Dumpster diving Toronto

Dumpster-diving Toronto software engineer saves up to $200 a month on groceries

Imagine saving hundreds of dollars on your monthly groceries without scouring for sales or coupons.

Toronto resident Julia Pak has been doing this for about 20 years through dumpster diving.

It's not a new practice, but with the soaring cost of living and outrageous prices for basic groceries in Canada, more people are diving into it to combat expensive food prices.

Pak says dumpster diving has been a subculture way before inflation hit historic highs. She started doing it as a teenager because she grew up with a frequently unhoused parent.

"I will say that my mom was not a dumpster diver or anything like that," Pak told Daily Hive over the phone. "She thought it was insane that I was doing this, but then she looked into it, and she's more supportive of me now, but she would never do it herself."

Now, at 37 years old, the software engineer continues to dumpster dive and has a TikTok dedicated to sharing her fabulous finds and educating people on the practice.

She explains why she shares her videos in one of her most-watched TikToks with over 130,000 views.

@torontotrashpanda Why im making #dumpsterdiving ♬ original sound - TorontoTrashPanda

"I want to show you guys it's a viable option here, and yes, you can feed yourself, your family, et cetera," she said.

"I do not promote stealing from any of these stores, by the way, because I know they're throwing it out back within a few days or right before it expires. And yes, the food is still good. So, don't steal, dumpster dive!"

Here's a beginner's guide on saving hundreds of dollars on groceries by dumpster diving.

First off, is it legal?

Let's get the legalities out of the way first. You aren't breaking any laws if you dumpster dive because trash is considered public domain in Canada.

The fine print here is that the garbage must be situated off of someone's private property, or else you could be charged with trespassing, according to Pyzer Criminal Lawyers. In this case, private property means a "private dwelling-house is situated on that property."

So, unfortunately, you can't go rummaging through Drake's garbage at his Bridle Path mansion, but you can sift through bins behind malls or grocery stores.

When and where should you dumpster dive?

Pak says she dumpster dives behind major strip malls and grocery stores like Loblaws, Metro, and Sobeys.

She says she would "never touch restaurant dumpsters" because they're most likely filled with a gross mixture of half-eaten and uneaten food.

@torontotrashpanda #dumpsterdiving in #dumpstersoftoronto #dumpstersofcanada ♬ original sound - TorontoTrashPanda

If you're wondering if Pak has ever been confronted dumpster diving, she says there have only been a few instances, and most ended positively.

"He came out, and he was like, 'Yeah, I saw you on the camera,' and he seemed kind of mad, but then he was like, 'No, no, come back, and then he gave me like two full boxes of donuts," she recalled.

She says another store's employees even bag food for the dumpster divers they see on camera.

Still, Pak advises going at night if you want to avoid confrontation.

"You want to go at night or one to two hours after the store closes. You have to give the employees time to close the store," she explained.

Pak's dos for dumpster diving
  • Bring gloves
  • Bring a flashlight (especially if you're doing it at night)
  • Be polite and respectful of other fellow dumpster divers
  • Clean up after yourself
Pak's don'ts for dumpster diving
  • Leave a mess ("As soon as you start leaving a mess, people will start locking [the dumpsters] up," said Pak.)
  • Dump your own trash in the store's bin

When it comes to which groceries are safe to take from bins, Pak says to avoid taking any dairy products or meat, especially in the summer.

"If you opened milk that had been sitting under the sun for two hours, it's going to curdle, right? Even if it's within the day," she explained.

Pak also never takes lettuce when she finds it thrown out in bulk because it's "almost always on recall."

@torontotrashpanda

♬ original sound - TorontoTrashPanda

This TikTok shows how Pak decides which produce to take or leave in dumpsters.

@torontotrashpanda #dumpsterdiving in #toronto ♬ original sound - TorontoTrashPanda
Pak's best dumpster-diving finds

The seasoned dumpster diver has picked up some priceless finds over the years.

"I got a brand new Samsung fridge — that was one of my better finds," said Pak. "My entire bedroom is furnished from the dumpster."

She found a brand-new Simmons Beautyrest mattress in the package, which she cleaned and triple-checked for bedbugs. Pak even found bamboo bed sheets and a quilt to pair with the mattress.

On TikTok, she's shared dumpster-diving hauls of groceries, makeup products, shoes, and accessories.

@torontotrashpanda Makeup in the bins #binning #dumpsterdiver ♬ original sound - TorontoTrashPanda

Overall, Pak says she probably saves thousands of dollars dumpster diving. She doesn't only help herself but also gives back to the community.

"A lot of [dumpster divers] will donate a lot of the food to community fridges," she said. "I usually keep half for myself, and I give the half to the rest of the people."

How much can you really save on groceries?

Pak says it varies, but she can save $60 to $200 monthly on groceries by dumpster diving.

This Business Insider article examined her expenses and found she cut her grocery bill to about $45 per month.

Most of her money for groceries goes towards buying dairy products and meat.

Pak stresses that dumpster diving is not a solution to inflation or the best way to cope with soaring prices.

"Obviously, inflation needs a scalable solution. This isn't scalable at any magnitude," she said. "I'm still affected by inflation because I go in and buy meat and dairy. And yes, I'm still buying it at the inflated price."

But with the use of food banks rising to its highest levels last year, dumpster diving may still be a viable alternative for those experiencing food insecurity.

"You'll have an abundance of food; you'll never go hungry," said Pak.

Lead photo by

Julia Pak


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