Dumpster diving and other ways to reduce food waste

Copyright Rob GreenfiledMany of us are only vaguely aware of the amount of food that gets thrown out in households, restaurants and supermarkets. Sharon McIver (Our Daily Waste) shares her thoughts on the topic.

Jumbo Jets of Wasted Food

Imagine enough food to feed the population of Dunedin for two years. That is a lot of cheese rolls. Now imagine taking it off those Dunedinites and throwing it out.

In June this year, 59 councils launched the Love Food Hate Waste NZ  initiative in an unprecedented show of support for reducing the 122, 547 tonnes of food that New Zealanders waste each year. According to the website this would feed Dunedin, or fill 213 jumbo jets (although I wish they’d converted it to Olympic swimming pools which are easier to line up).

As someone who runs a waste prevention and recycling consultancy called Our Daily Waste I am sadly not surprised by these figures – I see what comes through the bins at the events we provide services for. Yet food waste still puzzles me – I grew up in a state house where tomorrow’s ‘leftovers’ were carved before our portions, and you learned to gobble your dinner before it could be taken off you.

And even though those conditions have changed, this innate sense of food budgetry kept me well fed during 12 years of being a student – not wasting food saves money.

diving Of course, much of our food waste comes from the supermarkets themselves, and whilst there is pressure mounting to make them donate that food to charities, there is a growing trend towards dumpster diving, which although illegal in NZ, is attracting a number of people who consider it to be a lesser sin than the immorality of food waste. However, there is a code of practice to dumpster diving; from the divers who have passed on some of their spoils to me (camembert, wine, chocolate), I learned that you take tools to avoid damaging property, and always leave the area tidy and the bins how you found them. (The award-winning doco Just Eat It shines a bit of light on this!)

What can you do?

There are many levels of preventing food waste and you don’t have to start with them all – just pick a couple that suit you and work at it from there:


  • Fresh fruit and veggies don’t store well in plastic. Either buy it without packaging or make/buy some lightweight reusable bags, which also look great in the fridge.
  • Plan before you shop and don’t shop hungry.
  • Don’t buy cabbages if you don’t like them (note to self).
  • Shop at bulk food stores like Piko and Bin Inn so that you buy only what you need – you can also reduce waste by taking your own containers.
  • Only buy food that is near/past sell-by date if you know you will use it, but this can be a cheap alternative.


  • Research the best storage methods for different types of food.
  • Store food in airtight containers in cupboards, fridge and freezer.
  • Know difference between Use-By and Best-Before: Best-before dates are about food quality. Food can be eaten after its best-before date as long as it’s been stored according to instructions, it simply may have lost some quality or nutritional value. Use-by dates are about food safety. As long as the food is stored correctly and isn’t opened, it should be safe to eat before its use-by date. Use-by dates usually appear on perishable foods.


  • If you have leftovers, use for lunches, freeze, or give away.
  • Use leftover rice and bread for puddings.
  • Use sour milk for scones.
  • Make soups or stock with ‘tired’ veggies and freezer excess.
  • Take a reusable container with you to restaurants etc. and bag any leftovers. If you feel embarrassed use LFHW as a reason, and think about how good that pizza will be for breakfast.


  • If you find you have food go mouldy, halve the package and freeze it (great for bread and cheese).
  • You can freeze many things including avocado, chocolate, and milk (use a little bit first).
  • Tag the things you put in the freezer so you can FIND IT LATER.



  • Scrub veggies rather than peeling them.
  • Find a use for scraps such as: compost, chickens, Bokashi, worm farm.
  • If you have to throw out food, put it in the green bin, but remove all packaging first.

Next Level

  • Learn to preserve/ferment/brew.
  • Start a garden – when you tend something for months there’s no way you’ll throw it out.
  • Embrace food waste by foraging for it – start with the Otautahi Foraging Map which lists trees and edibles in public places including the red zone.

By Sharon McIver – Our Daily Waste

indexWant to know more? There is plenty on the internet but here are some ideas. During Eco Week 2016 the Sustainability Office screened the 11579775_10-tips-for-dumpster-diving-success_ed5aad8b_mdocumentary ‘Just Eat It’, which explored the issue of food waste (and dumpster diving) in a way that was both “hugely entertaining” (Variety) and “startling” (New York Times). We highly recommend it! You can also read one of the interviews about the movie instead. In addition, Rob Greenfield has been doing some eye-opening projects to raise awareness about (food) wasteidentified some solutions and offers tips for dumpster diving!

This message was brought to you by the UC Sustainability Office. Connect with us through Facebook or Instagram. Or email us: sustainability@canterbury.ac.nz








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s