As the cost of living soars and households around the country feel the pinch, some Australians are promoting a cost-saving alternative lifestyle.
While it’s considered extreme by most people, advocates say bin diving is a solution to the food waste issue and food insecurity felt by many.
As the name suggests, bin diving involves rummaging through rubbish bins to collect edible food or useful items discarded as trash.
Camera IconDumpster divers find hundreds of dollars of food and goods discarded in bins. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia
Most dumpster divers stick to commercial bins outside supermarkets or food businesses, although council clean-ups are also known to yield a good haul.
NSW resident Markus Schuldig is enthusiastic about the environmental and economical method of reducing waste headed for the landfill while filling empty stomachs.
He has been bin diving for the past four years – one of which he spent only eating food he found in the bin.
“I was never hungry,” he said.
“I got smarter and smarter at seeing what things are wasted. You see opportunities where you need them.”
Mr. Schuldig started to browse through bins while walking his dog through Sydney and was shocked by how much edible food was wasted daily.
Camera IconMarkus Schuldig is an enthusiastic bin diver who estimates he saved $500 a week by rummaging through dumpsters in Sydney. Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia
He noticed most of the food is thrown away while still packaged in plastic, protecting it from contamination and preventing it from breaking down in landfills. Environmental data shows it takes two weeks for lettuce to decompose naturally but more than 25 years while sheathed in plastic.
Dumpster divers like Mr. Schuldig aim to minimize their environmental impact by reclaiming food destined to bloat overflowing rubbish tips.
“It’s a natural thing to do to check for resources that would go to waste otherwise,” he said.
“(We) spread them out and do something better with them.”
When diving through bins, the expert bin diver said he looks for items protected from the surrounding waste in good condition.
“I rarely go through or into bins,” he said.
“I just look at the top of bins and pick the easy-to-reach items. That’s enough to get plenty.”
Camera Icon Millions of tonnes of food are wasted in Australia each year. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia
Mr. Schuldig said he always uses his instincts to judge food quality and freshness when selecting food from the bins. He’s found best before dates don’t necessarily mean the food is off.
While freshness advice varies from person to person, there’s always one exception.
“Everyone drops their standards for bin-diving chocolate,” he laughs.
The former highly-paid professional estimated he saves more than $500 a week by scouring through bins and council clean-ups for food, clothing, and anything else he needs at the time.
Meanwhile, the 2021 National Food Waste Strategy Feasibility Study revealed that Australian households spend up to $2500 yearly on wasted food.
Nationwide, food waste costs Australians an eye-watering $36.6 billion per year. According to The Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre, Australia wastes a staggering 7.6 million tonnes of food annually – 70 percent of which is edible.
Camera IconDumpster divers often find perishable goods in bins which they must triage for freshness. Credit: Supplied
The most wasted foods are bread, vegetables, fruit, bagged salad, and leftovers.
Founder and CEO of food rescue organization OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn, was shocked to see how much edible food was tossed away when she went bin diving.
“Dumpster diving is a sad reflection that good food is still needlessly going to waste,” she said.
OzHarvest works with businesses around Australia to collect unsellable food and direct it to those in need, but Ms. Kahn said more needs to be done.
“Food waste occurs along the whole supply chain, and while OzHarvest can rescue food from food businesses like supermarkets and restaurants, there is still a huge amount that goes to waste,” she said.
“Over a third (2.5 million tonnes) comes from our homes!”
It’s problem bin divers have seen first-hand.
Camera IconChocolate is one of the most prized finds for bin divers. Credit: News Corp Australia
Mr. Schuldig explains divers are generally motivated by making the most of what’s available.
“There are a lot of intelligent people who see that it’s insane not to use the resources we have, but there are people out there who struggle and who need (the food),” he said.
The number of people needing food security has rapidly increased in the past year. Ms. Khan said demand for food relief has reached “an all-time high” during the perfect storm of the pandemic, inflation, and rising living costs.
“We have seen demand continue to increase in the last month,” she said.
The number of people lookiseeking relief has increased by more than 62 percent on pre-Covid levels. At the same time, charity workers report hearing of pee choosing between food and medication.
According to last year’s Foodbank Hunger Report, one in six adults was not getting enough food in the 12 months up to July 2021. Ms. Kahn said that figure would likely increase as the price of basic goods increases.
Camera IconVegetables are some of the most frequently wasted food items. Jason Edwards Credit: News Corp Australia
“Ongoing supply interruptions and economic uncertainty have made it harder for people to meet their core needs,” she said.
“There is an urgent need to address this issue at a national level, as it is only getting worse.”
During his year of eating solely from the bin, Mr. Schuldig said he was surprised to learn even hungry people had their limits. He cited several occasions when homeless people declined his offer of the food retrieved from a bin, sometimes with an air of distaste.
“Even homeless people have higher standards than me,” he laughed.
The NSW resident said the food refusals show the deep-seated stigma about bin diving, which he hopes people will overcome.
Mr. Schuldig is the moderator of a popular Facebook group dedicated to dumpster diving in Sydney, with more than 4000 members. He said the group had seen a “steady stream of people coming in” as environmental awareness increases and costs rise.
Camera IconDumpster divers often find chilled goods that are still cold in the bins. Credit: News Corp Australia
As a long-time advocate for thrifty bin hunting, Mr. Schuldig hoped people would become more open-minded.
“I want to encourage people to be more creative,” he said.
“I almost think when living in the bigger cities, you hardly need anything – you just need to open your eyes.
“There are useful things all over the place; there’s nothing that I haven’t found. Anything is possible.”