Freeganism is an emerging subculture that advocates opting out of the consumer-driven, “throw-away” society by using and eating its waste.
In the United States, we throw away a ton of stuff, but not all of it is grade-A trash. A lot of what we dump is useable and is trashed for aesthetic reasons, technological upgrades, obsoleteness, a change in taste or favorite color, or just to make room for our newest batch of stuff.
We all know the maxim: one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure, but the freegans live it.
They organize dumpster dives, memorize trash schedules, lead trash tours, and negotiate with hotels and retail chains to not call the law on their raids. Freegans do more than just subsist on their dumpster reapings.
They furnish entire homes, host spectacular discourse-oriented parties – because, of course, they are speculative of the television culture – and share delicious recipes adapted to the arbitrary ingredients they gather from the trash.
According to freeganinfo.com, the movement began in New York City in the 1990s as a pet project of the Wetlands Preserve, a NYC activist organization emphasizing animal liberation. The city remains a freeganist hub to this day.
In June, The New York Times reported on the freegan community in NYC,
focusing on an organized dumpster diving session at the NYU dorms the day after graduation.
The article suggested that freeganism’s success in NYC is due to the city’s extreme affluence – that they are combing the leftovers from the large wealthy population of the city.
This movement has also been popping up in other urban areas of the United States and across the world.
Marko Manriquez, a freegan in San Diego, told The New York Times that in Southern California “you can find just about anything in the trash, and on a consistent basis, too.”
The movement, however, isn’t just about living cheaply, it’s an ideological statement.
Freegans severely limit the amount of money they spend, and subsequently, their contribution to the human rights and environmental abuses perpetuated by globalization.
Obviously, though, they do need to trot on over to the market for basic things.
Adam Weissmann, creator of freegan.info, conceded to The New York Times, “absolute freeganism is an impossible dream.” But the value of the movement is in reduction.
Bob Torres, a sociology professor at St. Lawrence University in Canton, told the Times that he “think[s] there’s a conscious recognition among freegans that you can never live perfectly. Freegans try to reduce the impact.”
Freeganism is not a fleeting lifestyle. It involves rigid and calculated abstinence from an evasive capitalist market place. And, of course, the balls to confront the innards of a stranger’s bag of trash.
In contrast to the mainstream green movement, the freeganists are pretty hardcore.
Green-consumerism is a blatant oxymoron. To some extent, companies have usurped the environmental movement, turned its buzz-worthiness into profit, and the media has made it fashionable.
So it’s not surprising that people are easily duped into believing that buying more things, albeit “green” things, will reduce global warming; we leave Whole Foods feeling more socially literate than our Wal-Marting counterparts and believe we’re an integral part of changing the world.
But we’re not reducing our consumption.
A-list environmentalists – Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc. – used their celebrity status to infiltrate the mainstream media, enabling environmentalism to establish itself as a necessary conventional issue, but it’s not enough.
Participating with the environmental movement at its fashionable surface distracts people from engaging with entities that are accountable for environmental policy.
Freeganism is terrifying and fantastic – terrifying because it reveals that the U.S. isn’t just unnecessarily wasteful, but so wasteful that many people can live off of its trash.
It’s fantastic because it pushes the potential of dissent pretty far, challenging everyone to realize that we can’t buy our way to a greener planet, we have to be hardcore.
Maria Myotte is a junior political science major. Her column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org