Freeganism: What is it, and could you do it?

Anyone up for a rummage through the bins? Never mind the banana peels, old chewing gum and used tampons – you might find a perfectly ripe avocado, and what more could a millennial want?! Most of us would balk at the idea of searching through rubbish, squatting in abandoned houses and foraging for our own food, but for those who believe in Freeganism, this can be a regular occurrence.

Freeganism is a movement which aims to reduce our consumption, waste and environmental impact. Its members act based on the belief that excess is thoughtlessly squandered in our current society, whether that be fuel, food or clothing. Similar to that time you got wavy and thought it was a good idea to buy an inflatable llama that has no use but to remind you of all your regrets, companies buy and create more than they need and have no use for half of it. Obviously, you can’t prevent anyone else from throwing away a perfectly wearable fleece, but you can claim it as your own to stop it rotting away in a landfill (much like the possibility of me ever being out of debt.).

To avoid supporting companies or practices guilty of frittering away resources, freegans take actions such as searching through supermarket bins for food that’s “out of date” but still edible; squatting in empty houses so the space isn’t wasted, and they avoid paying into a corporate system; foraging for fresh foods in woods and fields; and walking wherever possible to minimise CO2 emissions. Much of these deeds are attributes of the usual eco-warrior, tree-huggers we’ve grown used to. However, Freegans have a different motivation, and, as some would argue, a more extreme approach.

There are obvious downfalls to being a hardcore Freegan, the idea of diving into bins isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun Friday night. Furthermore, the fashion-conscious amongst you may recoil at the idea of only ever wearing hand-me-downs which you’ve scavenged from grandparents, clothes swaps or even the street. The truly committed may refuse to buy anything, which means if you can’t find any shower gel on one of your dives, you’ll just have to get used to your natural scent for a while. This is not ideal after you’ve been waist-deep in rotting veg, half-eaten sandwiches and out of date meat.

On the other hand, there must be some benefits to it if people are willing to risk humiliation and even break the law. For a start, there’s the money aspect – you’d be lying if you said you’ve never skulked round Tesco at 10 pm, looking for that 3p loaf of bread. Freeganism isn’t too different; they’ll just wait until 11.05 pm when that bread is thrown out, and they can save that valuable 3p. There’s also some belief that employment is unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. The idea is that it merely feeds into the greedy, consumerist community and is not actually needed if you are willing to commit fully to the freegan lifestyle and source your resources via free routes. So by being Freegan, you can avoid the 9 – 5, hooray!

Is this actually legal?

Well, that’s a grey area. Some supermarkets claim that their waste is still their own property, therefore by helping yourself, you are technically stealing. Only if the products can be proven to have been abandoned is it truly legal. It’s for this reason that the majority of Freegans work under cover of darkness, like ninjas, but their prey is a discarded bag of apples, not a high profile criminal. Police will often turn a blind eye, so long as the area is left tidy and no complaints are made.

How can you get involved?

Well, if the idea of rummaging through other people’s waste isn’t your first choice of midnight mischief, there are other methods of doing your bit:

  • Download the app ‘good2go’ which allows local restaurants to advertise any food they expect to have left at the end of the day and sell it on for a reduced price. Yes, you’re still paying, but it’s cheap and reduces the amount thrown away.
  • Talk to your local cafes about collecting their leftovers and distributing it to the homeless (or keeping it for that bolognese you had planned to make). Local businesses tend to be more co-operative when it comes to dishing out their rubbish.
  • Walk more. Don’t forget that Freeganism is also about saving our planet. You might also shed a few pounds (not that you’ll need to, now you’re eating scraps from bins).
  • Foraging. Channel your inner squirrel and take an adventure to the woods to find beautiful berries and magical mushrooms. Just make sure you’re not going to poison yourself*. Try the ‘Falling Fruit’ app to find good locations near you.

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