Freegan: more than a garbage bin

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In our society, in our capitalist culture, we are used to having things. We buy cloths, technology and obviously food. Normally people go to a supermarket and buy all the food they want to eat, but times have changed.

We live in an economic system where sellers only value land and commodities relative to their capacity to generate profit. Consequently, people are constantly being bombarded with advertising telling them to discard and replace the goods they already have because this increases sales.


The ideology

At the end of the XX century the freegan movement began in the USA. Freegan is the union of “vegan”, rejecting the consumption of animal products and “free” meaning no cost. A consume free environment.

Freeganism is an ideology of limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources, particularly through recovering wasted goods like food. The word “freegan” is a portmanteau of “free” and “vegan”.

Laura Viera A © Solkes

In theory, freeman’s avoid buying anything as an act of protest against the food system in general.

Freeganism is often presented as synonymous with “dumpster diving” for discarded food. However,  they are their associated with an anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist ideology and their engagement in a wider range of alternative living strategies.


Who they are

Laura Viera A © Solkes

So, who are freegans? Simple: they are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.

Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.

Freegans believe that the problem isn’t exclusive of the corporations but the entire system itself. They have several guidelines and they are:

Waste Reclamation: recovering the discards of retailers, offices, schools, homes, hotels, amongst others. They are able to obtain all kinds of things such as: food, beverages, books, toiletries magazines, comic books, newspapers, videos, kitchenware, appliances, music (CDs, cassettes, records, etc.), carpets, musical instruments, clothing, and the list goes on.

“It is tasteful, says Darío Solano, who found out about this thanks to a friend, “No, it doesn’t bother me because it is really good”.

Waste Minimization: Freegans are very aware of and disgusted by the enormous amounts of waste the average US consumer generates and thus choose not to be a part of the problem. So, freegans scrupulously recycle, compost organic matter into topsoil, and repair rather than replace items whenever possible.

Eco-friendly Transportation: Freegans choose not to use cars if possible because they acknowledge the grave social and ecological impacts of the automobile.

Rent-free Housing: Freegans believe that housing is a RIGHT, not a privilege. Just as freegans consider it an atrocity for people to starve while food is thrown away, we are also outraged that people literally freeze to death on the streets while landlords, banks and cities keep buildings boarded up and vacant.

Going Green: Wild foragers demonstrate that we can feed ourselves without supermarkets and treat our illnesses without pharmacies by familiarizing ourselves with the edible and medicinal plants growing all around us. Many urban ecologists have been turning garbage-filled abandoned lots into verdant community garden plots.

Laura Viera A © Solkes

Working Less: this sound actually great! but the truth its that we spend a lot of hours working. we sacrifice our lives to pay bills and buy more stuff. For most of us, work means sacrificing our freedom to take orders from someone else, stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to our physical and psychological well-being.

The idea is to be able to devote time to caring for our families, volunteering in our communities, and joining activist groups to fight the practices of the corporations who would otherwise be bossing us around at work.


Changing the mind set

Please imagine that when the day comes to and end and the night begins crawling a group of people with backpacks circle the dumpsters, with the only purpose of retrieving food.

In complete honesty, people who dumpster dive have always existed. For one reason or another they did it in order to eat. Sadly, we could think this is “normal” if they were poor, living on the streets or under a bridge. Truthfully, they have jobs, a house and a good education. They are freegan.

“It has been difficult. People are very judgmental”, Marta Perea assures me.

In the past few years, in the United States as well as different European countries the freegan phenomenon has increased.

It must be said, this is a social phenomenon, intentionally searching for food in the dumpsters.



This situation, this attitude towards life may be seen in different places around the world. Given the economic crisis in Spain the situation, for many, becomes harder and harder to deal with.

Even if it is hard to understand, there is a large amount of people who are complementing their grocery shopping with one or two meals in soup kitchens.

There are also groups such as Comida Basura (Waste Food), they want to show the wastefulness of food and they do so by preparing delicious free meals with ingredients take out of the garbage. Obviously, the ingredients are in perfect conditions.

Many vegetables are not sold. The expiration date in some yogurts does not exceed one day. How ever, they end up in the garbage.

There is no real difference between a meal prepared with “normal” food and a freegan meal. Finding food is not easy, in other words, it has a trick or two.

As it was to be expected, this movement, would get stronger. Now, food-sharing also exists. This is the last trend, all the info is online, its updated and with many useful tips on finding food.

“You just have to ask if they have something they will throw, something that will expire shortly and that they won’t use and if they could give it to you instead of throwing it out.”

For many people, being “freegan” is to be against the “civilized” life style. They just got fed up of seeing how other throw food away while others are starving. Freegans only use food that ends up in dumpsters and as such, they don’t “consume” (buying and selling of food).

There are lots of reasons why to become a freegan: belief, politics, ecology or even religious reasons. “For me, it is a life philosophy. I think we cant depend so much on industrial production.”


In Europe

So, we must ask ourselves: is dumpster diving a theft? The result is that those looking for a free meal in their garbage bins can find easily find it. In many countries dumpster diving is considered theft. Anything that is found on a given property legally belongs the property owner or the renter, including waste. Strange, perhaps, but it’s the law.

In Germany, dumpster diving is referred to as “Containern”. Dumpster diving is somehow tolerated, and some vendors accept it.

However, dumpstering in Germany is illegal. As a matter of fact, justice ministers from Germany’s federal states have rejected proposals to legalize taking discarded food from supermarket garbage containers. Millions of tons of edible groceries are thrown away each year in Germany.

Laura Viera A © Solkes

About 18 million tons of food are thrown out in Germany every year.

In 2016, France passed a law that bans supermarkets from throwing away edible food by obliging them to pair up with a food waste NGO that can redistribute food that would have otherwise be thrown away. Stores that don’t comply with the law can be fined for each infraction.

Italy passed a law against food waste in 2016, aimed at cutting one million tonnes of the estimated five million wasted every year. The law is meant to make it easier for food retailers to donate food to charities and food banks.

In 2017, the Spanish government started looking at ways to reduce food waste and increase donations to food charities from food retailers.

In 2018, the UK government announced a plan to reduce food waste from retailers and food manufacturers. It was developed in collaboration with business and charities.


The cruel reality

The cruel reality is that food and material wasting doesn’t seem to bother a lot of people. Meaning 179 kilos per person every year. That is the amount the European Union throws to the trash.

Many people argue this is good for the ecosystem, not only good but a must. The reason is that every resource has an efficient use which minimizes waste. And, as to be expected, if there is less waste there is less trash.

Laura Viera A © Solkes

Wasting food is not only an ethical issue but an economical problem as well. In the “food chain” every single part has an important role to play: who plants, who sells and who eats.

Freegans are all about recycling. Making use of what you have and when you don’t need it anymore then sharing them with others who may find a use for it. Waste is minimal, your help the community and it is free.

Freegans dive into dumpsters, they are organized and make maps in order to pinpoint the best places to achieve their food recollection goals.

They don’t go into dumpsters because of need but to denounce a consuming oriented system that in Europe alone wastes 50% of its produce.

The basic idea is to offer food and organizing each other accordingly. “It’s very simple: you don’t throw food away, you don’t play with food and it is a basic need not a consumption product!” states Alicia with absolute conviction.

Discarding food is a rich country phenomenon and the nightmare of countries with economical and social issues. The idea is to fight consumption. This is why “saving” food makes total sense. There are many people who don’t have acceso to food, clothing or basic needs. I am not a freegan, but Iúnderstand and support those who find what they need doing so.

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