Frustrated Aussies infiltrate supermarket dumpsters to save on grocery costs and food waste

Activists 'liberated' products from Woolworths and Coles dumpsters in Hobart.

Activists 'liberated' products from Woolworths and Coles dumpsters in Hobart. Photo: TND/ Grassroots Action Network Tasmania

Aussies are turning supermarkets’ trash into treasure amid increasingly expensive groceries and food waste.

After days of scavenging from Woolworths and Coles stores’ dumpsters, Grassroots Action Network Tasmania (GRANT) set up a stall in front of a Hobart Woolworths store on Monday to hand out goods for free.

From fresh produce to back-to-school items, the group said it had ‘‘liberated’’ copious amounts of products.

Although Woolworths staff immediately called police, GRANT organiser Amy Booth told The New Daily responding officers were happy to let the group continue to hand out the free products.

She said supermarkets have been throwing away edible or useable products for decades, and dumpster diving has been happening for just as long.

“This is not a new issue,” she said.

“The goal for [Monday’s] action was to shame the duopoly as well as ensure that food is being distributed to people who want it/need it.”

Puzzling products discarded

Some products are thrown out because they’re mouldy, contaminated, or broken, but Booth said supermarkets often throw out whole cartons of eggs if just one egg in the carton is broken instead of simply marking down the price.

Products such as multiple jars of tomato passata could also be thrown away, just because one jar broke in transit and the store doesn’t want to spare a staff member to make sure the other jars are clear of glass debris and safe for customers to touch.

Other items she’s found over the years seem inexplicable, like moisturisers that are still years out from their use-by date and fully sealed.

Source: Grassroots Action Network Tasmania

“There’s … so many reasons why things get thrown in the bin when the vast majority of the product is completely still edible and still usable,” Booth said.

“But because of business rules, legislation, liability, and them not wanting to get sued, it goes in the bin.

“I’m sure business people will go, ‘That’s understandable’, but as … consumers and logical people, we see … that it’s a massive market failure.”

She said supermarket specifications were “ridiculous” from the get-go.

Food rescue charity OzHarvest found Australia wastes more than 7.6 million tonnes of food every year.

More than 2.5 million tonnes of that is from farms and primary producers.

One of the key reasons for dumping fresh produce is failure to meet supermarket standards, which are strict on the sizing and the number of blemishes on fresh produce, even if edibility or taste aren’t affected.

Booth acknowledged Coles and Woolworths donate food to charities such as OzHarvest and Foodbank, but said an overhaul of Australia’s food systems was needed.

“It’s a big conversation about our farms … about the types of food … about the supply chain,” she said.

“There’s just a lot more to work on as a country that has chosen these two specific [companies] to have too much market concentration, given all the waste is still happening.”

Supermarkets respond

A Woolworths spokesperson said the retailer worked hard to reduce food waste across its stores.

In the 2023 financial year, 80 per cent of Woolworths supermarkets’ food waste was diverted from landfill to food relief partners, farmers and organic recycling.

“We aim to only discard food that can’t be donated to charity, often for food safety reasons,” the Woolworths spokesperson said.

A Coles spokesperson said the company had donated almost 20,000 tonnes – equivalent to more than 39 million meals  – to SecondBite and Foodbank last financial year.

“We have other food waste solutions including donations to farmers and animal or wildlife services as well as organic food collections,” they said.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.