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Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Freegans and Freeganism are often seen as part of a wider "anti-consumerist" ideology, and freegans often employ a range of alternative living strategies 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."[1]

The word "freegan" is a portmanteau of "free" and "vegan";[2] not all dumpster divers are vegan, but the ideology of veganism is inherent in freeganism. Freeganism started in the mid-1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.[2]


"Why Freegan" pamphlet[edit]

The manifesto pamphlet "Why Freegan" (written by former Against Me! drummer Warren Oakes in 1999) defines freeganism as "an anti-consumeristic ethic about eating" and goes on to describe practices including dumpster diving, plate scraping, wild foraging, gardening, theft, employee scams, and barter as alternatives to paying for food. Motivations are varied and numerous; some adhere to freeganism as an extension of anarchism or other anti-capitalist tendencies, or simply for environmental reasons, some for religious reasons, etc.

The pamphlet does include a lengthy section on non-alimentary practices, including conserving water, precycling, reusing goods, and using solar energy. Some freegans consider these non-alimentary practices components of freeganism itself; others simply consider them complementary, while some are against them and/or have deeper analyses surrounding capitalism and its effect on the world.

Freegan Beliefs[edit]

Freeganism is based on the idea of anti-consumerism and that there is little need to purchase new goods because of the waste that society has produced. The writings of sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss inspire many values of freeganism. Mauss studied the relationship between forms of exchange and the social culture.[3] Not only do freegans use their finds for personal use, they also share their items and use them for free distribution. They believe that the general public greatly misuses resources because of the ideals and activities of mass consumerism and do not want to contribute to the consumerist society.[4]


Food discarded by retailers[edit]

Freegan while dumpster diving.

Many freegans get free food by pulling it out of the trash (bins) a practice commonly nicknamed "dumpster diving" in North America and "skipping" or "bin diving" in the UK, as well as "bin raiding" or "skipitarianism" (so called because the person's diet mostly involves eating out of a skip). Retail suppliers of food such as supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants routinely throw away food in good condition, often because it is approaching its sell-by date (without thereby becoming dangerous), or has damaged packaging.[5] Freegans find food in the garbage of such establishments, which they say allows them to avoid spending money on products that exploit the world's resources, contribute to urban sprawl, treat workers unfairly, or disregard animal rights. By foraging, they believe they are keeping edible food from adding to landfill clutter and that can feed people and animals who might otherwise go hungry.[6]

Dumpster diving is not, however, limited to rummaging for food. Many "dumpster divers" search for anything that can be recycled or reused, from accessories to power tools in need of small repairs. Some divers collect aluminum cans, which they can then sell for a small profit. Often, these people have all sorts of equipment such as a long pole that they use to move items in the dumpster around.[7][8] When searching for food, a forager may come across food waste that is not entirely sealed from the unwanted waste in the same rubbish sack. This lower quality food is commonly referred to as "Scree".[9] As bugs, rodents and other disease carriers also forage in such places, there are risks associated with sourcing and eating such food.

Freegan Resources[edit]

Much food is discarded by producers for reasons to do with food standards of retailers and consumers. Examples include fruit and vegetables that are smaller or larger than sizes required by supermarkets, edible offal, and a species of Dover sole with all the qualities of sole but small size.[5] Freegans get their resources from dumpsters, typically at places like grocery stores and pharmacies. Grocery store dumpsters are usually a good source for food while pharmacy dumpsters are a good source for things like candy. Bakeries tend to have the most abundant source of food because of their high standard of freshness, appearance of food and other qualities.[4] An estimated 20 to 40% of United Kingdom fruits and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the stores mostly because they do not match the supermarkets' strict cosmetic standards.[10] Freegans generally have the option to stock up once a week from local bakeries, but often have so many bagels, baguettes, focaccia, cinnamon buns, coffee rolls and bread loves from previous dives that it isn't necessary to stock up but once a month or every three weeks. Many other items beyond food can be recovered by freegans, including electronics, appliances, clothing, and books.[4]

Legality and Sanitation[edit]

Freegan group organizers are frequently harassed by law enforcement simply for giving away their finds to poor communities. Freeganism defies the values of a capitalist society, causing it to be considered socially unacceptable to most capitalists. It violates many values of capitalist society with the notion that it is an unsanitary and dirty practice based on general sanitation standards developed over time. Some dumpsters are armed with extreme security to keep freegans and other scavengers from looking around, such as guard dogs, trash compactors and even bleach in discarded food products. In general, fast food restaurants seem to have the highest dumpster security, including razor sharp wire enclosures. Some do this because they see profit in protecting their waste. In an extreme case, there is the instance of an Oakland freegan who was shot and nearly killed while dumpster diving.[4]

By law, when a person throws something away it is considered a public item. However, if a dumpster is sitting against a building or in an area with a “no trespassing” sign, it may be illegal for freegans to collect goods from that area. A punishment for rummaging through these areas could include being ticketed for littering if the trash is not left neater then when it was found. A freegan could also be ticketed for disorderly conduct, if they are blocking an area of common use or creating a ruckus while dumpster diving. In most states dumpster diving is legal unless specified otherwise and police will not get involved unless they are called by a store or property owner.[11] Based on the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act of 1996, it is completely legal for the food found in a stores dumpster to be consumed by humans. However, if a store owner does not know this they might not allow dumpster diving on their property. Some store owners do not allow it because they are worried about someone getting sick from what they throw away, then getting sued. Also, dumpster owners might want to avoid dumpster divers on their property for fear that someone will get hurt and they will be liable. Sometimes freegans will tell store owners that they are collecting food to feed livestock or pets in order for them to be granted permission to take it.[11]

Public Perception[edit]

In general, society views garbage as something “dirty” and overlook it as an area to get a wholesome meal. Mass advertising is constantly encouraging customers to get the latest and greatest products, always upgrading. However, dumpstering rejects this notion for consumers to keep up with the newest most improved trend. Based on the amounts of food waste produced by Americans, it is shown that often times the pursuit of exchange value is not considered before it is thrown away. . Groups of freegans come together in many cities that go out dumpster diving and participate in freegan gift exchange.[4] Food Not Bombs, a very well-known freegan organization, was founded by eight friends in Boston in 1980. Now, it involves hundreds of groups in many cities and towns throughout the United States and Canada. Food not bombs uses donated or discarded food found in dumpsters to prepare and distribute free vegan meals once a week to homeless and poor people or anyone who wants them.[4]

Wild foraging and urban gardens[edit]

Instead of buying industrially grown foods, wild foragers[12] find and harvest food and medicinal plants growing in their own communities. Some freegans participate in "guerrilla" or "community" gardens, with the stated aim of rebuilding community and reclaiming the capacity to grow one's own food. In order to fertilize those guerrilla gardens, food obtained from dumpster diving[13] is sometimes also reused. In many urban guerrilla gardens, vermiculture is used instead of ordinary composting techniques in order to keep the required infrastructure/room small.[14][15] Guerrilla gardeners claim to seek an alternative to dependence and participation in what they perceive as an exploitative and ecologically destructive system of global, industrialized corporate food production. Many rural freegans choose to learn about native wild plants which are easily sustainable and either bring favored species home to cultivate or identify wild populations from which to forage. Often rural freegans are also "homesteaders" who also raise their own dairy livestock and employ alternative energy sources to provide energy for their homesteads, occasionally living "off the grid" entirely.


A Freebox in Berlin, Germany 2005, serving as a distribution center for free donated materials

Sharing is also a common freegan practice. Food Not Bombs recovers food that would otherwise go to waste to serve warm meals on the street to anyone who wants them. The group promotes an ethic of sharing and community, while working to show what they consider to be the injustice of a society in which they claim fighting wars is considered a higher priority than feeding the hungry.

Really, Really Free Markets are free social events in which freegans can share goods instead of discarding them, share skills, give presents and eat food. A free store is a temporary market where people exchange goods and services outside of a money-based economy.

Freegans also advocate sharing travel resources. Internet-based ridesharing reduces but does not eliminate use of cars and all the related resources needed to maintain and operate them.

Community bicycle programs and collectives facilitate community sharing of bicycles, restore found and broken bikes, and teach people how to do their own bike repairs. In the process they build a culture of skill and resource sharing, reuse wasted bikes and bike parts, and create greater access to green transport.

In general, co-ops function to provide their local community with additional resources; they are also typically vegan-friendly and local-produce-friendly.


In addition to the belief that people should not have to go without food when plenty of unused food is thrown away every day, freeganism also encompasses the idea that people should not be homeless when unused buildings are available. Freegans consider housing to be a right as opposed to an economic good.[1] As a result of this philosophy, many freegans are involved in squatting. Squatting is the act of someone occupying a building that they do not have any legal claim or ownership over.[16] "Squatters take a stand against councils and landlords, who would rather keep properties boarded up if they cannot make a sufficient profit from them".[17] Freegans see this practice as senseless and a counter-productive use of resources. The criminality of squatting makes it hard to accurately track the number of people involved in this activity.[16] However, there are estimated to be around one billion squatters worldwide.[18] Striving for equality and reform, squatting is a political action that has been incorporated in numerous movements. Squatters view the act as a necessity because of the lack of housing available. They believe that there should not be buildings remaining empty when there are people who are in crucial need of a home but lack the resources to legally obtain one. Ultimately, squatting is a way of housing the homeless. However, the buildings that squatters reside in are sometimes used for other purposes as well, such as being changed into community centers that house programs for children, community organizations, and environmental education.[1]

Working less[edit]

Working less is another component of freeganism. Freegans oppose the notion of working for the sole purpose of accumulating material items. The need to work is reduced by only purchasing the basic necessities for things such as housing, clothing, and food. Not working resists the idea that joy can only be found through the purchase of material items. Working is seen as sacrificing valuable time to "take orders from someone else, stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to physical and psychological well-being".[1] This time could be spent volunteering in service activities, bonding with family, or participating in a number of other endeavors. The concept of voluntary joblessness has been described as means of completing tasks out of love for others while not expecting anything in return for one’s services.[17] Working is viewed as a component of a system that has abused the world both socially and ecologically. It is realized that not working at all is not an option for everyone, but that there are ways to limit the need to work as much. Employment does not need to take over or define one’s life, and such complete control does not need to be given to supervisors and managers.[1]


Another aspect of the freegan lifestyle addresses the basic human necessity for food. Many dumpster divers, because of freeganism, practice veganism, which calls for the avoidance of flesh foods, dairy and eggs, and further extends to avoid the consumption or use of furs, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics and chemical products tested on animals. Many will also consume food that is not vegan if it is free, hence the name freegan. They will never purchase animal products, as a political statement with purchasing power. Vegans choose their diet and lifestyle practices in an attempt to maintain a "cruelty-free" lifestyle. This lifestyle is based on the ideals of providing "numerous benefits to animals' lives, to the environment, and to our own health." A study from the United Nations' report on Livestock and the Environment found that "a vegan diet can feed many more people than an animal-based diet." In fact, in 1992 it was estimated that this particular year's food supply would have sufficed to feed approximately 6.3 billion people on a "purely vegan diet."[19]

Not all people who identify as freegan are vegan. There are some, because of a confusion with dumpster diver, that consume animal products only if those animal products would otherwise be wasted. "Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further".[20]

"Freegan" was recently brought to the attention of America, when 10th season Project Runway contestant Fabio, declared he is a Freegan and briefly explained the concept.

Relationship to environmentalism[edit]

Although freeganism is a movement that has sprung from anti-consumerism and anti-capitalism, the movement also has much in common with environmentalism. One of the main aims of freeganism is to reduce waste and limit the amount of destruction that results from the production of goods.[21] These objectives dovetail nicely with the eco-friendly goals of conservation, re-use, and preventing abuse of the environment. "The preservation and careful use of natural resources" that is rooted in environmentalism is an approach to dealing with issues such as famine, population growth, loss of forests, and pollution of water and air.[22] Some of the practices established in freeganism serve the function of addressing many of these same concerns. Squatting, for example, makes use of empty buildings for the homeless, and dumpster diving practices recovering food that is being wasted (with the motivation in mind that there are billions of people starving who could survive on foraged food from dumpsters of industrialized countries). Adam Weissman, eco-activist and creator of, states that "Freeganism is a reaction to waste, but also to injustices like sweatshops and the destruction of rainforests that go into producing goods in the first place".[21]

Freeganism is about more than looking through trash, there is significance behind not participating in a consumerist society. It is an attempt to remove oneself from being a part of the exploitation that is perceived to be a result of consumerism.[21] Many aspects within consumerism that freeganism is protesting are also what environmentalism is fighting. There is an obvious relationship between sustainability and consumption. Freeganism and environmentalism are trying to highlight this relationship, and assist in enabling the consumer to see how their actions impact the world. While freeganism symbolizes the contrast of consumerism, freegans are still consuming but it is a "specialized" consumerism.[23] Like environmentalists, freegans have "standards by which they base their purchasing decisions from".[23] By not participating in the labor force and using money, freegans are distinguishing themselves from the mainstream economy.[23] It is these components of freeganism that coincide with the two categories that are used to describe environmentalism in Faith in Nature. These two entities are "Green consumerism that focuses on changing society from within and bioregionalism that focuses on finding a new life outside of the established economy and becoming in tune with the land".[23]

Another comparison between environmentalism and freeganism is the perspective that they can be viewed as a religion. There is an idea of "religious obligation to nature in the form of political action".[23] Freegans and environmentalists believe that consumerism leads to exploitation of people and the environment. This conviction that organizing around the environment and human issues is inevitably linked to our moral obligation to nature is what qualifies the Green movement and the freeganism movement as religious.[23] Environmentalism has been described as a "binding philosophy, the start of environmentalism was a religious reformation; an epiphany; an awakening to desecreated surroundings".[22] Freeganism is another form of this awakening, and also entails concepts of this religious reformation. The religious gratitude for nature that environmentalists and freegans possess may have stemmed from nature idealism that is the foundation of Transcendentalism.

Food Waste[edit]

In United States fast food restaurants, 9.55% of the total amount of food that is used turns into food waste and in full service restaurants 3.11% turns into waste. On average, 49,296,540 lbs of food is lost in all full service restaurants and 85,063,390 lbs in all fast food restaurants. Pre-consumer kitchen waste is anything from incorrectly prepared or spoiled food to overproduction that contributes about 4-10% of food that becomes waste before it is even served to consumers. Freegans focus on finding this pre-consumer waste when dumpster diving.[24] There is approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by households every year and approximately one billion malnourished people in the world. All of these nearly one billion people could be lifted out of malnourishment if provided less than one quarter of the food that is wasted by the United Kingdom, United States and Europe. These three populations have approximately twice the amount of food that is needed to meet their nutritional needs. The average United Kingdom household wastes about 20% of food that is bought, however this rate has improved by 17% since 2007.[10]


Hong Kong[edit]

Friends of the Earth did a survey in 2012 and found that the four largest supermarket chains (ParknShop, Wellcome, CR Vanguard, and JUSCO) discarded a total of 87 tonnes of food each day, about a third (29 tonnes) that were still edible.[25] One of the chain, ParknShop, was accused of pouring water and bleach over the discarded edible food to spoil it.[26] A year later, the follow-up study from the same group found that ParknShop and Wellcome donated food through their respective programs.[27] However, they criticized CR Vanguard and JUSCO for their inaction.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "What is a freegan?". Retrieved 2007-06-19. "Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans say they embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed." 
  2. ^ a b Kurutz, Steven (June 21, 2007). "Not Buying It". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-21. "A few of those present had stumbled onto the scene by chance (including a janitor from a nearby homeless center, who made off with a working iPod and a tube of body cream), but most were there by design, in response to a posting on the Web site The site, which provides information and listings for the small but growing subculture of anticonsumerists who call themselves freegans — the term derives from vegans, the vegetarians who forsake all animal products, as many freegans also do — is the closest thing their movement has to an official voice." 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f
  5. ^ a b 2010 BBC1 television programme in which four top chefs collect discarded, free, food and make a banquet for 60 celebrity guests; with the help of food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, they find huge amounts of perfectly good food discarded for reasons not affecting their eating quality, such as cosmetic and packaging defects. The meal was successful, and Richard Corrigan was voted the "rubbish chef of the year". The programme talks of the "scandalous food waste crisis".
  6. ^ Carlson, Tucker (February 3, 2006). "'Freegans' choose to eat garbage". MSNBC. Retrieved 2007-06-21. "These people don't eat out of dumpsters because they're poor and desperate. They do it to prove a political point. You wouldn't expect someone to choose a lifestyle that involved eating out of dumpsters. Kind of seems like something you do as a desperate last resort. But there's an entire society of people who willingly get their meals out of the garbage. They're called freegans, and they say they have a reason for doing it." 
  7. ^ Brace, Alison (March 2, 2007). "Freeloading". Times Educational Supplement. pp. 28–29. 
  8. ^ Willhite, Nikki (2009). "Dumpster Diving". All Things Frugal. Retrieved Mar 2, 2009. 
  9. ^ Products, China. "Freeganism". Red TWP Dumpster. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ Institute for the Study of Edible Wild Plants and Other Foragables. Wild Foraging Definition
  13. ^ Instructables dumpster diving combined with guerrilla gardening
  14. ^ Journeytoforever small-scale (city) composting information (trough vermiculture)
  15. ^ Vermiculture combination with city farms in the developing world for the poor
  16. ^ a b Corr, Anders (1999). No Trespassing: Squatting, Rent Strikes, and Land Struggles Worldwide. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 
  17. ^ a b "Waste Not, Want Not". 2008. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  18. ^ Neuwirth, Robert (2006). Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. Taylor & Francis Ltd. 
  19. ^ Josyn, Ed (2006). "About Veganism". Retrieved 25 Mar 2009. 
  20. ^ "What is a Freegan?". Retrieved 11 March 2012. 
  21. ^ a b c "Freegans: The Bin Scavengers". London. 2006-02-20. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  22. ^ a b Scheffer, Victor (1991). The Shaping of Environmentalism in America. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f Weiss, Allie; Yukus, Dawn. "Freeganism as a Religion". Retrieved 2 April 2009. [dead link]
  24. ^
  25. ^ Foo, Kenneth (2012-05-28). "What a waste". The Standard. 
  26. ^ Lo, Wei (2012-08-15). "Anger over mass food waste". 
  27. ^ Kao, Ernest (2013-07-30). "Aeon Stores slammed for inaction on food waste". 

External links[edit]