Dumpster diving: theft or act of sensibility?

Beautiful waste: Tara Anderson shows off some of the produce and goods she's saved from Ballarat supermarket 'dumpsters'. Picture: Luka Kazlauric.

Beautiful waste: Tara Anderson shows off some of the produce and goods she's saved from Ballarat supermarket 'dumpsters'. Picture: Luka Kazlauric.

The idea of diving into the waste bin of a supermarket to retrieve perfectly good food and products will seem abhorrent to many, but Tara Anderson says it’s a political act as well as an economic commonsense.

Ms Anderson is a newcomer to the ancient art of ‘gleaning’, or as it’s more colloquially and latterly known, ‘dumpster diving’.

It’s a practice set out in the Bible, leaving unwanted food for the poor, and it was followed for thousands of years – but it’s a controversial topic in contemporary society

Every day in Australia thousands of tonnes of food and household products are thrown into the rubbish because they are perceived to be slightly out-of-date, unsightly or just not going to sell.

It totals a staggering $8 billion a year. That’s the revenue of Apple Inc .

At the same time, Foodbank.org says two million Australian go hungry every year.

Of those, 33 per cent are children.

Tara Andersen says Foodbank turns away 43,000 people each year because they simply don’t have enough food to distribute.

Ms Andersen says she is astonished at the sheer amount of waste that supermarkets produce everyday.

“I went to ten supermarkets in Ballarat just the other day, and every single dumpster was full,” said Ms Anderson.

Arranged on Ms Andersen’s table in her home is a small display of food and products from her latest raid. There are fresh mushrooms, passionfruit, tomatoes and bananas, organic shampoo and even bunches of roses.

While she agrees that some foods must be discarded when they are beyond eating, Ms Andersen says it’s also about what consumers will buy.

“It’s a cosmetic thing. People won’t buy fruit or vegetables that are slightly spotty or just look bad,” she says.

“They don’t really discount things very much. If you go to Curtis Fresh, say, you can buy boxes of discounted fruit for a dollar. The supermarkets won’t do that.”

Ms Anderson readily admits she doesn’t need to retrieve the food from a financial point of view, but her grocery bill is now virtually zero.

As to the legality of taking unwanted produce from a private dumpster, she says it’s a grey area. Her research has led her to believe the supermarkets may forfeit possession of the goods when they discard them.