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Arctic Cycler goes dumpster diving in darkest Adelaide

Matthew Harris's picture
Arctic-Cycler goes dumpster diving in the dark streets of Adelaide. Cycle Traveller

‘Smell this,’ whispers Jeremy, his head and light peering through the dark into the open skip. ‘Bleach. Someone doesn’t want us to take this.’

The pile from the bakery, sitting in the skip was doused with bleach. Some people think, if I don’t want it – you’re not getting it either. There is so much waste, but putting it to good use, I feel like a fugitive.

My ears are perked up and my eyes are sharp, concentrating on the moment – night-time foraging in the rubbish bins of supermarkets in Adelaide.

Its called Dumpster Diving – salvaging food from rubbish thrown out at supermarkets, fruit markets and bakers. I first heard about it in Dubrovnik when a cycle touring friend Clement told me about cycling 3,000km through France without money.

Another cyclist, Florian, did it on his trip from Germany to Australia. In Adelaide, I added the dumpster-diving badge to my qualifications.

In the dead of night we work, behind the supermarkets. The bikes are parked. Head torches on. Watching for people. Listen. Be alert. Are the supermarket workers still there? Is security passing? Is that a rubbish truck coming to take away our booty?

Video footage, dumpster diving in Adelaide. Cycle Traveller

Jeremy, our dumpster teacher opens up the skip. A faint smell wafts up, of everything, of rubbish. And then we sift in the dark, lit by the light of our head-torches. Moving boxes of empty CD covers; an old watermelon seeping its juice; a few leaves of old cabbage.

Someone adjusts the torch to better see inside the skip. Then an arm is thrust down deep. Up comes a milk container; use-by date – tomorrow. He touches it to his cheek. Still cold. Still sealed.

“Who wants it?”

And then another. Then an iced coffee. A carton of milk. It is wet; a drop of white collects in the bottom corner. Jeremy squeezes it. It’s good. The milk is from somewhere else. The more we look, the more we find. A stash of milk to satisfy us all. And all not passed its use-by date.

In another skip we find thick paper bags full of pastries from the bakery: cinnamon scrolls, buns, croissants, cakes. We find bottles of orange juice, still cold. This is all stuff that couldn’t be sold. This is all good food. And it’s all going to waste.

I try to decide what I think of this. Society is wasteful – mountains of food are grown just to be thrown away. I think it is morally good to take this food and use it – without paying for it.

But other people have paid for this, I hear you say. Other people have worked, and I just take the spoils of their toils. The supermarket is losing paying customers to dumper divers. Why pay for it, when you can get it for free? – just wait until closing time.

Matthew Harris, Arctic Cycler.  Cycle Traveller Postcards

There are lots of conflicting thoughts that go through my mind. I think that it is good there are dumpster divers. I am glad I have tried it. Although, I must admit, I would rather buy the food off the shelf. I am lucky enough to have the money to have the choice.

About Arctic Cycler

Matthew Harris, the Arctic Cycler, is taking a winter sabbatical in the midst of his world bicycle tour from The Netherlands to Australia. Cycle Traveller was pleased to have the chance to meet up with him as he passed through his birth-town of Adelaide en-route to study Mandarin in Taiwan before resuming his ride through Asia. You can follow his adventures on his blog

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