Is Freeganism the Next Step Toward Sustainability?

March 12, 2014

You know all about veganism. You’ve heard of locavores and flexivores. But what do you know about “freeganism”? Freegans are the newest addition to the multitude of subcategories describing diet/lifestyle. The term is a combination between “free” and “vegan,” and describes people who repurpose goods from the trash for economic and/or environmental reasons.

How, you might ask? They do something called dumpster diving.

Is Freeganism the next step toward sustainability?
But wait, it’s not what you think.

What once evoked images of filth and putrid smells now carries with it a much sweeter connotation- both literally and figuratively. As dumpster diving has grown more and more publicized, the truth has been coming out about what kinds of gems people just throw away. From clothing to electronics to food and more, there is something for everyone (if you’re willing to dig a little).

I am specifically interested in free food, for various reasons. The main one is the environmental impact of obtaining your groceries this way. So much food gets thrown away in the United States- about 30% of all groceries end up being discarded, according to UNEP. Some produce might be a bit wilt-y or bruised, but taken off the shelves: expired dates don’t necessarily mean the can is bad. Dipping into some of the perfectly good food that gets thrown out reduces the strain on ever-piling mass of landfills. (Even organic materials like food don’t decompose when they’re trapped in plastic.) And freeganism also is a stance against consumerism, which helps to decrease resource depletion.

Obviously the other reason dumpster diving is appealing is because less money spent equals more padding in your wallet (and what college student doesn’t want that?)

I actually tried it out for myself and was pleasantly surprised! On my first attempt, I opened the dumpster to find it piled high with perfectly good produce. I went home with apples, pears, oranges, potatoes & a few “overripe” bananas- most if not all was organic, to boot.


Not too shabby! Total: $0

This does not mean that every time will yield such great results- dumpster diving is hit or miss. However, if you approach the venture with openness, you are sure to have a positive experience regardless. Dumpster diving is not about “What do I want?“, it’s about “What can I find?”

With all this in mind, are you ready to try your luck at a dive? If so, here are some things you should know:

Dumpsters are messy places, so be prepared. A flashlight, gloves, and clothing you don’t mind getting dirty are recommended. Knives or scissors may also be handy to cut open bags.

Check the laws in your state, because dumpster diving is illegal in some areas- and even in places where it isn’t, you can still face problems if you are caught diving on private property. If you have a run-in with cops, be respectful and honor their requests.

It’s best to go dumpster diving pretty late at night a) because people won’t see you and b) all the trash will have been taken home for the night. An hour or two after a store closes is ideal.

If dumpsters aren’t really your scene, don’t despair. There are still plenty of ways to increase the “freegan” spirit in your life.

-Check your local listings for items being given away. Sites like Craigslist and Freecycle have whole sections devoted to totally free things.

-Have swaps with your friends, where you trade possessions that you no longer want.

-If you’re interested in free food, hit up your local farmers market near closing time. Often vendors will discount products or give them away if no one has bought them by the end of the day.

-And don’t forget that (although it is not free), buying from secondhand stores instead of commercial stores is also a budget and environment-friendly choice.

Related: Simple Living – 3 Ways to Reduce Spending and Become Happier

Eco-Chic Challenge: the 10-Item Wardrobe

Also by Quincy: 5 Eco Friendly Music Festivals to Attend this Summer

Image: Justin Balog via Flickr

Quincy is an NC-based college student who is passionate about leading a healthy and compassionate life. Aside from classes, she fills her time with cooking, writing, travel, and yoga. You can find more from her on her blog Shugurcän and on Instagram.


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