Our Green Gurus

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The Dumpster Diaries

Sharri Lembryk

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Brave student Sharri Lembryk discovers the true meaning of the 'waste not, want not' mantra while dumpster diving.

We turned in to the empty car park and flicked off the headlights, guided only by the mellow moon and yellow, flickering street lamps. The Aldi sign overhead stood dark and silent, and I shivered in anticipation. Pulling in to a parking space hidden from view of the road, we jumped out of the vehicle and moved toward the rear. Wishing I had worn darker attire, I surveyed our surroundings for signs of life. My eyes rested on Bess, blonde hair braided and out of her face, peering in to the boot of her car. Next to her was Dee, a second-timer, who had her long dreadlocks tucked beneath her jumper. “What have you got there, Bess?” I asked, noting the crate full of unusual objects hidden in the back. “A whole dumpster kit,” she laughed. Holding up two pairs of gloves and a head torch, she smiled. “Ready to dive?”

Dive. That’s right. Dumpster dive. A mode of acquiring goods which involves rummaging through the skip bins of chain stores, whose promises for picture-perfect produce and ‘bread baked daily’ lead to (literally) mountains of unnecessary waste. In fact, according to FoodWise (a not-for-profit campaign run by DoSomething), Australians throw away eight billion dollars of edible food annually. Eight. Billion. Dollars. Let’s give that some perspective.
UNICEF figures show that over 20 thousand children die each day due to poverty, and that almost half of the world subsists on less than $2.50USD a day. The United Nations estimates that 30 billion dollars per year is all that is required to end world hunger, and Australians throw away close to a third of this figure in STILL EDIBLE FOOD.

It’s almost inconceivable, and quite a hefty slap-in-the-face afforded a privileged few. Add to this the detrimental effects of methane (a gas produced when organic waste is sent to landfill, and another good reason to get composting!) and it’s easy to see why some people choose to take a stand (or make a dive) and glean as much as they can by taking from- rather than adding to- consumer-driven discards.

For me, the ideology fit. As a uni student living off the coins in my pocket, the concept of free food was also rather enticing. As we tiptoed over to the giant ALDI dumpsters, I clung on to Bess’ every word.

“There are varying degrees of difficulty, depending upon where and when you choose to go. Some bins are locked up and require climbing or crawling to gain access, and others involve no effort at all. Some nights are also better than others, and it might take a while to learn which nights those are. In Wollongong it’s usually Sundays and Wednesdays.”

Stopping abruptly, she dropped and army-crawled beneath the gates which stood between us and our potential booty. “There’s not much here,” she called, peering over the edge of the dumpster, “but come through and have a look if you like, to see what it’s like.”

“I just want to see if my bum fits under that gate,” Dee laughed, wriggling through after her. Kicking a small piece of glass out of the way, I joined them. Save for one or two plastic bags, the bin was bare. “Sorry guys,” Bess said “it must have just been emptied.”

Feeling mildly disappointed (but mostly excited) by our clandestine adventure, we walked back to the car. Clambering in to the front seat, Bess plugged her iPhone in to her car. “See this charger?” She said excitedly. “That was scored from an ALDI dive. I’ve never really needed a hair dryer before, but I have one of those too now, thanks to bin-shopping. And look at these,” she said excitedly, whipping out her phone and scrolling through the photos, “all from the bin!”

Photo upon photo of fresh produce, non-perishables, breads and cakes, electrical goods, all acquired from the bin. “It’s usually really abundant, which is both good and bad. Good for us but bad in terms of waste. Often we just skim off the top and come home with a whole car-load of food, without having to dig down at all!
Woolworths always has a lot of bread from their bakery, it got to the point where there was so much that we ended up taking it down to the local youth shelter. We told them what it was and where it was from, and they were more than happy to take it. Look at this,” she indicated a photo of herself and two friends sitting amongst a trail of fresh produce which led all the way up their garden path, then flicked to a photo of chocolates and flowers. “All of this is from the dumpster. We sometimes joke that the dumpster is our lover.”

“Have you ever had any trouble?” I queried. “Not really,” Bess replied. “I’ve been caught a few times, but no one really cares. One time a police officer pulled in to the car park with his lights flashing, and we really freaked out thinking there had been a complaint. All of the stuff was on the ground near the car at this stage and I walked up to him a little apprehensively. ‘Have you seen a car pull in here?’ he asked. Apparently there had been a robbery. I said no and he noticed the food on the ground and asked about it. I explained what we were doing and showed him the flowers and other cool things we had found and he kind of just said ‘oh cool, well make sure you have a shower when you get home,’ then left. He came looking for a robber and found three smiling girls rummaging through a bin” she laughed.

West-Wollongong resident Luke is a relatively recent convert to diving, and was encouraged by stories from friends to undertake his own adventures.

“I first went about a year and a half ago. I was with my two friends who had been once before, I was pretty nervous about going. It was really fun. I was a little bit silly because I didn’t wear old clothes so they got a little bit dirty, but after we first found things I got a rush and wanted to go to more bins to find food.”

“We usually find bananas. There has only been a couple of times I where have been and we haven’t found bananas- it’s good because we take them home and put them in the freezer to make banana bread. The best things I’ve found are Easter eggs just after Easter- they tend to throw a lot of chocolate out and one time we went there and there were about 10 big chocolate bunnies. We couldn’t even eat them all! Another time we also found a bottle of vodka.”

“I first heard about diving when I saw a story on today tonight about it, and I thought it was disgusting at first and that the person was a freak. As I looked into it more and starting getting interested in the environment, I realised that it wasn’t so bad, and it saves money! The funniest thing to happen was once we went to ALDI, and as I climbed under the fence into the dumpster a delivery truck pulled in. I hid in the dumpster until it left.”

Dumpster diving can be fun and incredibly rewarding, but there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration before rummaging through a bin. Firstly, wear old clothes. Though the bins themselves are relatively clean, climbing and crawling and rummaging can lead to wear and tear. It is also a good idea to wear long sleeves and trousers, to avoid cuts and scratches. A torch is a must (and a head-torch ideal!), and don’t forget gloves!

Above all else though, have fun. Remember – waste not, want not!