University of Wollongong academics have encouraged locals to get down and dirty at tonight’s Uni in the Brewery talk on dumpster diving. Health nutritionist Associate Professor Karen Charlton and novelist Associate Professor Shady Cosgrove will host a discussion on the rise of dumpster diving and the Freegan movement as a response to food waste.

A/Prof. Cosgrove spent time living in New York dumpster diving communities to research her latest novel. A/Prof. Charlton’s research focuses on public health and community-based lifestyle intervention.

Together last year they wrote ‘Dumpster diving for dinner: do you have what it takes to eat ‘freegan’ food‘ for The Conversation. Tonight they will collaborate again to encourage Wollongong residents to start reducing food waste.

According to a United Nations report, about one-third of all food produced worldwide goes to waste. A/Prof. Charlton said food wastage was a serious ethical issue for wealthy countries when many people still can’t access food.

“In Australia, it’s estimated that we waste $8 billion worth of food per year. That’s a huge amount of food that could feed a large proportion of people in other countries,” A/Prof. Charlton said.

Dumpster diving is a growing movement. It developed as a response to the huge amount of produce being thrown out by supermarkets. Divers arrive at night and rummage through supermarket bins where they often find large amounts of still edible food and functional products.

Wollongong dumpster diver and UOW student Deanna Wilson said while she takes home a lot of food, there are often more surprising finds.

“The most useful stuff is always the fruit and veg,” Ms Wilson said.

“But we’ve also found bunches of flowers before, we’ve found ‘Learn to speak Italian’ and ‘Learn to speak French’ kits, and we’ve found loads of gardening gear.”

Ms Wilson said there is an element of risk involved in diving. They often have to avoid security, and could risk trespassing charges.

“I’ve been caught by the police before. The first time they caught us they just sent us home, but the second time we actually spoke to them about what we were doing and they were surprised by how much waste there was.”

This week, Italy became the second European country, following France, to pass a law banning supermarkets from throwing out edible food, and encouraged residents to donate it to charities.

A/Prof. Charlton said she does not think it is likely the Australian government will introduce similar legislation. She said Australians will have to rely on consumer pressure as a tool to initiate food waste reduction programs.