The freegans’ creed: waste not, want not

The freegans’ creed: waste not, want not[1]

Tristram Stuart likes to rummage in bins. A tall, 32-year-old with floppy hair and chiselled features, he is a connoisseur of rubbish in all its variety. He can tell you

  1. what time central London convenience stores put their binbags out on to the streets and hazard a good guess as to what will be in them
  2. about how the waste policies of major supermarkets differ: how much of their rubbish is diverted to landfill and how much is recycled or incinerated; which ones lock up their bins, and which leave them open. Stuart is a «freegan» – someone who subsists largely on food discarded by others. Through this practice, he has become thoroughly acquainted him with the ins and outs of rubbish and he long ago got over any squeamishness about handling it. For him, a bin full of chucked-out food is not an object of physical revulsion. Rather, it’s an opportunity.

Freeganism is a somewhat ill – defined activity that is best thought of as a subset of the larger anti-capitalist and environmental protest movements. Its origins go back to the Sixties and the embrace of alternative, anti-consumerist lifestyles, though Stuart claims that there is also a powerful inspiration for it in the Gandhian idea of non-violent action. In the US especially, freegans are often called «dumpster divers», though many freegans insist that the practice of extracting food from dustbins represents only one strand of what they do; other freegan practices include co-operative living, squatting and «freecyling», or matching things that people want to get rid of with things other people need.

What is clear is that people embrace freeganism for different reasons. For some, it is part of a general desire to opt out of the capitalist economy. For others, it is more about reducing their impact on the planet and living with a clear conscience. And for others still, no doubt, the motivation is to save money. Stuart’s reasons for being a freegan, on the other hand, are both very clear and highly specific. It is a way to protest against what he sees as the shocking extent to which our society wastes food. «If we didn’t needlessly throw so much food away,» he says, «I’d stop being a freegan.»

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/jul/19/freegan-environment-food (retrieved 18-11-2014)

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