Finding Treasure in Trash

(Dumpster) Diving into the Problem of Food Waste

Published in
2 min readFeb 22, 2019


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an estimated one-third of the food produced globally for human consumption is wasted or lost. Though some of this wastage happens in the production and processing stage of the food supply chain, a concerning amount of uneaten food nonetheless continues to be discarded from retail stores and consumers’ fridges.

Enter the #dumpsterdivers, a community of individuals that forage for and rescue food and other items from dumpsters. In recent years, more of these keen-eyed foragers have taken to social media to showcase their spoils and provide first-hand visual evidence of alarming food waste statistics.

We used our visual detection AI engine to analyze these very Instagram posts. Through this, we were able to gain insight into the types of food products most often rescued from the dumpsters — and thus, that have the highest potential for life-extension and redistribution.

What We Dug Up…

🥦Fresh out the Fridge: Fresh produce of vegetables (39%) and fruits (26%) make up the majority of the food waste rescued from the bins. This is a head-scratching statistic, considering the fact that there are nearly 821 million people across the world who continue to face chronic food deprivation.

🥗Vege Terrible: Within the vegetable division, leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage were most often tossed and rescued (41% of all vegetables).

🍌The Unap-peel-ing Truth: Amongst the fruits, bananas were most frequently surfaced from the trash (35% of all fruit). Bananas are quick to over-ripen, and the brown-spotted ones are often bypassed by consumers and subsequently tossed by retailers.

🥫Packs a Punch: Despite the comparable longevity of its shelf-life, packaged snacks and canned food still form a sizeable portion of recovered food waste (26%). These were most often junk food and sweets. New diet aspirations may prompt a sudden urge to detox one’s pantry, yet these discarded snacks still continue to add weight to the food waste problem.

A Wasted Opportunity

What happens to the food picked up by our dumpster diver? Here, their Instagram feeds provide some clues.

Often, they are creatively incorporated into new dishes or redistributed to the needy. For much of the produce we toss away, there is an opportunity for life-extension, be it through full-use cooking, creative culinary inventions, or donations.

Perhaps it’s time we all took cues from these eco-friendly rummagers, and become more mindful of the treasures that may already be existing within our own trash.

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