Dumpster Diving 101

Dive! Living Off America’s Waste

Directed by Jeremy Seifert (2007)

Film Review

This documentary teaches the rules and techniques of dumpster diving for food. In the Los Angeles region, dumpster divers operate by a strict code of conduct:

  1. Only take what you need.
  2. The first one there has first refusal rights to any food but is expected to share.
  3. Always leave the dumpster cleaner than how you found it.

This film examines the wasteful habit many supermarkets have of discarding perfectly good food because its arbitrary “sell-by date” has expired. According to the filmmakers, 3,000 pounds of edible food is discarded every second. Meanwhile globally one billion people go hungry.

Not only is this a tremendous waste of water (it takes 147 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat) and other natural resources, but discarded food (comprising 20% of all solid waste) in produces massive amounts of the most harmful greenhouse gas – methane.

Filmmakers noticed a significant increase in dumpster diving with the 2007 global economic crash. Yet despite the 1996 Good Samaritan Food Donation Act*, supermarkets (except for Albertson’s) have been reluctant to set up programs to donate their food waste to food banks and homeless shelters.

It’s mainly been up to voluntary grassroots organizers, such as the God Provides food bank in El Monte California to take the initiative in keeping edible supermarket food out of the dumpster.

Fortunately in the nine years since this documentary was made, more supermarkets have come on board with Fresh Rescue and similar programs.

A new law France passed in February 2016 forbids food wastage by supermarkets. Its passage spurred New Zealand supermarkets to forestall a similar ban by voluntarily implementing food donation programs. It would appear the French law has had a similar effect in the US and UK.

*The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act encourages the donation of food to non-profit charitable organizations by exempting donor from liability related to food-borne illnesses.


This second UK film Wasted/Wanted (2014) explores the work of the charitable organization FairShare. Their volunteers are granted access to warehouses of discarded food that never reach the supermarket. They sort and deliver the food to food banks, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In most cases, this food hasn’t reached its sell-by date and is discarded for other reasons:

  • flawed packaging
  • bar codes that don’t scan
  • damaged cartons that make the food difficult to transport
  • overproduction of supermarket brands