Hello and welcome to my first “smart short” – I intend on writing more concise overviews of topics which might go alongside some of the lengthier stuff I address in other posts. In this case, I am planning a couple of “shorts” which go alongside the current series on sustainable consumerism. Let me know if you enjoy this format!
Smart Shorts 1: Freeganism
Have you ever heard of “freeganism”? I hadn’t either, but hopefully by the end of this you’ll have a bit more of a clue.
Freeganism is defined as an “alternative strategy for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources” (Nguyen et al., 2014). It is often characterised by the practice of dumpster diving (US) or skipping (UK), though can also include foraging for wild foods, growing your own, DIY practices, upcycling and minimalism (Shantz, 2005). Skipping will be the focus of this small short today, but you can read more about minimalism or veganism on other blog posts.
Through skipping, freegans aim to provide clothing, goods and particularly food to those who most need them (Shantz, 2005): for example, Food not Bombs is a global freegan movement where members use discarded food to prepare and distribute vegan/vegetarian meals to those in need (Shantz, 2005).
“Freegans are the alternative and anarchistic environmentalists who are fed up with participation in the conventional economy and decided instead to try to mitigate the harm to the earth by reducing their personal waste” – Wilczak (2020)
As with the sharing economy, freeganism promotes a society based on giving rather than selling: this is sometimes referred to as a “gift economy”. It also serves to reduce personal expenditure, waste and over-consumption – in a survey of freegans in Poland, these represented the most significant reasons for being part of an otherwise highly stigmatised movement (Wilczak, 2020).
Scavenging and salvaging other people’s rubbish is not something which most of society appreciates or allows: anti-consumption behaviour goes against capitalist ideals which have been brainwashing consumers for decades, and depicts alternative activities such as skipping as non-normative and radical (Nguyen et al., 2014). As such, freegans are often threatened, intimidated and injured by those who see skipping as theft, rather than an environmentally-conscious consumption pattern (Wilczak, 2020). But in spite of this, the freeganism movement continues to grow: you only have to search Youtube for “dumpster diving” to see how popular the practice is, particularly across the US.
So, what can be found in dumpsters? Of course, this depends where you are looking: supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants often dispose of perfectly edible fruits and vegetables which are not “desirable” enough for the consumer – 91% of freegans in the aforementioned survey reported finding these most frequently (Wilczak, 2020). Searching in dumpsters at universities at the end of term might instead provide you with furniture, excess clothing and stationery (you can see this in action, here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6oXBu9xShg). It is not only tangible items which freegans can obtain from skipping: the sense of empowerment, satisfaction and ecological awareness has also been a huge takeaway for many freegans (Wilczak, 2020). Plus, it isn’t doing much harm to their bank accounts either.
“[Dumpster diving] is often about a political impulse to liberate the excesses of the rich for the poor. It is part of a larger ideology of radical nonconsumption” – Shantz, 2005
Because skipping is predominantly based on the desire to be more environmentally conscious, through reducing waste, recycling, upselling and distributing goods to those that most need it, you can see why it might be sustainable in some settings. In fact, the principles of freeganism include the minimisation and recovery of waste, ecological transport and self-sufficiency (Wilczak, 2020). However, the law around skipping is a bit dubious: although there are no regulations that prohibit it directly, the police still have the right to detain you and accuse you of littering or public disturbance (Wilczak, 2020). For this reason, you should always check the law in your area, if you are tempted to go skipping.
I hope that this smart short has given you some insight into what freeganism is. Do you work somewhere which allows skipping? Would you do it yourself?
Shantz, J. (2005) One person’s garbage… Another person’s treasure: Dumpster diving, freeganism, and anarchy. Verb 3(1)
Wilczak, M. (2020) Freeganism – Anti-consumption lifestyle, or a fad? In The Book of Articles National Scientific Conference “Knowledge–Key to Success” IV edition (p. 153).
Nguyen, H.P., Chen, S. & Mukherjee, S. (2014) Reverse stigma in the Freegan community. Journal of Business Research, 67(9), pp. 1877-1884