wet market waste
Food waste at the wet market on the eve of Chinese New Year.

So. Much. Waste. According to the NEA, food waste makes up approximately 10% of the total waste in Singapore. Around Chinese New Year, with all the reunions and celebrations centered around food and the dinner table, I would imagine that this rate goes up. We’re indeed privileged to live in a society in which food, for the most part, is plentiful and its abundance can often be taken for granted.

Although there are many businesses that donate their leftovers to welfare organizations, halfway homes, and charity groups, the vast majority (including individuals) just toss their salvageable food (food that is perhaps less fresh or less than perfect) into the rubbish bin without a second thought.

When I lived in the States, there were groups of people who called themselves freegans who dumpster dived for salvageable food. Most did this not because they were poor or couldn’t afford it, but because they believed in reducing waste and other environmentally-friendly practices.

In fact, I myself have done this (but you must ask for permission from the shop owner first). You just can’t believe what perfectly good and edible delicacies you can find behind a restaurant, grocery store, bakery, or food processing plant. I’ve even done it here in Singapore, albeit to a much lesser extent. And I always ask for permission by the dumper before I do it, fearing that there are laws that prohibit this.

What You Can Find. Some Photos of My “Loot”.

dumpster1 dumpster2 dumpster3

As you can see, the majority of the vegetables in the dumpster are bagged. And even if some are not, I thoroughly wash them when I get home.

I actually don’t mind that they were in a dumpster. I know many people still will have a reaction of disgust, but vegetables out in nature are not that clean anyway. Do they not come from the ground, where people or animals may step, or where birds poop, or bugs breed? Just because the veggies look clean and sterile in the grocery store doesn’t mean they are that way in nature.

Of course, if the food is rotting or festering with ants or flies, I just leave it. But much of the food is surprisingly salvageable with only a few ugly spots (which will be cut off anyway). If you can get past the stigma associated with a dumpster, this can be a fun and rewarding way of getting inexpensive but quality home cooked meals.

Though, itโ€™s been a while since Iโ€™ve done it, I’ve always been satisfied with the quality of what I find, have never gotten food poisoning, and know that I’m doing my part to reduce food waste. If there is ever a day to start, it would be the first day of Chinese New Year since that’s when a lot of businesses close and dump all their food, even perfectly good packaged food.

7 Comments on Would You Dumpster Dive in Singapore?

    • In the late evenings (10pm+), a lot of restaurants, cafes, and bakeries will toss out their unsold items. At the wet markets, this happens much earlier in the day, around 12-1pm. If you go to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market, they toss out a lot of food simply because it is not aesthetically pleasing to the customer. However, do take some caution – some food may actually be unsafe to eat and the laws here are a bit unclear about dumpster diving. It’s always good to ask for permission first.

    • Hi neekee, I haven’t dumpster dived in a while, and the two locations which I used to visit have now started to reduce their food waste by donating their excess food to organisations which collect and distribute it to needy beneficiaries. I was very happy with their decision to do this, as food waste should not coexist when there is a small but growing population of people who live in poverty here. There are, however, plenty of other places that have not yet joined this movement to reduce food waste while helping others at the same time. I haven’t had the time to explore these other places, as I sleep early and many of the restaurants, grocery stores, and bakeries will dump their food at night, when a lot of dumpster diving (like in the States) occurs.

  1. Hey, I would love to try dumpster diving, especially since im staying in my uni’s hall and trying to save money at the same time. How do I approach those restaurants or supermarkets for their soon-to-be-discarded food items?

    • Hi Dan,
      You bring up a very good point, and that is that because dumpster diving is still considered illegal, it’s always good to ask for permission. For me (in this article), I happened to be walking by the shop’s dumpster when a staff member started tossing out stuff. So it was easy to approach him and ask if it was ok for me to take. It was clear that I had just been shopping there, so I wasn’t trespassing or loitering.

      I’ve never approached any restaurants, only some hawkers. I befriend them first, which usually means I would buy from them regularly and talk to them, so that they know who I am. And then one day, I just ask if they have any hard-to-sell or leftover items which get wasted, and whether they could “sell cheap” to me. I’ve gotten kilos of meat, veggies, and fruit for just a few dollars this way.

      Here’s what not to do – argue with staff members. I know a guy who tries to pick a fight when he gets rejected. He starts to rebuke the establishment for their wastage, telling them they are hurting the environment, when his real motive is probably just to get free food. NTUC staff members have even threatened to call the police on him. Please don’t be like him. There are many reasons why a restaurant or supermarket would reject dumpster diving (many reasons which I agree with), and I think you have to respect that. It is their property, they have the right to do with it as they wish. Their business depends on customers, not those who are just trespassing/loitering.

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