lots of people come through here, so we just take what we need and leave the rest. As you can see, there is enough here for everyone.”

At a second location, a security guard politely but firmly insists there isn’t any edible food in the bins. Fisher shrugs and walks away.

Dumpster diving is a legal grey area, with police in all states and territories saying it could be considered trespassing – although none could provide data on charges relating to dumpster diving.

Fisher ends the night with half a cabbage, blueberry muffins, flowers for his wife and a packet of frozen schnitzels, all found in one bin. It’s a “light haul” he says – it’s not something he desperately needs to do, but something he feels is the right thing to do.

Tim Fisher says he found a bin filled with produce due to expire multiple days later. Photograph: Steven Siewert/The Guardian

Fisher goes dumpster diving multiple times a week – he says Monday, Wednesday and Friday are best. He’s still not used to seeing so much edible food thrown out.

“It’s very frustrating,” he says. “I saw a bin last night that was just jam-packed with stuff that was due to expire multiple days later.”

Australia wastes 7.6m tonnes of food each year, about 70% of which is edible. The latest Foodbank hunger report showed that 3.7m households reported food insecurity in the last 12 months.

About 10% of food waste is related to the cosmetic standards imposed on fruit and vegetable growers by retailers, according to the Australia Institute’s food waste in Australia report.

“It is astonishing how much [supermarkets] throw out, how much they waste,” Fisher says. “It might be metrics and processes for us, but this is food they are throwing out.”

‘Name an item, and I’ve found it discarded’

Amy Booth, 29, has been dumpster diving in Hobart for five years. She says she consistently finds so much food that she no longer needs to go grocery shopping.

“There is always fruit and veg available, and it’s obviously seasonal as well. But we also get dairy products, cheeses, coffee, even eggs sometimes.”

“Name an item, and I’ve found it discarded.”

She says she is now “desensitised” to the amount of food she finds.

“When I first started, I used to see the piles and piles of food and just be shocked by it. But now, this is how I get my food, so I open the bins and think I’m in for a treat now’.

She says that saving money is a part of why she goes, but it isn’t the only reason. For her, the ethics and behaviour of major supermarket chains is also a major factor.

Facebook and Instagram page Food Bounty is meant to be an easy way to share food and prevent waste. Photograph: Steven Siewert/The Guardian

It’s a perspective echoed by Sahar, who runs a Facebook and Instagram page called Food Bounty that shares large hauls from dumpster diving and allows people to pick up some of the items for free.

The page is meant to be an easy way to share food and prevent waste. Sahar, who asked to remain anonymous, insists it’s about more than just saving money.

“I feel a responsibility, to the food I have and the mountains of food I find. And so what I do is take a photo and share it with other dumpster divers I know who live in the area, and we coordinate ourselves and encourage more communication, so we all share the dive between us.”

“In many ways, it is about community. The page and its work is an opportunity to share and communicate with the people living around us.”

Waste not, want not

Sahar says it is “overwhelming” just how much food she finds in the bins – she finds the wastage “ethically wrong”. She also says security measures implemented to prevent dumpster divers at some locations are “disappointing”.

“I’ve seen security guards at late hours – even up to four in the morning – telling me I had to leave, and it just makes me wonder why they are investing so much money in this.

“They’re investing money in saving products that they’ve discarded. It’s just disgusting.”

A spokesperson for Woolworths said the supermarket giant has a policy of locking bins they manage, and that they “work hard to reduce waste”.

“We aim to only discard food that can’t be donated to charity, often for food safety reasons.

“Every one of our stores has a partnership with a local hunger relief organisation, passing on any food that can’t be sold, but is still safe to eat.”

Last year, Woolworths group diverted 80% of their food waste from landfill and donated the “equivalent of 28m meals to our hunger relief partners to help feed Australians in need”, they said.

For Tim Fisher, dumpster diving is less about saving money, and more about reducing supermarket waste. Photograph: Steven Siewert/The Guardian

Coles said they “do not want” food to go to waste.

“Last financial year we donated nearly 20,000 tonnes – the equivalent of more than 39m meals – of unsold edible food to food rescue organisations SecondBite and Foodbank.

“We have other food-waste solutions, including donations to farmers and animal or wildlife services, organics collections and in-store food-waste disposal equipment.”

They also said they strongly discouraged anyone from dumpster diving because there can be trucks moving about in the area.

When asked if the supermarkets’ donation drives were enough to offset the waste, Fisher waves dismissively, and points to the piles of still-sealed food in front of him.

“How can it be enough? Look at all this, it’s all still edible.”


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.