'I Eat From Dumpsters And It Saves Me Thousands'

If someone had told me when I was younger that everything I ate would come from a dumpster, I have no idea what I would have thought. Food waste wasn't something on my mind while I was growing up. I came from a very ordinary, middle-class Danish family. We didn't really discuss things like that much back then.

It wasn't until around 2015, when my sister started to become more aware of environmental issues, including worldwide food waste, that I thought about dumpster diving as a concept.

The first time I tried it out I was 21. Back then, I thought that salvaging from grocery store trash cans was illegal, so I was scared and felt like I was doing something wrong. I later discovered that, in Denmark, dumpster diving is only prohibited if it results in trespassing or damage to property.

At first, I told myself I would just have a look in my local dumpster, so I visited a nearby grocery store during the day to scope out the area. I found I could access two of the trash cans and went home to call one of my friends. I said: "I have this crazy idea, please come with me this evening and we'll open the containers up to see if we can find any food."

Sofie Anderson
Sofie Juel Andersen, 28, lives in Denmark. She lives solely on food salvaged from grcoery store dumpsters. Sofie Juel Andersen

After lifting up the lid of the first dumpster, I was so shocked. The whole container was just packed full of vegetables, it was completely full. I could tell some of them had marks on or had been slightly damaged, but I wasn't worried about eating them.

I just used my common sense. I smelled them, looked at them and saw most of them were fine. I treated them in exactly the same way I would treat fresh produce in my own fridge. That first time I didn't take very much, but my friend and I filled our bags with what we wanted. The next dumpster was empty aside from a huge box full of avocados, which looked totally fine to eat. We thought: "Score!"

Because I thought what I was doing was illegal, I wasn't entirely comfortable, so I only ended up trying it a few times. I didn't really think about dumpster diving again until early 2020.

I was 26 and living in Sydney while employed as a social worker for an Australian company. I was earning good money and wasn't at all struggling to buy food. But, my sister said she tried out dumpster diving for the first time in Denmark and sent me a picture of everything she had found.

I was so inspired by the volume of produce she had sourced I thought: "I wonder if I could do it here in Australia." What I found was just mind blowing, the dumpsters in my local area were completely full. Everything from fruits and vegetables to bread, cheese and yogurts.

Sofie Juel Anderson
Sofie shares her hauls of produce, including various fruits and vegetables, on Instagram. Sofie Juel Andersen/dumpsterdivingwsoff

It took me some time to get used to eating meat I had salvaged, I was a little bit more cautious about it. But I soon realized it was fine, I've never become sick after eating groceries I found in the trash.

So in October 2020, I started living entirely off food I found in the garbage. I don't spend any money on groceries. Maybe if there's something I was really craving, I would buy it from a store, but the last time that happened was over a year ago.

While I was living in Australia, I was salvaging so much produce that I provided food for several different people in my apartment block. I would say: "Hey, I have loads of groceries which I found in the dumpster, you can have them for free." One of my neighbors was a 94-year-old woman who struggled to walk. She appreciated it so much, because she barely had to go grocery shopping anymore, it made me so happy doing that.

Sofie produce
Sofie's hauls include dairy products like butter, milks and cheese. Sofie Juel Andersen/dumpsterdivingwsoff

When I go dumpster diving in a new place, I always go and check it out beforehand and see which is accessible and legal to open. I always bring something I can stand on, because I'm not very tall. I also take gloves and anti-bacterial wipes with me.

I believe grocery stores throw out food because of the following reasons; the first is there's a small mark on the product or it's in a bag where one item is rotten. The second is they have a new shipment of a product, so they throw away the old ones which are closer to their sell by or best before dates. Thirdly, grocery stores may get rid of one product in a large container where another has been damaged.

For example, one day I found eight kilos of sugar in a large box; one of the bags had a small rip, so they had thrown out the whole box. That kind of shocked me, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with seven of the bags.

Sometimes food may be a couple of days past its expiry date, but I constantly find lots of it is still good to eat. I avoid certain foods which have passed their sell-by dates, for example chicken and fish. Those stickers are obviously there for a reason, but with a lot of food I think it's just a guide. I believe people are very cautious, they don't want to get sick so they just throw it out. But I think we really need to change that culture and start using our senses; ask: "Is this food still good?"

Sofie produce
Sofie saves around $270 per month on food shopping. Sofie Juel Andersen/dumpsterdivingwsoff

Sometimes contaminated food is thrown out, but if I find an unusually large volume of a certain product, I always check using a website whether that item has been recalled for a specific reason.

I recently moved back to Denmark and while I don't know exactly what I was spending on food before, I don't pay anything now, so I save a lot. In my country, the average food bill for a single person is around 2,000 Danish kroner per month, which equates to nearly $270. I probably save more, as I take home more food than I would buy.

There is so much food thrown out. Some estimates claim one third of all produce is lost or wasted. It's crazy that I can find all this food in a dumpster when so many people are starving in the world, that breaks my heart sometimes.

I could dumpster dive for other products, but I only look for food. For me, it's all about spreading awareness of how much food is wasted. I want to make it visible and start this conversation, I feel it's something the entire world needs to know about.

Sofie Juel Andersen, 28, lives in Denmark. You can follow her Instagram or TikTok on @dumpsterdivingwsoff.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Monica Greep.