Students eating rubbish to save the environment

 

Monash students Paige England and Ana Ross are trying to combat food waste through dumpster diving. Picture: Lauren Choo

By LAUREN CHOO

A student initiative that prepares meals with ingredients taken from bins is converting others to the benefits of dumpster-diving.

Monash University students Paige England and Ana Ross say they set up their group BinDins – which recycles food taken from supermarket dumpsters – to combat high levels of food waste.

Ms England said the response from students to meals they had shared had been surprisingly positive, with no complaints from those who had eaten the food.

They looked for food that was within its use-by date and in proper packaging, and washed produce thoroughly before cooking it, Ms England said.

They have also held sessions to educate people about food waste, including taking a group dumpster-diving.

“We had 10 people get together one night, and we took them along to show them where and how to dumpster dive, and also how to keep the dumpsters tidy when leaving,” she said.

BinDins had saved 110kg of food from landfill within four weeks of starting out, she said, and that was a statistic she was proud of. Family households on average waste about 350kg a year.

However, the group had to cancel a recent planned cook-up night with BinDins ingredients at a kitchen on campus.

“The issue we had is that we have not got the standard measurements in place to ensure where our ingredients have been, nor what temperatures they have been stored at, so under Monash University’s health and safety standards, we were not able to cook on campus,” she said.

A food haul from a dumpster dive
Picture: Paige England and Ana Ross

Ms England said the most realistic business idea for DinBins in the future was to intercept food from supermarkets or to her sources before it touched the dumpster.

She said they were also discussing collaboration with a new app called BringMeHome (https://www.bringmehome.com.au, which aims to connect people to unsold and discounted excess meals from cafes, restaurants, and other food stores. 

“We also have a goal to create a business that uses supermarkets’ surplus food and help to change the behaviours people have around using food waste,” she said.

BinDins wants to be able to sell cheap meals from recycled food, while continuing to educate people about food wastage. 

The food waste problem

It has been estimated about $8 billion worth of edible food is thrown out by Australians each year, with several studies showingconsumers aged 18-24 are some of the biggest food wasters in Australia.

BehaviourWorks Australia Research fellow Mark Boulet said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly how much food was thrown away, because so much happened out of the public eye.

“When you think about food waste and where it occurs, say in a supermarket or in our home, it is usually done behind-the-scenes,” he said.

The high aesthetic standardsmost supermarkets set for fresh produce means up to 40 per cent is discarded before it even hits the shelf.

Mr Boulet said food is often thrown out for reasons other than it going off.

“Behind any retailer, you will see a substantial amount of food going in the bin, which in all other intents and purposes, could be edible,” he said.

Mr Boulet said despite a general understanding in society that food should not be wasted, it is difficult to eliminate it from our current system.

“Food waste is very much inherent in the system of food production,” he said.

Supermarkets often remove food from shelves before their “use-by” date or for other reasons, and these goods are sometimes donated to charities or food rescue initiatives such as SecondBite.

Coles has a national partnership with SecondBite in which 600 stores nationwide donate food that do not meet their aesthetic standards.

Each year Victorian households alone waste more than 60,00 tonnes of bread. Photo: Lauren Choo

One “solution”

Ms England said she started dumpster diving for fun, but now got about 70 per cent of her groceries from dumpsters.

“I decided to do it regularly because I simply believe that food should not be wasted,” she said.

She has been dumpster diving for the past year and believes it can be sustainable in the long-term.

“We have always been able to get food, and it has always saved us so much money and we have heaps of food to cook with,” she said.

Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bram Alexander said food taken from bins could not legally be resold and eaten. 

“However, there are arrangements in place where safe and suitable surplus food can be set aside for re-use by a range of charities who are able to collect and reuse the food,” he said.