The Pioneer

One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure

Ashley Matsuzak

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ou have heard of vegetarians, pescetarians and vegans. But have you ever heard of a freegan?

Freeganism is one of the newest food movements to sweep the United States, and it isn’t just about scoring free food. Freeganism is a committed lifestyle dedicated to rejecting consumerism and materialism.

Freegans live off of what was meant to be discarded; they often search in dumpsters behind grocery stores, restaurants and apartment buildings. Freegans hope that by using up what was meant to be thrown away, there will be less of an impact on the environment by reducing the amount of waste.

Freegan Kaleigh Wyrick chose this lifestyle as a reaction to the rampant amount of waste in the United States.

“Freeganism is an effort to break away from the consumerist mindset that one always has to have the newest, latest and greatest goods,” she said. “Such a mindset leads to tons and tons of waste building up in the environment, along with a lot of money wasted on buying these unnecessary goods that could be put to a better cause.”

One might picture a freegan as being a dirty or unkempt looking person, since they find their food in garbage containers. This is only but a stereotype – freegans come in all different types, from the upper middle class to working class to poor. Interestingly enough, freegans are motivated not just to preserve food and discarded items, but their own money as well. While some Americans spend hundreds of dollars a month on food, freegans don’t spend any. This allows a lot of them easily to pay mortgage and other bills while having a lower paying job. “If one doesn’t waste all their money on stuff, they no longer have to feel pressure to get a high-paying job. Instead, they can live on a lesser income and are able to use their time in volunteer work” Wyrick said.

This lifestyle seems minimalistic, but freegans seemed to be more than satisfied with what they can find on their own, without having to buy anything. Several freegan blogs and support groups can be found online, and the amount of food and household items that are salvaged is shocking. One blogger uploaded a picture of nearly 100 dollars worth of fancy cheeses thrown out by a gourmet food shop, a person from the Freegan Facebook page uploaded a picture of a toaster oven that just needed new knobs, and another blogger had photo which showed an entire box of heirloom tomatoes.

What is most disheartening about the idea of freeganism is that such a need for people to live this way even exists. A study from the University of Arizona showed that fifty percent of the food from the United States is thrown away. If half of our food goes uneaten, what happens to it? After it gets thrown away, it eventually spoils and gets thrown into a landfill. What was once perfectly good, life sustaining food now contributes to our already massive waste problem.

Freegans aren’t eating and living off of other people’s garbage for the sake of being frugal. It speaks to a higher cause, one that is against consumer America. Wyrick explains, “We don’t need to contribute by following the normal ‘buy and toss’ style of everyone else, but instead we need to salvage and use what we can, and it’s easy to find everything you need to live comfortably.”

Most freegans only need to go out and look for food once or twice a week. Finding sustainable food in dumpsters isn’t as hard as one would think. Freegans call their trips for food “dumpster dives” or “dumpster tours,” and some even lovingly call it “shopping.” There is a strategy on where to look for certain items. Bakeries usually throw away bread after it is one day old, and it can be easily reheated back to life in a microwave 30 seconds. Grocery stores throw away good produce as new (and unneeded) shipments come in. Gourmet shops have stricter guidelines for shelf life of products, and often throw away edible and expensive food items. The one thing most people don’t throw away though is alcohol. One freegan blogger admitted to going to the grocery store for the first time in two years, because he just had to have an ice cold beer.

Food isn’t the only thing freegans are after, though. They try to reuse anything and everything that was meant to be thrown away by repurposing things that can no longer be used for what they are intended. Freegan Blogger Michael gives step by step instructions on how to take an old ripped T-shirt and turn it into a reusable tote bag for dumpster diving. Freegans also frequent junkyards, where usable household items have been thrown away for the sake of getting the latest and greatest. Freegans look in the dumpsters of hardware and gardening stores, where they find half dead plants that they bring back to life for their own gardens and home décor.

For those of us that want to reduce the amount of waste but aren’t exactly ready to look in dumpsters, Wyrick has a few tips. “Start by using all the food that you have; don’t throw any of it away. Don’t cook something new until you eat all your leftovers. Don’t be tempted into buying the newest item to replace your old one if the one you have works fine. Recycle everything that is possible, and if you can’t recycle it, stop buying it.”

Freegans do have to work a little harder to get their food, but they don’t have to reach into their pockets for it. For freegans, there really is such a thing as a “free lunch.”

California State University East Bay
One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure