How Freeganism is Combating Wastefullness in America

I was first introduced to Freeganism in my high school English class. My teacher put on a documentary about people who live completely off food they find in dumpsters. And no they weren’t homeless or completely destitute. They chose to live that way. I was quickly enamoured by these people who are so committed to sustainability that they dig through garbage just to say Fuck you to the consumption based economy. I absolutely loved it.

Dive! The Film — Living Off America’s Waste. Directed by Jeremy Seifert. Initial release October 2009. Find it Here.

Freeganism is an ideology that believes in the minimal consumption of resources. Particularly through the recovering (dumpster diving) of wasted goods. The word Freegan is a combination of the word “free” and “vegan.” This doesn’t mean that all Freegans are vegan, this just refers to someone who gets their food and resources from dumpsters. It may sound like a strange practice but there are huge communities of people who get all of their food completely from trash. It’s not a lifestyle driven by economic necessity, but out of principle to reuse resources as to not contribute to practices that are destroying the planet.

Freegans take a political stance of not wanting to participate in the economy (for various reasons). They don’t want to add more demand to an already extremely wasteful economy. They try to buy as little as possible, and try to get the things they need for free. They are anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist.

Their main motivating factor is to help create a more sustainable world, and to combat our over consumptive, resource destroying economy. It’s no secret that the typical American lifestyle is unsustainable and threatens the future of life on this planet. The type of society that throws away this much food doesn’t value the earth or the work it takes to produce it. It is to our own personal detriment that we continue the process. Millions of people in the world go hungry, but in the US even our trash cans are full of food.

In America we leave food left to rot in dumpsters yet we still have people who don’t get enough. On top of that, in some cases it’s illegal to rescue this food and give it to people who are hungry. Some companies even throw out better food than what their own employees can afford, and then bar them from taking any of the unsold food home. (Williams, 2016. Full article here).

“One in seven American households don’t have steady access to healthy meals, yet roughly 40 percent of all the food in the U.S. goes uneaten. Some of this food is composted or turned into animal feed, but most of it winds up in landfills, according to an analysis from the Natural Resources Defense Council” ( “The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact”). We’re feeding our landfills as much as we’re feeding our country.

The human species started out as a foraging species. Freegans argue that this is exactly what our species is designed for. Traveling in bands, collecting goods for their use, and sharing them within communities. They argue that Freeganism is just a modern and urbanized adaptation form of life that our species was designed for. However there is a bit of conflict when it comes to this practice. What people think is just, and what is legal.

Laws vary state to state and even city to city but in many cases dumpsters and the items in it are considered property to whoever owns the dumper. Taking things out of it is considered stealing. Some states also strictly prohibit eating roadkill while other states encourage it. Legal views and opinions are widely varied when it comes to free goods.

Freegan is a broad word and I don’t want to overgeneralize Freegans to just dumpster eaters. They don’t all fit into just one box, many people call themselves Freegans and live very different lifestyles. Some Freegans haven’t bought food in years, others only partially live off scavenged food. While others don’t even get their food from dumpsters at all and grow their own. Some are vegan, some aren’t. Some live completely off the grid while others live more “mainstream” lifestyles who dumpster dive periodically for goods. It’s a broad brush and is completely different depending on where you live.

To narrow minded people it may seem disgusting but honestly the only thing that’s disgusting about it is the amount of food that gets thrown away.

Freeganism is gaining traction all across the US. After all if you threw something away? Why would it matter if someone else wanted it?

I commend Freegans. Hopefully one day we won’t all live under the crushing weight of capitalism and can live self-sustaining lifestyles. For now, we just have to do what we can with what we got.

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Kathryn McCarville

Kathryn McCarville

I’m really just at the mercy of my own perspective. Instagram — @katie_mccarv