Is dumpster diving fair game or a crime?

  • News
  • May 1, 2015
  • Elly Strang
Is dumpster diving fair game or a crime?

According to a New Zealand Reddit thread, it is, but it seems the demographic of dumpster divers is skewed towards young people trying to score some free food. 

Commenters on the site were reluctant to share too many details about their sweet spots, but references cropped up for supermarkets – Countdown, Pak n’ Save and New World all got a mention.

“I live in Christchurch. We've done it to supermarkets mainly, so Pak'n Save and Countdown. After an earthquake gets a good haul at supermarkets, because they just throw it all out. We scored boxes and boxes of goon bag wine (over 15 goons) and a sh--load of unopened chocolate. This was all around Christmas a couple of years ago,” one user said.

“We used to steal yesterday’s bread from out the back of the Chaffers New World in Welly. They clicked on and started moving it or putting it so you had to climb over trollies. We climbed over the trollies and they moved it for good. But we got a good six months outta it so it’s all good. Used to take five or six loaves at a time. One time we even got pies,” said another.

A blog post by ‘Eleanor’ at The Grace Collective recommends dumpster diving as a way for those on a budget to free up some cash by grabbing some groceries. 

Check out her haul from two grocery stores last year. She insists no one she knows has gotten sick from dumpster food.

This is unlike Matt Malone, the US IT worker, who is making his riches through finding pristine products he then on-sells.

Whether or not dumpster diving is a crime is a bit of a grey area. 

New Zealand laws don’t specifically cover dumpster diving. However, it can be classed as theft, as it’s understood that rubbish is still the property of the disposer until an operator has collected it. 

Dunedin TV reported that three arrests were made over dumpster diving in 2009.

Trespassing is also a concern.

So what do New Zealand’s retailers do to prevent dumpster diving?

Foodstuffs corporate PR director Antoinette Laird says in the interest of public health and safety, the company recommends members of the public don’t get food from bins.

She says this is for various reasons, including the risk from cross-contamination in the bin, the safety and wellbeing of the product can’t be guaranteed even though visibly it might seem edible. Taking discarded food could also constitute theft.

“We appreciate some people see dumpster diving as a way of accessing free food, and while we acknowledge some items may still be edible, there are significant health risks associated with such an activity and we would strongly recommend against it,” Laid says.

“Many stores do lock their bins as part of their health and safety protocols.”

The store has a number of initiatives in place to curb food waste. 

Grocery from Pak’n Save and New World are donated to a food bank twice a week and frozen products are sold to staff. 

Bread, dented tins and other products are donated to food banks and women’s refuges.
A spokesperson for Countdown says policy is to donate food wherever possible through its food rescue programme.

In the last financial year, they say $3.4 million worth of food went to organisations such as the Salvation Army, Kaibosh, Foodshare, and Fair Food.

“Dumpster diving isn't something we see a lot of across our stores, however, we don't encourage or condone people taking food from our bins,” the spokesperson said.

“We work really hard to find a second home for as much food as we can - food expiry dates are based on scientific testing and if food has been dumped, it is there for a reason.”

As for retailers outside food, The Warehouse Group’s head of PR and media Julia Morton says it’s not a problem for its shops, as if a product is not valid for sale, its destroyed or recycled.

Morton says they instead have a reverse problem – members of the public dump their rubbish into the company’s skips.

We’re interested to hear about your views on dumpster diving. Have you experienced it? Do you condone it?

Drop us a comment below or email

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