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All About Freeganism and Dumpster Diving

By: Sarah O'Hara BA (hons) - Updated: 19 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dumpster Freegan Freeganism Diving

Freeganism is an anti-consumerist lifestyle. Freegans try to find alternative ways to get things that they would usually have to pay or work for. Being a freegans is about trying to opt out of the traditional economic system because you believe it is unethical and/or you want to use less resources.

The word freegan comes from the words ‘free’ and ‘vegan’, and this reflects the ethical, environmental and economic concerns of the freegan movement. Not all freegans now are necessarily vegans though. The movement came about from around the mid 1990s .

Dumpster Diving

One of the most famous aspects of the freegan lifestyle is ‘dumpster diving’. Dumpsters are American skips or trash bins. Freegans look in dumpsters for food and other items being thrown away and then they reclaim them for re-use. This includes food, furniture and other household items.

Freegans maintain that many of the items and foods that get thrown away everyday by individuals and businesses are still suitable for purpose and a symptom of our ‘throwaway culture’. Dumpster divers and freegans are also sometimes called urban foragers.

The freegan Lifestyle

Freegans believe that rather than contributing to the growing amount of waste, they are in actual fact lessening the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

Because they try to get most of their everyday necessities for free, many freegans feel freer to work less. A lot of freegans feel that work is a large sacrifice and possibly an ethical compromise, and that opting for a lifestyle that requires less money and therefore work means that people can actually achieve more, whether that means pursuing creative endeavours, caring for a family, volunteering or something else worthwhile.

The freegan lifestyle relies heavily on the idea of sharing and community. In practice this includes the sharing of wealth, skills, food, and space.

Plate Scraping

Plate scraping is one of the more extreme practices of some freegans. Hardcore freegans will sometimes hang around in and near restaurants and consume leftover food that would usually be thrown in the bin. Plate scraping is also known as ‘table diving’.


Instead of paying for goods and services, freegans will often try to barter or trade with other freegans, or non freegans if they can get away with it.

Bartering may involve an exchange of skills, for example asking someone to fix your car in return for tending to their garden. Another example would be swapping handmade clothing for home-grown vegetables.

Wild Foraging

Wild food foraging involves finding food that naturally occurs such as mushrooms, vegetables, berries, herbs and other edible plants.

If they do eat meat and animal products, freegans will usually grow and rear their own. This will involve rearing and killing their own meat, and keeping chickens for eggs.

Freegans and Transport

In line with their beliefs many freegans opt out of using cars altogether or they convert their cars to greener biodiesel. Favoured methods of transport include biking, skating, hitch hiking, walking and train hopping.

A less extreme version of hitch hiking would be car sharing. For those that work in an office that many members of staff drive to, car sharing can be a money and energy saver. Car sharing means that one person drives and others share the car and this can be done in rotation so the same person isn't driving all the time. It saves many cars using petrol to get to the same place.


Freegans believe that housing is a right, like being able to eat. They believe it is an injustice that some buildings lie unused while people are homeless.

To this end some freegans are squatters. This means living in an unused building rent-free. Squatters often try to use abandoned buildings in a more productive way, for example providing shelter for the homeless, education and other community activities.

Becoming a Freegan

Anyone can employ freegan practices to whatever level they are comfortable with. Some freegans will do more extreme things such as squatting and plate scraping. Other people will merely use some freegan ideas to try and use and spend less as a lifestyle choice. This could be, for example, biking to work and foraging for some berries and mushrooms.

There will often be a freegan community in your area and talking to freegans will help to understand what they are about and find out more about how to get involved.

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