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Let's Be Honest, Episode 39: Dumpster Diving for the Save?

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable and the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment!

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

So what is Dumpster Dive actually?

Dumpster diving is salvaging from large commercial, residential, industrial and construction containers for unused items discarded by their owners but deemed useful to the picker. It is not confined to dumpsters and skips specifically and may cover standard household waste containers, curb sides, landfills or small dumps.

Divers are usually diving for produce, clothing, make up items and much more. People choose this method due poverty, ideological reasons or for profit.


At first thought, dumpster diving seems gross and disgusting. However, there are not a few benefits that is offering.

  • Have a healthier diet

When you grocery shop from trash, you often find fresh produce from greens and fruits to packed meat, in respectable quantities.

  • Saving money

The most important advantage of diving is the financial freedom you gain from not purchasing the food you consume. Maybe only for some dairy products that you cannot find in the bins.

  • Making money

In another perspective, the diver can have earnings. When you come across an item that you do not need, such as a vintage couch, you can sell it for a reasonable price through apps like Amazon, E-bay etc. The same can be done with a variety of stuff that are excess to you. One man's trash is another man's treasure. [1]

  • Contribute in saving the environment

You are reducing your carbon footprint and in the same time the food waste of stores. Because you are eating food that was produced but never sold, and would otherwise be wasted, your carbon footprint from eating this food is zero. You did not pay for the food to be produced, and therefore you are not responsible for the animals or resources used, or the large amounts of water and land used to produce the food. [2]

  • Give back to the community

It is common that the surplus of the products a diver finds can be donated to charities, NGO's or immediately to people in need. Sanitised and sealed products are always welcome from shelters.

Food waste vs. Food loss

  • Food loss: refers to any food that is discarded, incinerated or otherwise disposed of along the food supply chain from harvest/slaughter/catch up to, but excluding, the retail level, and is not used for any other productive use, such as animal feed or seed.

  • Food waste: refers to food that is discarded at the level of retailers, food service providers and consumers. Food is wasted in many ways, for example

  • Fresh produce that deviates from what is considered optimal (e.g. size, shape or colour) and is removed during sorting actions

  • Foods that are discarded by retailers or consumers when it’s close to or beyond the best before date.

  • Unused or leftover food that is thrown out from households or restaurants. [3]


  • Roughly 1/3 of the food produced in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted.

  • Food waste alone generates about 8% - 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world. In other words: food waste emits more greenhouse gases than all single countries in the world except China and the US. [3]

Where are the best places to dumpster dive?

Well, firstly, always have in mind that you should carefully think what your needs are and then choose the stores that you are going to dive. If you are searching for feminine products, do not waste your time in a grocery's store dumpster. So, regarding food waste, let's see what we have..:

  • Grocery stores

A shocking number of 108 billion pounds of food is thrown away only in the US. This represents about 40% of fresh and still edible food that was not purchased during the day or is near it's expiration date.

  • Bakeries

Due to their short shelf life, day - old bagels, donuts and any other leftover pastry, are going to the trash after the closing time of the store. Just make sure that the food is kept in a clean bag and no other trash have touched it.

  • Restaurants

Not few times, do restaurants throw away unused packages that are reaching their expiration date or they just do not intend to use. Such a product waste, but their loss, our win. [4]

Can I dumpster dive digitally?

As funny as this question might appear, in a matter of fact you can. Now you can dumpster dive with a click, as easy as it sounds. New trend alert.

Lucie Basch used all the benefits that technology is offering today and connected people throughout the world in her fight against food waste. She teamed up with entrepreneurs around Europe and they created the globally famous app 'Too Good To Go'.

Already used by 38 million people, the app offers the opportunity to supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants etc. to reduce their food waste and ecological footprint by selling their surplus to locals in 'surprise bags' and in very affordable prices. That's clever!

You never know what this surprise bags contain since even the stores are not aware of what will be left in the end of the shifts. The only difference with the actual dumpster diving is that instead of digging down a dumpster with a flashlight, you now pay less for the goods. [5]

Tiktok approved

A viral tiktok video made it´s way through people´s phones. @dumpsterdivingfreegan made a video about how much produce she found in one dive at a supermarkets dumspter and the world expressed it's fear for the future of the consumerism culture.

With a quick research you can find various references to both Youtube and Tiktok from people that use this technique to grocery shop and present their findings with hauls so you can have a better look on the huge food crisis that the world has to deal with.

In reference to statistics [1], 842 million people in the world don't get enough food. 45% of deaths among children under the age of 5 are caused by poor nutrition (about 3.1M children yearly). 3.2B dollars would be needed every year to feed all 66M hungry school kids. In the same time, 35M tons of food in US are wasted in landfills each year and about 40% of all the food in the US does not get eaten ( waste equivalent to 165B dollars).

The numbers alone confess the importance of the phenomenon, a quick snap between the hunger crisis and that of food waste. Dumpster diving contributes also as a solution for free groceries to homeless people and poor families. To combat financial problems, people choose to dive for produce that is still perfectly edible and with that they can feed their families and in second thought, reduce their carbon footprint. [6]

In the Netherlands

The Dutch Review estimates that 35% of all food purchased in the Netherlands is wasted. Iniciatives like urban gardens and recycling have helped to produce some change, but much more needs to be done. Taking on Dumpster Dive though is quite a challenge. By law, the action itself is classified as illegal and punishable. The trash of a store is considered as its possesion and therefore the action is thought as theft.

Of course,there is always the fear of social stigma which is a pretty common in the big cities.

However, the real obstacles are not the above. Getting caught or awarded a fine is rare. The problem is that usually the dumpsters in Amsterdam are not accesible to the public because they are locked. [7]

If you really want to make an impact and change your consumeristic behaviour, Taste before you waste and Guerilla kitchen are two Amsterdam based foundations that are trying to raise awareness and collect food donations from supermarkets and distribute them to people who cannot afford it. They organise dinners, cooking sessions, events, workshops etc. to friendly discuss about the food waste problem.

«Trash Empire»