“Freegans,” Dumpster Diving, and the Limits of Frugality

Last week, while traveling for work, I had an opportunity during a schedule break to catch an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show, where she discussed “freegans.” Here’s Wikipedia’s description of freeganism:

Freeganism is an anti-consumerism lifestyle whereby people employ 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.” The lifestyle involves salvaging discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket dumpsters that have passed their sell by date, but are still edible and nutritious. They salvage the food not because they are poor or homeless, but as a political statement.

In other words, it’s a political movement that basically scavenges the garbage for stuff that’s still good but has been deemed by modern society to be “unacceptable.”

I find this perspective to be quite fascinating. It offers not only its own questions, but really opens up some interesting questions about the frugality we practice in our day to day lives. What are the limits of frugality, and why are those limits in place? Why do we really practice frugality? Is it purely about saving money, or is there a grander purpose?

As I sat down to write about these issues, I received an email from a reader that further illustrates this topic:

Your review of Simple Prosperity (and your statement about your “green” period) made me think of an Oprah episode that aired last week. Lisa Ling reported on Freegans, people who go against the consumerism lifestyle.

They go so far as to look through the garbage bins at the grocery store for food. Not because they are hungry, but because the food happens to be perfectly fine, just not fit for sale (such as too close to the expiration date, spot on the fruit, etc). It was fascinating to see what is wasted each day, as well as the people (most who are well off in monetary terms) who have chosen to ensure that the food does not go to waste. Anyway, it was a wonderful episode that pointed at how wasteful Americans can be.

That night, I needed to go on a late night run to the grocery store and I decided to conduct my own “social experiment”. Sure enough, I found about 20 boxes of assorted flavors of Tastycakes in the can out back.

What would you do??

As I cannot turn down free food and as it was safely individually packaged, I am enjoying my (free) treat as we speak

So, let’s look at the question. If you saw twenty unopened boxes of Tastycakes in the trash behind a store, would you take them home with you? My expectation is that this question would get a very healthy mix of yes answers and no answers from people. For me personally, I’d have no objection to taking them if I would normally eat Tastycakes.

Not too long ago, for example, I was in a grocery store late in the evening where they were about to pitch some very brown bananas and the stock boy seemed completely fine with me just taking them for him. If I had not been about to leave on a business trip, I would have taken those bananas home with me and made banana pancakes and banana bread with them. To me, this is just being frugal – brown bananas are the exact ingredient you want for such recipes and if a store just gives them to you, I see no problem at all.

On the other hand, true dumpster diving for food isn’t very sanitary – you vastly increase the chances of acquiring spoiled food, for starters, and the health risks of just jumping into a dumpster and digging around are small but significant. I would not go that far in seeking out free items.

Where’s that exact line in the sand, though? For me personally, I’m not sure. It’s somewhere between free overripe bananas and jumping in the dumpster. For others, the bananas might be too much – or they might be okay with diving in for some food opportunities.

The biggest difference between frugality and freeganism is the belief structure behind it. Both freegans and frugal people would agree that minimizing your expenses and minimizing the amount of “stuff” you buy are noble goals, but frugal people primarily look at the options that improve their personal quality of life, while freegans are primarily making a political statement. As a frugal person, I might point out to someone that I have CFLs installed in my home, but my reasoning would be that they’re more energy efficient and thus more cost efficient – the environmental aspect is nice, but secondary. On the other hand, a freegan would likely be much more interested in the political nature of a CFL – they’re making a lifestyle choice that reflects their politics.

What’s the real lesson to be learned here? Different people have different “lines in the sand” when it comes to reducing their expenses – and different reasons for doing it. You can listen to all sorts of sources for ideas on how to live frugally and efficiently, but you never have to accept all of someone else’s ideas – just find techniques that work for you. Frugality is really about finding unexpected value – if you find value in some of what the freegans are doing, then by all means, incorporate it. If you think it’s foolish, then move on to finding something else that works for you.

As for me, I’m mostly just hungry for banana bread – and I’m wondering if I should hit that grocery store again late in the evening.

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95 thoughts on ““Freegans,” Dumpster Diving, and the Limits of Frugality

  1. KC says:

    I think I’ll pass on the freeganism thing. I’ll just buy my food and save the time I would have to spend “hunting and gathering” and use it productively doing something else. I suppose if someone was going to give away brown bananas or a case of Tastycakes by the trash can (not sure what a tastycake is, but it sounds tasty) then I might take them, but I wouldn’t actively hunt out those deals. I have better things to do with my time.

  2. DJ Walker says:

    Although I’ve never gone dumpster diving for food or anything for that matter, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Being a computer nerd myself, I’ve read several articles where people have dove behind Best Buy and Circuit City for example to find the “damaged” goods that they couldn’t sell. These damaged goods basically had a scratch on the packaging or a dent in the box it came in.

    I do know that some stores have policies against such things, such as Sam’s. My brother has worked there for a while and at closing, they will typically throw away a disgustingly large amount of food. It would make sense to simply give it away and not let it go to waste, but he said that for tax reasons, they have to throw the food away in a secured trash bin.

    “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

  3. Mike NYC says:

    What’s their “political statement” again – other than being anti-capitalism?

    So, what, they’re Socialists? Awesome.

  4. Jon says:

    Dude, I would dumpster dive for one single sealed and new Tastykake. For 20 boxes I’d fist fight my mom.

    http://www.tastykake.com/

  5. I like the idea of freeganism, but not the execution of the idea.

    I get things for free by using the local freecycle group on Yahoo. Instead of diving into someone’s trash cans, stuff is posted on the internet and arrangements are made for pickup. People get things and get rid of things for free while limiting the amount of usable items filling our landfills.

    Instead of diving into bagel shop dumpsters, why not just find out when products are removed from store shelves to make room for better products?

    A website could allow store managers to post when things will be available for pickup. Store managers could donate their excess items to local food pantries or shelters.

    Freeganism isn’t just about diving into dumpsters. I try to practice it out of respect for the environment.

  6. Meg says:

    While I wouldn’t take product out of a garbage bin, our family does utilize the same less than beautiful produce and near-expiration food that would have been thrown out. We participate in a gleaning program in which this food is donated to a local 501c3 for distribution to families who (1) don’t qualify for government assistance and (2) are trying to pay down debt or save for a major purchase. The idea is that the money that would have been spent on grocery purchases can now be applied towards that other financial goal.

    I am already a pretty frugal person, but our participation in this program has reduced our monthly spending on groceries to $50 (or less) per person.

    See http://www.birchcommunityservices.org for more info about the program we participate in.

  7. Sheila says:

    Ewwwwww. I worked in a grocery store during my college years. Anything that a grocery chain deems unworthy of sale is not a food source for me.

    Of course, in my 4 years there, I don’t remember them dumping any salvagable food in a dumpster. They usually marked it down drastically and the shoppers bought it.

  8. HebsFarm says:

    My MIL works at a grocery store, so she makes sure to be in the right place at the right time when they’re about to dump things. She said they will mark down the meat only so far, but then they will discard it, because they don’t want the consumers to become “trained” NOT to buy at the higher price, thinking it might go lower & lower.

    The only reason this works for freegans is because it is so VERY fringe. What if it became normal practice for EVERYONE to go around back of the grocery instead of walking in the front? Discard practices would change REAL quick. If more people ask for discards, all store personnel will be prohibited from ever giving anything away.

  9. Fubek says:

    You’re at your mom’s and she wants to treat you to some leftovers that dad did not finish yesterday.

    Are you a freegan? That food would go down the toilet if you said no. It’s perfectly fine food.

    I’m not a dumpster diver myself, but I’d have no objection to do so or eat stuff from the dumpster supposed it is just fine.

  10. Steph says:

    Any of you ever done it?

    I’ve eaten cookies and bagels out of the dumpster, and I’m still kickin’. But I still buy the majority of my food. I don’t know anyone who’s completely freegan, but it’s a way to reduce your food budget (or just to get your sugar fix for free, which is why most of my friends go dumpster diving).

    Personally, I like getting non-food items – furniture, for example – out of dumpsters the most.

    I find it interesting that the lifestyle has the name it does – freegan – because it evokes the same kind of reaction from certain people as does vegetarianism and veganism. It challenges people’s conventions, which makes some of them feel threatened and like they need to defend their own lifestyle of not raiding the garbage (similarly, when telling people I don’t eat meat, some of them will say “There’s nothing wrong with eating a little meat!” I didn’t say there was). Yet, thousands of people do it every day, and get along just fine. Life goes on.

  11. LJ says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about freeganism. On one hand, I LOVE free stuff, on the other, I am not sure I would look into a dumpster for it. Very interesting though…

  12. Ryan says:

    The Krispy Kreme donut shop in a city I once lived in used to (they still may) discard boxes of unsold donuts around midnight when they were closing. If you ever wanted free donuts, you could go by there and pick up a box (just like the boxes sitting on the shelves – not day old, just unsold)if you leaned into the dumpster and swiped it. Some nights there were lines of cars waiting their turn.

    I admire the dedication of freegans, but find that near-expiration-date food raises my alert levels a bit too high. That said, I ate plenty of dumpster donuts in grad school.

  13. Ryan says:

    also – some freegans may be socialist or anti-capitalism. some are anarchists. some are true-blue capitalists that simply hate to see good food go to waste. Unfortunately, waste is a HUGE by-product of capitalism and mass-production. As with all lables, not all freegans are easily classifiable – or want to be labeled.

  14. My husband likes to buy things out of the discounted bins at the grocery store. They have the items there with damaged packaging or missing labels on cans. We get some pretty good deals there, but that’s about as close as I’ll ever get to dumpster diving!

    I do really love giving stuff away on Freecycle. It makes me happy to see something get a second life instead of filling up the landfills.

  15. Rian says:

    A variety of the communal houses I’ve lived in have practiced dumpster diving- though we never called it freeganism (that has a different definition to me, but whatever, Oprah). It was actually pretty ingenious- a group of communal houses would swap and trade dumpstered items on a regular basis, so really nothing would ever go to waste. If we found pounds and pounds of bananas, we always took them all- perhaps too much for our household, but more than enough for all the households we partnered with. Find a ton of apples about to go bad? Make enough fresh juice or applesauce for all of the households to share in.
    It really wasn’t time consuming either- took about as long as shopping at a grocery store for a house of 6 people would take.

    As far as getting ill from dumpstered food- 99.9999% of people never dumpstered dairy or meat products, or anything remotely sketchy looking. I think I’ve known one person to ever get sick. If you know where to go, its really not a gross as it sounds.

  16. partgypsy says:

    When I was in high school I knew a some older kids who came from middle class backgrounds and did this sort of thing. I didn’t really understand why they did that at the time, they had parents, weren’t dumb, pretty interesting people but chose not to get jobs and did dumpster diving. They were punk rockers, so I guess if it was a political statement anarchism would be closest.
    Recently read on Get rich slowly about Don Schrader, person living on the fringe. Unlike other people who may recoil or be threatened by that, to me it’s an eye opener to be reminded, once again that all the ways we live our life are choices, whatever it may be, eating chocolates in the afternoon to owning a refrigerator. And it gives me more a sense of richness and freedom about my own life, because it is what you make it.

  17. china says:

    “I’ll just buy my food and save the time I would have to spend “hunting and gathering” and use it productively doing something else.”
    why not use your time to grow food? you could make a job out of getting food to eat… isn’t that what you go to work for anyway?

  18. Elaine says:

    InvestEveryMonth – I doubt that would work, since people would catch on and quit buying stuff, just waiting until it was off-code.

    When I worked at a grocery store, in contrast to Sheila’s experience, we threw out TONS of food. At least one HUGE garbage bag every night, and that was just the small bakery department. I asked my manager why we didn’t donate it to a food bank, and he said they just couldn’t be bothered to take it over there.

    A couple weekends ago I was in Portland, OR for a big annual bike event. Each morning some member of the community there would host a huge brunch, with up to 100 people coming, though most days it was more like 30 or so. Pretty much the only way that it was possible was by dumpstering a good portion of the food. It was just fine, we weren’t using stuff that had gone bad, and it allowed for a lot more hospitality.

    Anyway, if a particular food item is in an edible condition, it doesn’t matter to me in the slightest if it came from a dumpster.

  19. Roz says:

    Here where I live (in the foothills near Sacramento, California) our local Raleys/BelAir donates all their food to the Salvation Army chapter, who coordinate the food banks in our area. Thousands of pounds yearly are saved from the dumpster. Pretty much all that goes out is trimmings from vegetables and outright spoiled/totally expired stuff.

    The local “high end” bakery donates their end of day goods to the senior center. My Mom used to bring home big bags of bagels.

    Dumpster pickings tend to be slim around here.

  20. wendyr says:

    For me, it’s surprising that these stores don’t donate unused/old food to food pantries.

  21. emilyg says:

    Wow. I’m not sure how I feel about this. In a way I think it’s great that people are preventing food from being wasted, as I do think American’s are far too wasteful. However, I can’t help but be horrified at all the potential sanitary and health hazards. I read recently that you can’t judge meat’s freshness by the color because it is naturally brown, but is dyed to look bright red. So if it’s past expiration and someone uses it thinking it’s still OK because of the color, that is dangerous. I am totally conflicted as to whether I think this is a great thing or disgusting thing…maybe a little bit of both!

  22. TubaMan-Z says:

    The comment from Elaine – “I asked my manager why we didn’t donate it to a food bank, and he said they just couldn’t be bothered to take it over there.” saddens me. I did some brief volunteer work in a food bank in Rapid City, SD. Hunger is a serious – and real – problem in our nation. For more info, see http://www.secondharvest.org/. Rather than toss the food out to be recovered by “freegans” “…most who are well off in monetary terms…” (to quote the reader that Trent quoted), it would be far better to pass this along to a food bank.

  23. cbot says:

    I personally lived a pseudo-freegan lifestyle for almost a year (in my younger days) while participating in Food Not Bombs. It was definitely a political decision.

    But besides that, it was fun.

    Our group would meet twice a week and make our rounds. We had a route planned out that included:
    The local “hippy” produce store for produce.
    Noah’s bagels for bagels.
    Trader Joe’s for all sorts of misc. food.
    Naked Juice factory for crates of Naked Juice.

    We would split it up amongst ourselves and then make gift baskets for our neighbors (we lived in a poor neighborhood in an apartment complex).

    I didn’t buy any food other than toppings for my bagels for almost a year, and I ate better than I sometimes do now. Most places double bag what they discard so that it doesn’t rot and stink up the trash can…and America uses so much packaging that the “good” stuff was usually free from contamination. I never once got sick from anything I ate. Never.

    Would I do it today? Probably not. But it was fun for a time and definitely a good experience.

  24. ClickerTrainer says:

    You could always make your political statement by driving that free food to the homeless shelter. Nobler by far than eating it yourself, and in the case of tastycakes probably healthier (whatever those are, sounds like my dog’s treats actually!).

  25. 60 in 3 - Fitness and Health says:

    Mike NYC – Anti consumerism does not mean anti capitalism. I am a firm believer in capitalism but I try to avoid over consumption. Do I go as far as these people? No, but I can respect their choice without.

    Does this make them socialist? Not at all. In fact, your comment leads me to suspect that you lack a real understanding of what capitalism and socialism really are. Actually, you could see their behavior as an extension of capitalism whereby they provide a demand for goods with quality and / or prices that are too low for anyone else.

  26. Brent says:

    This is one of the problems I have with the Tightwag Gazette. In there she talks about how she used to have a lot of great literature books. Then one day she packed up all her hard bound John Updike (okay, I admit I do not like him that much, and have a hard time calling his works literature, but case in point) and sold it to the used book store.
    My heart broke. Why? For one, my familiy is a family of readers. Books tend to be passed on. I have a Bible from my Great-Great-Grandmother. I have other books from my family members. Some day I will pass along these books, along with things I have bought to my children. It is their inheritance and their heritage. That is the point of my frugalness, so my children and grand-children will be better off. So I can bless them with my time and knowledge, and when I die, they can read the great books I have collected.
    Same with the money, I want to give them an inheritance. If I die I want my (future) wife to have enough to live on. Sure, you may make a few bucks selling that copy of Plato’s Republic and the family Bible but for me, it is not worth it.

  27. squawkfox says:

    I pretty much draw the line on food “Freeganism” as health is an issue, I would think. I have found unwanted furniture and fixed it up though. :)

  28. Looby says:

    My local grocery store frequently hands large boxes of bread and fruit and veg to the homeless people that gather on that block at the end of the day, this seems like a sensible option. They are surely much more in need of it than most of us. The actual dumpsters appear to be locked behind a fence so I don’t know what extras they throw away, and I’m not going looking. On the other hand I have a lovely wooden chair that I lifted from beside the dumpster in an alleyway behind my apartment, it was perfectly solid and just needed wiped down and a new cushion.

  29. Jim says:

    I’d dive right in that dumpster if the tastykakes were the butterscotch kind. I haven’t had on ef those in about 20 years.

  30. Jillian says:

    If I had a box of TastyKakes, or even just one of the things, I’d be throwing it out myself. Apart from the fact they don’t even look like food, I refuse to buy products or shop at places that blatantly can’t spell. You’ll never catch me buying Krispy Kremes at the Supa Centa, it makes me cringe just to think about it. Maybe I should start my own weird political movement. I also boycott stores if their TV ads yell at me, no matter how cheap or exciting their product is.

  31. DNA says:

    The NY Times ran a good article about freegans last summer:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/21/garden/21freegan.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Freegans&st=nyt&oref=slogin

    I think the line between political statement and frugality is not so stark as you have characterised it, but either way I find what they do admirable. And for all your readers who hate their jobs and wish to retire early (the number of whom continue to surprise me) it’s a worthy option to achieve financial independence as early as possible.

  32. Successful & Tattooed says:

    I’m all for sharing and swapping, free or cheap stuff is great- thank you Craigslist and Goodwill. But as someone who’s seen folks dumpster diving outside her apt… I don’t think it’s the best use of time. It doesn’t make you out to be the most savory of personalities… especially with tax season- I don’t mind if you’re getting food, but if you’re skimming personal info from my neighbors, that’s not zesty. When you see someone stop their car and start in on a dumpster you don’t think, “Oh, look, how frugal.” you think “Dammit, I wish these people would stay out of our trash!” I dig being frugal, I’m all over reusing and recycling, but don’t scam or inconvenience others (by leaving trash strewn about) outside of their own homes.

  33. brent says:

    i’m completely at home with the idea of used or thrown out stuff.

    as far as I can tell, it’s just like stuff found by the side of the road at hard rubbish collection, like:
    – my kid’s push bike
    – some of our luggage
    – our big saucepan
    – our outdoor chairs
    – heaps of other stuff.

    what’s the big deal?

  34. There are a few people that go all out and dive in, but most of the people I know just skim off the top. Any reason you don’t want to link to my post? I don’t think there is anything objectionable there…

  35. Lisa says:

    I have an Uncle that is 70, a self made millionaire. He had to put some furniture into storage, and wanted something to cover the floor first. What did he do? Went to a dumpster behind a carpeting store and pulled out remnants.

    Lisa

  36. H-Bomb says:

    I could take pretty much anything from a dumpster except food. I have a slight fear of food poisoning. I have had it 3 times and that is just too much risk for me. I love finding good furniture though!

  37. Jeremy says:

    This conversation is fascinating, especially whether the people practicing this are capitalists or socialists.

    On the one hand, they are creating value by making use of resources that would otherwise go to waste (thereby freeing up other resources, food in this case, within the economy – in fact this is a kind of ‘saving’) On the other hand, there is an opportunity cost to doing so – the value they give up by doing this instead of something else productive.

    As the number of people doing this goes up, the value each creates (for himself or for others, dependinig on whether he CHOOSES to be charitable or to do it for his own self-good) goes down. So it’s easy to argue that too many people doing this creates a situation where the opportunity cost is too great.

  38. Sandy says:

    I saw the Oprah show too, and was surprised at the quality of food found, however, my concern would be the germs in and around that food from the dumpster because you don’t know what else has been thrown in there. Today I was picking up a pizza and met a lady while waiting for my order who told me that she had a hysterectomy 3 weeks ago and they stuck a tube down her throat for a test and as a result of that she came down with 3 infections: a bacterial infection, a fungus infection and a staph infection!! I realize this might be off the wall re dumpster diving, but you don’t know if there’s been fecal matter, vomit, blood, etc. thrown in there.

  39. jesse says:

    I am not sure why everyone always focuses on food when freegans are mentioned considering freeganism encompasses furniture, supplies, clothes, etc. I used to dumpster dive at the Linens n’ Things in my old suburban ‘hood a decade ago – I ended up getting high thread count sheets that were discontinued that I *still* have plus a bunch of other stuff. I’ve gotten books & magazines with only the covers torn in half, and furniture (including antiques) from trash piles. Granted, I don’t do it anymore in NYC b/c we are having a bedbug epidemic but people will routinely leave out boxes of free books and clothing around here with a big “free!” sign.

    Anyway, most companies will throw out old food and supplies rather than make sure it goes to a charity. The bldg mgmt at my old job used to throw out gallons and gallons of paint, dropcloths, carpeting, tiling, etc – anything the contractors left behind and didn’t want to pick up — I asked them why they didn’t donate to refurb warehouses (like Build it Green) and they insisted they didn’t have the time to deal with it. I think it would be *great* if people could coordinate things like that but if people get past commercial recycling loopholes out of laziness or lack of staff – how to we expect them to coordinate something like this? Some do, with City Harvest…but. Come on. Not everyone is willing to do that and that food is usually perfectly fine.

  40. I didn’t go through all the comments but from my point of view, freeganism as a political statement is a crock.

    People who make political statements don’t wait until after hours and dive in dumpsters.

    Dumpster diving has been around for decades (if not longer) and it used to be called…dumpster diving. Now it’s freeganism. Puuhleeeeze!

    If you don’t mind diving in dumpsters for free food that may or may not be healthy (I’ll assume Tastycakes have a very long shelf life), go for it! Just don’t try to make me,er,swallow that you’re making a “political statement”.

  41. Mike NYC says:

    60 In 3 – Tell me, then, what “political statement” are they making? Avoiding over-consuming hardly qualifies as a political statement, by the way.

    The article itself says they are opposed to competition and “greed” and that they embrace community, cooperation and “social concern”. Maybe I am just a cynic but those sure sound like some poor code words to me.

  42. freecycle.org comes to my mind. Its a good resource worth looking at.

    For me its don’t waste food right from the start, cook a tad less, you can always make up with fruits later or salad in the beginning. Share and donate in time. Its something we have to be sensitive about just as we are sensitive to not eating stale food.

    And there is value in everything for the innovator even a rubberband. http://tinyurl.com/32skjf

  43. jm says:

    I feel sorry for those of you who haven’t heard of tastykakes. Its a Northeast thing. Based in Philly I believe. Nobody bakes a kake as tasty as a tastykake.

  44. Julie says:

    Your final thoughts (on different levels of comfort and different reasons for engaging in the behaviour) also reminds me a lot about the various debates that spring up over vegetarianism / veganism.

    The reason someone chooses to cut out meat from their diet are numerous:
    - health
    - more humane to animals
    - more efficient use of crops / land
    - price / frugality
    - against monopolistic companies
    - etc.

    Consequently, things that would be fine for one person would be totally outrageous to another. The person who’s vegetarian for purely frugal reasons (meat is expensive!) would have no problems taking some extra, free meat from a neighbour or a grocery store, so long as it was still safe and healthy. A person who is vegetarian for humane reasons would completely balk at this.

    It just goes to show, I think, that just because two people act the same way (no matter what that “way” is), it doesn’t mean the reasons for their doing so are the same.

  45. Adwoa says:

    Two things:
    1. Brent, the point you raise speaks directly to at least one of the reasons most people choose a frugal lifestyle: they’re choosing to more freedom to spend more of their time on things that matter to them vs. time spent earning money to acquire stuff meaninglessly. So the value books offer your life determines what you may be displacing with those books. If you buy a book for $20, it’s not $20 wasted because you will read it, keep it, re-read it, share it’s ideas with others, expand your mind, pass it on and the cycle begins again. This is invaluable. However, if you had spent that same $20 on a video game (just guessing this may be something not as valuable to you), then it’s just wasted.

    2. Trent, my point above is also in response to your statement

    “The biggest difference between frugality and
    freeganism is the belief structure behind it.
    Both freegans and frugal people would agree
    that minimizing your expenses and minimizing
    the amount of “stuff” you buy are noble goals,
    but frugal people primarily look at the options
    that improve their personal quality of life,
    while freegans are primarily making a political
    statement.”

    I would venture to say the type of person who woudl tend to be frual has reasons beyond just saving money to improve quality of life. I think a good chunk of frugal folks also have environmental and some political reasons for being such. Living more lightly on the planet is both an environmental and political choice.

  46. mmmmmmmm…Tasty Cakes! My favorite!

    It all comes down to the level of sacrifices one is willing to take. In the case of freegans, the level of sacrifice is so extreme that they actually begin reducing other peoples wasteful impact on the world.

  47. John says:

    Gross, gross, gross no other way to say it.

  48. miguel says:

    “If you saw twenty unopened boxes of Tastycakes in the trash behind a store, would you take them home with you?”

    Yes I have done this. When I was a teenager we used to go dumpster diving behind dunkin donuts. Especially in the winter time. After the donuts had been out for a few hours the store would box them up, tape the boxes shut, double bag them, and put them in the dumpster. We’d always go at night, rip into a bag and take a few boxes.

    Another activity we did later on was go “expiration shopping”. In Atlanta, Kroger grocery stores used to (and still may) have a policy of giving you a fresh item for free, if you found an expired one on the shelf. We’d go a midnight, just as things expired, and would often leave with 2 carts full of food. We split the meats, and frozen stuff, and then donate the non-perishables to a food bank.

    The best part about our antisocial, “freegan” activities was that we were doing them in my 17 year old buddies $50,000 Mercedes Benz. Good times, and we stayed out of trouble.

  49. Laura H. says:

    My (admittedly limited) understanding of my freegan friend was that she felt that factory farms were something she did not want her money to support, she felt that letting food go to waste in a world— heck, in a county!— where people were starving made no sense. She would ferry the stuff to a local shelter and eat whatever she helped prepare and serve with people and listen to their stories.

    It did not sound that unreasonable and antisocial to me.

  50. Laura H. says:

    P.S. Brown bananas freeze beautifully– in fact, it actually slightly improves the texture of the finished banana bread. After several weeks, they do taste feezer-burned, but it’s better than waiting for that one-day window of perfect brown-ness and missing it because you had something else on your plate that day.

  51. One of my local supermarkets, Lidl, places non-sellable food just past the check-outs towards the end of the day and customers are free to take away anything that’s there for free. It tends to be mostly bread products but I’ve had some nice surprises :D

  52. tightwadfan says:

    Ever notice that when a tv show has a piece on frugality it usually presents an extreme, unappealing version like dumpster diving? Makes sense since ad dollars rely on viewers continuing to consume consume consume. You would never know it was possible to get out of debt and live within your means with some slight adjustments to your lifestyle.

  53. reulte says:

    The major rule of dumpster diving is look before you leap!

    I’ve done it once or twice – got a cedar hope chest from a church dumpster as well as some silk ties which were donated. I’ve founds hundreds of books, magazines, gallons of paint, rug remnants for the garage. . . When I need something, my first reaction is ‘How can I get it for free?’ Using that as a starting point is great frugal thinking.

    However, I generally don’t raid dumpsters for for food. Primarily it’s more dangerous to actually go into or reach into the dumpster, it’s usually a lot messier and, for me, the effort isn’t worth the payment. However, if I found a box of Tastykakes or Twinkies or brown bananas BESIDE the dumpster — it would be gone. The bananas into the freezer (mmmm, banana bread! smoothies) or donated (I try not to eat things with added sugar and hydrogenated oils).

    Brent – what if your children/grandchildren and so forth don’t want those books? Why should your heart break when someone else gets rid of some books they no longer need and someone else may? It’s not like they’re giving away the experience of reading them or the ideas from the books. I’m not talking about an heirloom or collector’s item, merely books to read. Books you can find at the library or bookcrossing.com or paperbackswap.com or sacred-texts.com. I consider selling books a means of sharing it with a wider audience.

  54. Deb Coyle says:

    While I’ve never actually “dived” into a dumpster, my husband was given a case of shampoo and conditioner that one of our local drug store chains threw out because they chose not to continue it any longer. It was decent, high end shampoo to boot. We’ve also “rescued” architectural salvage, wood and paving stones that were to be dumped. We obtained several decent pieces of furniture and a shop vac – all left out by the curb, as well as two huge rolls of some kind of paper – one of which I donated to a local school art program and one that I continue to use to use some three years later to wrap gifts. I guess what I’m saying is that while I would never eat anything from a dumpster, although I have nothing against others doing so as long as they understand the risks, I have no problem reusing items left out by the street for garbage pick up. I am happy too that our local restaurants and stores donate their leftovers to local non-profits as long as they are willing to pick up the items. There is an incredible amount of waste in this country and whatever we can do to help re-distribute this so-called waste is a good thing.

  55. Speaking of non-food, I had a neighbor with a brand new trampoline and enclosure (it was a display at Sam’s) and a large air hockey table without legs. He called the manufacturer and they sent replacement legs….free. He used to dumpster dive behind Sam’s, Costco and stores like Tuesday Morning. The last thing I saw him get before we moved was a fountain for the yard. I’ve actually seen websites where people talk about this kind of stuff…

  56. Chris K. says:

    I really need to go dumpster diving soon. I know a lot of great people who do it.

    Many freegans are also vegan. It is hotly debated whether it is okay to eat dumpstered animal products, but for health reasoned, dumpstered plant-based foods are far more sanitary. I don’t think anyone would dumpsted a steak or some milk and chow down on that.

    Also in the colder months, dumpstered food stays “refridgerated.”

  57. deRuiter says:

    We were dumpster diving behind Woolworths in Pompton Lakes NJ in the 1960s, dumpster diving and curbside shopping are old family customs. Americans are wonderful people, but they’re wasteful. Today I buy my veggies at the local Korean Run produce mart. After buying what I need I stop at the dumpsters out back and liberate foam crates (from grapes transport) and paper boxes for my ebay business, always scrounging packaging! If there’s half a case of apples with bruises and brown spots, I rescue them, cut out the bad bits and feed themn to the horses. If there are some in really good shape, only a small speck or bruise, I cut them up and make applesauce, apple pie, apple cake. Recently there were HUGE, firm red peppers each with one tiny bad spot or bruise. Scooped up the whole half a case, took them home, scrubbed them with soapy water, rinsed, cut them up in slices. When I make a stir fry, I toss in a handful of the red strips straight from the freezer. I ALWAYS GET A WARM GLOW THINKING THAT THESE NICE PEPPER BITS ARE FREE AND NOT IN THE LANDFILL. WHY SHOULD PERFECTLY USEFUL FOOD BE CONSIGNED TO THE LANDFILL? I’m itting in the kitchen of my vacation house admiring 19th century porch posts on the front porch, boxcar siding (wood wainscoating paneling), cast iron claw foot bath tub, Victorian era fancy wood window trim, and keeping warm with some cast iron radiators, all picked from dumpsters. Not bragging, but I’ve got several paid for houses, money in the bank and stocks from money NOT spent for dumpster dived (grammar?) articles. Duympster diving may help the merchants and home owners because they do not have brimful dumpsters so quickly, thanks to dumpster divers.

  58. sunshine says:

    I am ALL for this. While I don’t practice dumpster-diving or free-shopping for food, I am an avid curb-shopper. I’m not against freeganism, I just haven’t made an effort to seek out places or, more specifically, times when places thow food out. I have considered joinging Food not bombs – we have an active chapter in Ft. Lauderdale. No impact man did a great post on this and I believe he has a link to a major freegan site on his blog.

  59. Brent says:

    @reulte
    It is funny that you should mention sacred-texts.com, as I have scanned of a dozen or so books for them.

    I guess I just have a different mentality for a lot of things. My family has some roots. Not roots as deep as, say a European family has, but we have a farm that has bene in the family for five generations, almost over 150 years.

    Heirlooms have to start some where. I have many that were handed down to me, and add to it with what I can and pass it on.

  60. Rob Taylor says:

    Freegans are parasites whose sanctimonius moralizing about the “evils” of capitalism is only made possible by the prosperity capitalism porvides. Most Freegans can only lead this pretentious lifestyle because they themselves come from upper middle class backround that allowed them to pay off a home and have the free time on their hands go through garbage.

    I first heard of them in a NYT article where people from the upper east side of Manhattan, where aprtments can easilly sell for a million bucks, were freegans, Almost all were able to pay off their mortgages before going freegan (meaning they were rich) and all ate “garbage” from expensive resturants. This is a rich persons fantasy, and an insult to stuggling people world wide who really do end up eating garbage to live.

    Here’s a thought, why don’t they collect this “edible food” and take it to a food bank? Why don’t they get off their lazy asses and grow their own food? Why don’t they move out of the city and live a self-sustaining rural lefestyle rather that living off the work of others?

    Reusing things you can find is great, but only in America can a person literaly live as if they were a homeless drug addict and still maintian a comfortable middle class lifestyle. That should make them rething their childish anti-capitalist stance if they had any ability to think beyond the bumber sticker sloganism that gave birth to this bastards child of academic radicalism and hippydom

  61. Colleen Costello says:

    My hubby also loves those “butterscotch” Tastycakes, which are called Krimpets. For those of you who don’t know them, Tastycakes are a packaged snack line popular on the East Coast and also in some other markets. Rosie O’Donnell used to talk about them, along with Drake’s Cakes, another brand I remember from my New Jersey youth, when she had her talk show.

    Jim, I am getting to ready to visit my parents in Florida and I often see Tastycakes there, marketed to all the transplanted New Jerseyites I suppose… If you want to send me your address I will be more than happy to send you a box of Krimpets!

    And as much of a treat as Tastycakes ARE, I am pretty sure I would not go climbing in a dumpster to get them. I would be afraid bugs would be in there and that would gross me out too much.

    colleencostello@hotmail.com

  62. QuiteLight says:

    I saw a different show covering freeganism, and one aspect they did cover on that show was that people doing this have a certain expectation of getting food poisoning on a regular basis. I heard one lady, a former high-end ad account exec, say that she would probably get sick from the fish that she was salvaging, but she might not, so it was worth the risk to her.

    Sorry, I’m squeamish, I’m fine with garage sales, second hand goods, and things found on the curb, but once it’s hit a dumpster, it’s out.

  63. Kate says:

    I wouldn’t normally eat tasty kakes, and wouldn’t eat them even if they were free. I like real food.

    That said, I would probably eat any wholesome food I found in a dumpster. By wholesome, I mean something that I would normally eat and stands little chance of having been spoiled in the dumpster.

    In the warm months of the year, I regularly dumpster dive for building materials. I’ve built two pairs of super-sturdy sawhorses (one pair was given away as a gift), several raised garden beds, and a compost sifter out of stuff I pulled out of dumpsters. We’ll be cobbling together a mobile chicken coop from scavenged materials for the four laying hens we plan to keep this year. I may go dumpster diving for tossed produce just for the chickens.

    I’d like to be doing more diving than I am right now.

  64. daydreamr says:

    I guess I can relate to the freegan lifestyle. I am anti-consumerism to a point. The thing is nobody can completely avoid it unless they live in a shack in the middle of nowhere, raise all their food, find everything they need from dumpsters…I will say that a lot of the food that would otherwise be thrown out does go to a number food banks where I live. We also have these free clothing places where you can also pick up household items. It’s all donated and anyone is welcome there. I haven’t spent more than $1,000 to furnish my home and I’m comfortable. Most of my belongings were things that were thrown out. Would I live this way if I were well off? Absolutely. I don’t pass up anything that can be used, even if it’s in a dumpster. If I found food in a dumpster, well I’d use my discrecion but sure, why not? We are such a wasteful society and that is part of the whole global warming problem. It all comes down to reduce, reuse, recycle. I figure that I’m saving $ and reducing my ‘footprint’ on the environment.

  65. Maria says:

    I would not be willing to jump into a dumpster either. If only all grocery stores would allow charities to pick up such food. We have a food bank in our medium-sized city that is constantly struggling to keep food on the shelves – especially in the Summer time, when “giving” is out of season.

    Meanwhile, I have a neighbor that works in the garden department at a local Wal-Mart Supercenter. He cannot stand waste, as he is an older gentleman and money is tight for he and his wife. He said the waste of Wal-Mart is terrible. They have a big shredder and they put everything that doesn’t cell into the thing and shred it up – from clothing to lawn equipment. He said one night they put SEVEN brand new lawnmowers that had been for sale for quite a while into the shredder. Any food that doesn’t sell, with the exception of produce, gets tossed into a big compactor and nobody can get it. Such a waste on such a large scale.

  66. Michael says:

    I agree, Brent. One’s family is more than its currently living members.

  67. mrsmonkey says:

    Recycling is great. I frequent Ebay, the Salvation Army, swap shops, flea markets, etc because I like the idea of using and reusing and not wasting consumer products, particularly considering that we is available to purchase is usually an import, junk and not nearly as good as older recycled items. Clothing, household items, pots and pans, appliances, books, knickknacks, furniture can all be aired, cleaned and disinfected, recovered, and given a new life. Food is another matter entirely.

    Dumpster diving is disgusting. Period. If you’re in dire straits, I can understand extreme measures. And dumpster diving and picking up food from the streets is what I would consider an extreme measure.

    What you trust to put in your body better be certified by SOMEone as healthy, clean, disease and poison free and hopefully fresh. Add to this, we live in a screwy world and to trust that a package of food sitting outside hasn’t been tampered with in some way is really a big stretch of faith in humankind. Not to mention your faith in curative medicine.

    Bottomline: I’ll buy dishes at Salvation Army or even pick up something on the street that’s been left out. I’ll take them home, carefully inspect and if they’re okay, into the dishwasher or hot water with soap and bleach. But what I put on them and shovel into my body is a LOT more carefully considered.

  68. Drew says:

    I think we’re missing the point. Not all freegans are Dumpster divers. In fact, many aren’t. Freegans will pay for only vegan food. However, if they don’t have to pay for the food, they will eat eggs, cheese and sometimes meat. Free food doesn’t have to come out of a Dumpster, you could get it at work, from a relative, etc. I think freegans feel that they don’t want to support cruelty to animals by paying for non-vegan food. However, if there’s food being offered up that would go in the garbage otherwise they will take it. But they’re not necessarily gonna go in the garbage to get it. Anti-consumerism or frugality may have something to do with it for some, but I think it’s more about animals than the pocketbook.

  69. dj says:

    I’m a great fan of dumpster diving in my neighborhood. We live in an area near a private college and have been amazed at what the college students will pitch just because they don’t want to move it! We have scrounged 4 microwaves, 2 tents, and many other reusable household items. I also found money in the drawer of a dresser that was discarded.

    I’ve also used this as a learning experience for my own teenager about to head off for college…told him I’d clean his clock if he throws away stuff like we salvage!

  70. Ro says:

    I might consider this if I were truly hungry but otherwise I think I’ll leave it to others. I do think there is so much waste in our country but I don’t want to personally combat it in this way.

  71. Sarah says:

    Unfortunately, NYC curb-crawling has been badly disrupted by the rapid growth in the bed-bug population. In the olden days, I wouldn’t have thought twice about grabbing furniture from a curb, but these days…no way. You get bedbugs, you pretty much have to torch all your belongings.

    Our apartment building has a nice little custom whereby people put out used but still usable things they don’t want anymore into the entry hallway. It turns over pretty fast. I’ve gotten plates, books, even a winter coat that way.

    From a dumpster, I’d probably eat packaged, processed things, but not fresh ones, which would somewhat negate the point.

  72. billy says:

    I’m interested in the applications of this in non-food (health) related ways. For instance, the last six months I’ve greatly streamlined my life; I got rid of everything I owned save a weeks worth of clothes (for each season, for the most part), some memory-type items, etc. I put these in storage.

    Since I travel often for work (freelance), I gave up my overpriced studio apartment. Now, whenever I’m “home”, I’ve been housesitting/dogsitting for friends, staying with friends/family, etc. In return for a space on the couch, I help out around the house – stay at home mom friends are pleased to have an extra hand for a week or so with the kids, family members are excited to see me and I enjoy helping out the older folks with odd jobs around the house.

    I ditched my cell phone completely, relying on a Skype number ($30/year) that I can use when I’m in a wifi zone (coffee shop, home wifi, etc) and Skype voicemail, so people can leave me voicemails when I’m not in one. I can check these vm’s from any land line.

    I’ve given up some “modern convienences”, but really, I’m finding life so much more fufilling. I carry my rolly suitcase with whatever I need wherever I go. Friends have started being better about setting aside qt to spend together (they can’t call me on the fly). I understand that my situation is unique and that at some point, the couch-crashing will have to cease. But for now, my cost of living is typically $400 a month, which is less than one freelance day rate (!) and I’m spending my time enjoying being with family, friends and doing the things I want to do.

    I’ve socked away some phat cash, but I don’t really have anything to spend it on except things that are immediate – weekend trips, nice dinners with friends, etc.

    How much of what you “have” do you really want, or do you just have it because you think you should?

  73. This is taken from a post I wrote last week:

    Dumpster diving? It sounds much worse than it is. Some of my best friends in college were close to being classified as ‘Freegans’. They liked living under the radar and outside of the influence of capitalism. Lets admit it, most people are wasteful. Why shouldn’t there be a subculture that thrives on the waste of others?

    On the way home from a late night at the library my roommate asked me to stop at Zingermann’s. But they’re closed at 2am, aren’t they? Yeah, exactly the point. We parked the car and went around to the back. We grabbed two large, tied bags of bread from the dumpster and carried them over our shoulders – the bakery equivalent to Santa Claus. Feeling in the spirit, we crept into the co-op homes of few friends and left several loafs for them to find in the morning. We stopped at a park near our apartment to share some bread with the homeless folks that stayed there. By the time we got home we still had too much bread for two people. We stuffed the freezer full and immediately started slicing up some bread to go with soup. Maybe you think that sounds ridiculous, but the bags were tied. The bread was only a day old. I ate the bread out of the freezer for at least a month. It was good enough.

    Another friend asked me for a ride up to Trader Joe’s late one night. Those dumpsters are virtually a gold mine of perfectly good ‘expired’ produce, baked goods, can goods, and even bottled wine. Thats right wine. We recovered two cases of Charles Shaw Merlot from certain doom. Not only did we get free food and spirits, but we made sure to recycle the bottles. Good for the budget and the environment! Even during my dumpster diving experiences I remain modestly reserved. I didn’t like to dig — I’d usually just go for sealed goods up at the top.

    Some more pointers came from a traveler I cross paths with. Check the dumpsters of Little Caesars just after closing time – free Hot N Readys are right on top. Or maybe the dumpster of McDonalds as the menu changes to get left over breakfast sandwiches and hash browns. These things might be a little extreme (and unhealthy if you’re going to McDonalds, yuck) but they aren’t unreasonable. Especially if you’re low on cash.

    I think about going back to Trader Joe’s sometimes. I’m all for reducing waste and saving money, but I’d hate to take the goods from other divers that might need them more.

    Dumpster diving for food may be an extreme measure of frugality. We’re all familiar with those trash hunters that find goods such as furniture and electronics by the side of the road. Whats wrong with that? I live in a college town. The things you find by the side of the road here may actually be in better shape than what you have in your house. There are people that actually make a business out of collecting student trash in the spring then selling it back to them in yard sale form the next fall. Right on. I personally have more respect for the trash collectors than those that leave the goods by the wayside. Come on… at least donate it! There are at least 6 second hand stores in a 1 mile radius from campus. And at the very least, if you don’t have a will or a way, please list your items on Craigslist under Free so that someone else can take it for you!

  74. Angie says:

    I’m not opposed to rescuing salvagable goods from in or around the dumpster. However, I will share something that happened to the dumpster at my building which makes me very wary of taking anything that’s buried too deep down: A meth lab was dumped in our dumpster and a Haz Mat team was dispatched to clean it out. They were there for about 3 or 4 hours and then left the existing dumpster behind for normal trash use. They did NOT replace our dumpster–at least anytime soon after that. There’s a lot more to watch out for than just contaminated food.

  75. I know a woman who did “gleaning” full time. She had so much food she fed several families. The food didn’t come from the dump however, she had an arrangement with the produce manager of her local store.

    She was able to pay off her credit card debt with the savings.

    As for me, I do enjoy peeking in the Barnes and Noble dump. The books that get messed up (especially from the kid’s section, kids tear up the packaging and take stickers, pens, etc that come with some books these days) get tossed. My kids have lots of great books and puzzles and art stuff from the dump, and it’s totally clean because it’s thrown away at a different time than any food stuff. Also have found small shelving units and furniture. :)

  76. cyd says:

    I wont go as far as dumpster diving for food but I see nothing wrong w/ getting still useable and useful stuff from next to dumpsters in apartment complexes. I think it would be a great idea for all apartment and condo complexes to have an informal “Up for Grabs” pile of still useful stuff.That way anyone can donate to the pile and anyone can feel free to take something they can use. Even folks who live on cul-de-sac’s could do it. It’s a great way from everyone to save some $$$ and less waste ends up in the landfills. It’s also great for community building :)

  77. acidspit says:

    It’s amazing to me that these dumpster divers have given a new name for dumpster diving. Freeganism? Geez, gimme a break. Call it for what it is: dumpster diving. It bothers me that the freegan crowd, it seems to me, tend to be the well-off and moderately-educated crowd. (and hipsters and free radicals too, I guess). I always believed that there was a huge stigma attached to dumpster diving: as in, I used to only see the homeless do it. But I guess you give it a name like “freeganism” and it’s suddenly the cool thing to do. Dumpster diving is looked down upon by people who have climbed up from poverty, and it seems that people who haven’t experienced extreme poverty have no qualms about doing it, citing political reasons. I guess different backgrounds, different takes…

  78. MB says:

    When I was in university, I use to live near a florist. Some evenings, especially saturdays (as they were closed on sundays), my roomate, her boyfriend and I would scavenge the dumpster for flowers ! It always had plenty – right on top. We had dried up roses all over the apartment! I even gave a whole bouquet to the secretary at my department (she knew they came from the dumpster and she was very happy).

    I haven’t been since, but I plan to have a peek this summer … for food, maybe, it would depend in what condition (but I usualy buy the beat up fruit that’s on sale anyways).

  79. Sangrail says:

    I’m from a poor background,
    and ok, I was embarrassed by my Mum dumpster diving as a kid, but not as worried about that as say, having food and toilet paper for the week.
    Still, you grow up, you figure – if you can’t beat ‘em, join em (and fuck people’s middle class attitudes if they think scavenging otherwise wasted goods is the real problem there :P ).

    And even though I’m a computer geek, I’m happy to conclude from acidspit’s comments that I must have skipped lower/middle class’ on my way up. And yeah, bullshit. It’s not the people who had extreme poverty who have problems with it, it’s the people who like to think they’re a step *above* that, and they’re so insecure with their keep up with the joneses mentality, that they get bunch of new crap on credit, rather than *anything* used.

    The responses some people have against it dumpster diving are a little disturbing…
    Waste means it’s being *wasted*. Actually, in many places, once it’s in the garbage – it’s not yours any more. That’s the point, you didn’t want it, now let someone else have it or take it away.
    Using it, prevents it being waste. I’m a little weirded out at the assumption that…
    Ok, I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around it, but it seems like it’s – the assumption that not only do you have the right to conspicuously waste stuff (sure, whatever), no one ELSE no one is allowed to interfere or rescue your conspicuous waste! How could such a destructive attitude be justified?

    And the constant attacks…

    All the comments about ‘it should go to a food bank’ – yes it should.
    So – are you taking it? No.
    Are the businesses taking it? No.
    Are the freegans more likely to take it to a foodbank than anyone else, or at least stop it being completely wasted? Hell *yes*.

    I’ve only dumpster dived for furniture and clothing, but damn. Maybe I should be doing my bit and trying to ‘freegan’ food too, if only to make my little dent in societal waste, and probably have a better impact on what ends up at the dump than my current recycling.

    I didn’t really think the ‘Three R’s’ from when I was a kid were a political statement, but obviously they are:
    Reuse – Reduce – Recycle

  80. Sangrail says:

    I’m from a poor background,
    and ok, I was embarrassed by my Mum dumpster diving as a kid, but not as worried about that as say, having food and toilet paper for the week.
    Still, you grow up, you figure – if you can’t beat ‘em, join em (and to hell with people’s middle class attitudes if they think scavenging otherwise wasted goods is the real problem there :P ).

    And even though I’m a computer geek, I’m happy to conclude from acidspit’s comments that I must have skipped lower/middle class values on my way up.
    It’s not the people who had extreme poverty who have problems with it, it’s the people who like to think they’re a step *above* that, and they’re so insecure with their keep up with the Joneses mentality, that they get bunch of new crap on credit, rather than *anything* used.

    The responses some people have against it dumpster diving are a little disturbing…
    Waste means it’s being *wasted*. Actually, in many places, once it’s in the garbage – it’s not yours any more. That’s the point, you didn’t want it, now let someone else have it or take it away.
    Using it, prevents it being waste. I’m a little weirded out at the assumption that…
    Ok, I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around it, but it seems like it’s – the assumption that not only do you have the right to conspicuously waste stuff (sure, whatever), no one ELSE no one is allowed to interfere or rescue your conspicuous waste! How could such a destructive attitude be justified?

    All the comments about ‘it should go to a food bank’ – yes it should.
    So – are you taking it? No.
    Are the businesses taking it? No.
    Are the freegans more likely to take it to a foodbank than anyone else, or at least stop it being completely wasted? Hell *yes*.

    I’ve only dumpster dived for furniture and clothing, but damn. Maybe I should be doing my bit and trying to ‘freegan’ food too, if only to make my little dent in societal waste, and probably have a better impact on what ends up at the dump than my current recycling.

    I didn’t really think the ‘Three R’s’ from when I was a kid were a political statement, but obviously they are:
    Reuse – Reduce – Recycle

  81. luvleftovers says:

    My ‘nightstand’ is a really cool little mahogany table from the 1920s that my ex-husband found placed carefully next to the complex’s dumpster. A new tenant just didn’t have room for it and hoped someone would take it. 20 years later, I still have it.

  82. AlsoSusie says:

    You’d be amazed at the quality of the food you can find dumpster diving. I mean literally amazed.

    People imagine half eaten sandwiches or rotting fruit, but most of what you find is packaged, bagged, and boxed. For example, I used to regularly find pre-packed veggie trays…plastic trays filled with veggies, factory wrapped in cellophane, 6 trays to the sealed box. Cleaner from the dumpster than the open-air veg at the grocery!

    Ah, the good old days. I miss dumpster diving.

  83. AnKa says:

    I might have pointed this out on here before but I will repeat myself. In our town, and I know of some other towns that also do this, there is a swap shop at the local dump.
    You bring your trash and recycle (we don’t have municipal trash pickup) and you bring your usable but unwanted items to the swap shop. What lands there never ceases to amaze us.
    We have gotten for free:
    A baby grand piano (mahogany, free for the move), two dehumidifiers that worked, a dining room chandelier that needed minor fixing, fireplace tools, a trike, countless gardening implements and tools, a cordless drill, a microscope, …

    Seriously, I could go on. When we get comments on our ‘new’ stuff and we tell people where it came from, we get anything between obvious weirded-out-ness and sheer envy.

    I think it would be instructive for Americans to be confronted with the trash they produce in particular compared with the trash that someone in another country might produce. It is so different!
    (Even between here and Europe).

    IMO if I found cans or other wrapped food that was not expired, I would take it. Unless it is junk food that I wouldn’t want to put in my face anyway (what on earth is a tastycake?????)

  84. Amy T. says:

    My freegan friend makes the rounds with Food Not Bombs. They are revolutionaries, pointing out our society’s disrespect for people as other than customers.

    It is actually *illegal* to take food from dumpsters, and there are arrests some places, although I have not heard of it happening here. Some stores and restaurants set the good stuff aside, on a table, so that no diving is involved.

    Right now, the world grows enough food to feed everyone, if there were a perfect distribution system, and no political situations that prevented it. That will not be true in the near future. Given the way we farm now, the day when the food couldn’t go around is not far off.

  85. Sherry says:

    I remember being 11 or 12 years old spending the night at my grandparents house. This was always exciting because the next morning I knew dumpster diving was in store for us! My grandfather, an educated person, retiree from Nasa, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, dumpster dove. We got mystery cans, dented but with the wrapping removed, perishables, bread, etc. He never actually jumped inside a dumpster, he created a hooked spear by sawing off the handle to a broom and attaching a hook at the end so as to stab any desirable items he found. Now, I know he wasn’t hurting for money, I was too young to know if it was for political reasons but my gut tells me it was simply because people throw away perfectly good items! We are a wasteful culture and those willing can benefit, frugally, from those actions of others.

  86. jaylin says:

    Check out this Washington DC article about gleaning at the Georgetown University dumpsters the day dorms were closing and students had to move out.

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=1705

    They found new refridgerators, subwoofers, cd-players still in packaging, a bowl of change, toasters, blenders, computers.

    We are a wasteful society. PF blogs talk about living beyond your means, but that only implies that you should go out there and buy everything as long as you can afford it. I’m more interested in not even buying things I COULD afford but don’t need. Actually, maybe free-cycling isn’t even about reducing the number of possessions. I really believe that the things you own, end up owning you.

  87. Dana says:

    I’m not above getting things from next to a dumpster but I don’t think I would actually dig around in one. I’ve scored a toaster, a toaster oven, and a few pieces of furniture that way. (The appliances had *just* been set out in the past day and, as it turned out, they both worked.)

    I’m iffy about taking food out of a dumpster for another reason. We have lots of homeless people in this neighborhood. Now, I don’t think homeless people should be relegated to picking food out of the trash but unfortunately, sometimes that is their reality. And if I take that bag of Tastycakes out of the trash, that could have fed someone who was really hungry.

  88. Kaye says:

    I was in the US late last year for a business trip. Coming from a developing country, everything about the US amazed me, including the penchant of many to consume too much or throw away still perfectly consumable stuff, like food, just because these items either could not be stored or that the staff would rather avoid the effort of storing consumables.

    On Thanksgiving, I dropped by a nearby pastries shop–the only one still open at noon–for coffee and a donut. As I was paying for my order, the person at the register asked if I wanted a muffin. I hesitated since I wasn’t planning to buy one, and my coffee-and-donut combo was enough. He still insisted and mentioned it was for free. When he said “free”, I said ok, thinking I wouldn’t lose anything for taking the offer.

    Truth be told, the food attendant stuffed a huge paper bag with four large muffins and three large donuts–enough to feed more than half a dozen people. I was happy with the loot, but it made me remember, too, that halfway around the world, there were people dying of hunger at that very moment that a pastry store offered me the food stuff that they could not store away. Something was just not right. Still, I was thankful for the freebies, of course.

  89. reulte says:

    Brent (comments 26 – 53 – 59), I won’t totally concede the point but I can see saving some selected books (or any other item) for family. I have a desk built by my carpenter great-grandfather and a first edition Mark Twain that I keep BECAUSE it was my father’s and has his name and handwritten notes about what he thought when he was a teenager but I don’t read because the book print is too small for me.

    But sometimes you want or need the space or the freedom more than the books. Heirlooms do have to start somewhere – but they begin because they are important because of external factors (they remind us; I remember my father re-reading the book in his chair, occasionally laughing and reading aloud some selected paragraph) rather than any intrinsic value (Collected Works of Mark Twain – $2/used book store). I’ve saved the first baby tooth my boy lost — but I am not going to save the second or subsequent teeth. One is enough for my memory. Having too many ‘heirlooms’ become clutter, then trash. Seeing relatives throw everything out because they couldn’t deal with the entire collection somewhat defeats the purpose of having something worth passing down. You pass something on as an heirloom because it was important to you and you believe the person you hand it too will value the same things about it that you value.

    I have to say Sacred-texts does great work. That is truly one of my favorite sites.

  90. reulte says:

    oh, and I like your blog too.

  91. KLevy says:

    Compact fluorescents, while a cost savings to the end user, are not more environmentaly friendly than incandescent bulbs. Here’s why: Regular bulbs are made in the US. CFLs are made in China. Fuel is used to ship them that negates the energy savings at the user end. Also, CFLs have more dangerous insides, and release mercury when broken. They are a zero-sum-gain, except for the end user-who saves money. Environmentally- they are a wash. That they are good for the environmentis a common misconception.

  92. Nadia says:

    Does anyone know where Drake’s Cakes are sold in the Atlanta area? Or how to find out? A friend of mine loves these and I would like to get them for her soon. Thanks.

  93. Teri Pittman says:

    My husband regularly gets stuff from the local grocery store. They box up a certain amount of bad produce but he will dumpster dive if they have more food there. We eat the good stuff. The bad stuff goes to the chickens and goats, who are thrilled with things like bad green beans and tomatoes. Some of the produce is fine but I can see that they wouldn’t be able to get anyone to pay money for it. It has been a huge help for us this winter as we’ve been on a very limited food budget. In return, we shop that grocery store when we can.

  94. Jaspenelle says:

    Most of my furniture comes from dumpsters and looks quite nice (as I am relatively skilled with repair work and painting.)

    When I worked at Walmart we had to defect food we weren’t able to sell (throw it out in a special way.) 90% of it was perfectly fine. If it was something I would eat (whole foods) I would take it (my manager knew.) I worked at a bakery once as well and rather then throwing out all the baked goods at the end of the day, each employee (there were 6 of us) could take home a box of goods every night if we liked (you get sick of Bostom Cremes very fast this way.) Whatever was left was picked up by a local guy who fed it to his goats I think.

    Isn’t this the same was pulling a sealed container out of a dumpster? To me it is, and I would do it… if I could reach. (I’m short, I’d probably fall in and be lost forever!)

  95. de Ruiter says:

    Sandy #38 “you don’t know if there’s been fecal matter, vomit, blood, etc. thrown in there.” The woman got the infections while being treated IN a hospital. Medical waste must be disposed of by a special medical waste procedure or contractor, think the red Shaps boxes in your doctor’s offices. Do I dumpster dive? Nope, too old and stiff. Do I pick treasures off the top of the dumpster pile or walk in if the back is open? YES! One day while picking empty apple boxes for packing, I found three boxes half full of huge, bright red apples, each with one spot, speck or dent. Took them home for the horses. Then realized this was an even better resource, made and canned apple sauce, baked apple pies, and strudel, ate raw apples by cutting out the damaged bits and gave the horses the peels and cores. Plus I had the boxes for my project. “Waste not, want not.” And if you want to get some really nasty infections, go as a sick person, or for an operation, to a hospital! Actually, if you can arrange to go to a surgi center for an outpatient operation, you are less likely to get an infection as they don’t have all those diseased sick people hanging around which a hospital does.

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