Joanna Tao is a student at St Dominic’s College in Henderson, Auckland. Her article won the top prize in the Writing, 15-18 years category in the 2016 Young Reporters for the Environment awards. Scroll down for more information about the awards.

This is the ugly truth: From every piece of bread crust to last night's leftovers, every time we throw out any food waste, it contributes to a grand total of 122,547 tonnes of food waste each year from New Zealand households.

Nationally, we waste $872 million a year on food that we buy and throw away uneaten. That is, on average, $563 a year per household.

New Zealand's yearly food waste produced 325,975 tonnes of carbon emissions. That's the amount generated by 118,107 cars in a year. We would have to plant 130,930 trees to offset it.

Many of us aren't aware of the toxic methane released in the landfill when the food decomposes without oxygen; we don't see the resources that went into producing the food that we simply throw away; nor do we see those people around the world who are hungry. All we see is an apple in the bin.


This waste is a self-perpetuating system, as humans are now accustomed to such high standards that we cannot accept wonky fruits and vegetables in our supermarkets.

Within New Zealand, many people are still living under the poverty line, especially in major cities such as Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington where prices are higher. So why can't we give away socially unacceptable food to those in need?

A solution that attracts many members of the public, especially young people, is dumpster diving.

This can be defined as the modern salvaging of waste discarded by large businesses such as supermarkets, as well as residential homes.

Traditionally, most people who resorted to dumpster diving were forced to do so from economic necessity. This is no longer the case. It is now a new environmental endeavour.
Much of our food waste comes from the supermarket, discarded with slight imperfections, near its expiration date or simply replaced by newer stock and tossed out when still edible.

By repurposing resources that were destined for landfill, dumpster divers divert them to those who can make use of them, such as homeless people and low-income families.

So, could this be the potential solution to the global shame of food waste?

"I think dumpster diving is a good alternative way to not waste food," said a fellow student in my school.

"There's no reason why it would be considered a 'crime' when all they tried to do was to help reduce our food waste."

Although dumpster diving is not covered specifically under the New Zealand law, it can be classed as theft, as it's understood that rubbish is still the property of the disposer until an operator has collected it.

An online poll on posed the question: "Should Dumpster Diving be illegal in New Zealand?"

It received more than 1000 votes, with more than 80 per cent of respondents agreeing with retailers and supermarkets giving away their food.

However, many supermarkets have different reactions.

By researching on the website of New World and Pak'nSave owner Foodstuffs and interviewing the manager of my local Countdown, I learnt that dumpster diving was not encouraged by many retailers for various reasons.

"We appreciate some people see dumpster diving as a way of accessing free food, and while we acknowledge some items may still be edible, there are significant health risks associated with such an activity and we would strongly recommend against it," said Foodstuffs corporate PR director Antoinette Laird.

Concerns include the risk of cross-contamination and the safety of the products.
Ms Laird pointed out the company's policy to donate food wherever possible through its food rescue programme.

"Rather than being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to try to save the food before it's destined to landfill, we should be finding ways to prevent it happening."

The student representative on my school's board of trustees recommended retailers selling old food or food near its expiration date at a lower price, or donating it to community groups such as city missions.

Through this research, I have discovered the different perspectives on dumpster diving within my community.

Potential solutions to prevent more food being wasted are in great need.

It is important to think globally as we are all global citizens working towards common global goals. Progress is impossible without change. Dumpster diving is only the first milestone on the journey to end global food waste.

* This story was published through a partnership between Keep New Zealand Beautiful and NZME, owner of the Herald.

The partnership aims to promote the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) programme.

The international programme was established by the Denmark-based Foundation for Environmental Education in 1994 and launched in New Zealand last year by Keep New Zealand Beautiful.

The youth-led programme is found in over 30 countries with more than 77,000 young reporters.

To enter students have to investigate an environmental issue, research a solution, then report on it using film, photography or writing.

Category winners in the 2016 awards received a prize package including a camera, a day in the Herald newsroom and having their entry published on

Keep New Zealand Beautiful education manager Christine White said the 2017 awards will focus on litter by adopting the Litter Less Camaign.

New Zealand schools will be paired with schools from another country so students can discuss their projects, talk about challenges and share knowledge with foreign students.

"Litter is a great theme to start working on environmental issues with students. It is visible and it is easy to see the improvements. Like the YRE programme, the YRE Litter Less Campaign aims to find and then report solutions through articles, photographs and videos."

Keep New Zealand Beautiful is taking expressions of interest from schools who want to know more about the YRE Litter Less Campaign. Entries close in July.

For more information visit: