The war generation had a saying- waste not, want not. We can stand to learn a few things from our parents and grandparents when it comes to sensible consumption. With the economy being the way it is these days, thrift and frugality are undeniably coming back into vogue. So perhaps we should re-evaluate these old ideas, a good jumping off point is the Story of Stuff a series of fun and informative animated TEDD-talk style lectures that were created by Annie Leonard to challenge our North-American wide obsession with consumption.
Another interesting movement is that of the freegans. This decentralized activist movement works to empower non-consumers to learn how to scavenge and forage in both the urban and suburban jungle. Freegans search for not only used clothing and household accessories but for discarded food as well, the official website describes the ethos of the movement as thus:
“Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living 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.”
Their revolution is based on the following principles: waste reclamation, waste minimization, eco-friendly transportation, rent-free housing, going green and something that we can all get behind, working less.
Now before you get super-excited and start diving in dumpsters behind your local grocery store- you have to learn the unofficial ground rules of ‘binning’ first. These rules were passed down to me by some of my activist friends and in turn I hope that you well share these rules as well.
First off, never take fresh meats, vegetables and or other food stuffs from dumpsters within an urban center of a large city unless you absolutely have too. For many of us (myself included) dumpster diving sounds like a dangerous and exciting hobby but for many people living on the edge, it is a primary means of survival. So be conscientious of the homeless on this front. Therefore it is best to scavenge in dumpsters that are located out in the suburbs, where your only source of competition will be students who are either running out of their student loan monies for the semester and or hipsters, who you shouldn’t be conscientious of (j/k). Secondly, avoid food spoilage.
The human nose has evolved over many millennia to detect things that have gone bad, so when opening up a used garbage bag and you find yourself beginning to dry heave when faced with the repugnant smell inside, relax. This is your bodies fight or flight response kicking into high-gear. My general rule of thumb, is that I will not take any used diary, meats and or fish from a dumpster unless I can absolutely ascertain whether it has recently been taken out of the cooler and deposited into the garbage dumpster. In a foodsafe course, one of the first things you are taught is the concept of the danger window. This is a tacky term that refers to the speed at which food spoilage starts happening; you have approximately one hour of leeway from the time the item is taken out of a refridgeration unit to grab it and cart it home before the food stuff begins to rot.
Even in the company of my closest friends, some of whom are expert ‘binners’ I am still wary about eating meats, cheeses and fish that are offered up at potlucks. Use your discretion here.
Thirdly, be safe out there. A lot of people [ I am looking at you roaming bands of suburban teenagers on bmx bicycles] will not understand what you are doing and try to hassle you, be smart and avoid confrontation. If it comes down to a making a choice between a black-eye and a cantaloupe, is it worth it? Also my partner, who once worked at a battered woman’s shelter told me a horror story about a client who witnessed a friend being crushed to death, while inside of a grocery store compactor. Refuse to go inside of garbage compactors, even if your friends encourage you too. Don’t become another statistic, stay-safe.
Also when you first start scavenging and making in-roads into this emerging sub-culture, you’ll soon discover that many ‘freegans’ are highly protective of their favorite locations. In my opinion this is misguided and selfish on the part of expert or veteran ‘freegans’. Do as I do, pay it forward and share your favorite locations with others in the community; especially with newbies, who will be thankful for the help. In the long-run you will be doing more for the cause of challenging consumerism by sharing openly with others, as opposed to hoarding the goods you find to yourself.
On a non-food related note a great place to find used clothing and household accessories is on the curb on Saturday or Sunday afternoons at about 3-4PM especially in the more affluent neighbourhoods within your community. This happens because after garage sales have shuttered for the day or the weekend, many homeowners have little desire to cart off the unsold items to a value village location or a charitable donation box. It is easier to place the remaining items on the curb.I have found so many great things on the curb ranging from free construction wood [which I used to build a workbench with] to slightly used work-shirts and even an old fashioned Sears AM/FM radio this summer in my old neighbourhood back in Victoria.
Also make sure to troll the free section on Craigslist regularly and or visit freecycle.org to find good tips about free stuff nearest you, just make sure you advise your spouse and or roommates about your newest acquisitions. In the past, when my girlfriend and I both lived in a basement suite, she told me on a number of occasions that I was bringing too much used-junk home. She was right. I am easily excitable and will rashly pick-up another end-table just because it is sitting there, even though I already have three at home. Oops, does this make me a hoarder?
Otherwise, if you are willing to spend a bit of money on used goods I would recommend visiting your local Sally Anne or alternatively your nearest Value Village. As a word to the wise, you’ll often make your best finds for vintage clothing in the outlying suburbs, away from the city-centres.
This is a secret that most used-clothing stores, wouldn’t like you to know about. Most of the chic vintage stores downtown will higher ‘buyers’ to plunder the bounty of designer labels that can be easily located in the suburban thrift stores and thereafter marking them up by about 50% before restocking them in their own vintage clothing stores.
In closing, I think that the best thing about freeganism or free-cycling is the energy savings involved; according to treehugger.com it takes, “around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of regular ol’ blue jeans.” Not only are used jeans cheaper than buying new jeans, but they are already broken-in and they make less of an impact on the planet. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure! Do you have any freeganism tips to share? I’d love to here them and I am sure that the other readers would as well.