Dumpster Diving and Freeganism Tips

Midtown Manhattan may not be where you’d expect to see folks dumpster diving. But amidst high-end stores and Fortune 500 corporate headquarters, trash bags full of perfectly good food are stacked up on the sidewalks and destined for the nearest landfill. Enter members of the New York-based Freegan.info and unaffiliated others who salvage these perishable foodstuffs. For anyone who wants to live cheaply, there’s a lot to be said for taking in what others cast off.

Indeed, “freeganism” is a lifestyle that requires its adherents (that would be “freegans”) to limit their consumption of goods and services in order to reduce their environmental footprint. This philosophy also calls for relearning lost skills, such as repairing and reusing, and teaching others to do the same. The commitment to live cheaply makes freegans the ultimate frugalistas.

After the organization’s bimonthly meetings, “Freeganism 101” introduces newcomers to a slice of Manhattan they’ve never seen before. With some two dozen people in tow, the group embarks on a dumpster diving trash tour. Recently they found fresh mozzarella, bread, ready-made sandwiches, eggs, a box of Triscuits, a bag of Cheetos, not-yet-expired cottage cheese, tomatoes, and avocados bagged and tossed in front of a convenience store. The group lined up the food on the sidewalk to see just how much might have gone to waste. Lesson learned.

But dumpster diving is only one way that freegans acquire goods without spending a dime. If you want to live cheaply while doing your part for the environment, there’s no need to convert wholly to freeganism. Just give these tips a try.

Dumpster dive regularly.

Foraging will fill your refrigerator and keep good food from winding up in the garbage heap. Go to Meetup.com to find a trash tour in a city near you or visit dumpster directory to discover which dumpsters are worth diving into.

Encourage your friends to live cheaply.

Freeganism is not about the individual, explains one of the group’s leaders, it’s about community alternatives. Freegan.info usually hosts a “freegan feast” the same week of its trash tour to cook up the salvaged foods. Take this as inspiration to prepare dinner with friends instead of dining out or buying premade meals. You’ll spend quality time together and far less money and use up far fewer resources, to boot.

Create or find a community garden.

Even if you live in an urban area, at least some fresh produce doesn’t have to come from the grocery store. You and your family can live cheaply while promoting and preserving green space by participating in a community garden. Find one near you by exploring the American Community Gardening Association database or learn how to create your own.

Swap or purchase second-hand items.

Everyone has heard of flea markets, but do you know about free markets? They’re exactly what the name suggests: a gathering where you swap goods with others for free while enjoying -- you guessed it -- free entertainment. Check out online swapping resources, such as Freecycle.org, Freesharing.org, and “free stuff classifieds” on Craigslist. Freegan.info also keeps tabs on second-hand stores where everything is free. Do as freegans do and live cheaply by buying pre-owned items if you must make a purchase.

Small changes make a big difference.

Put freeganism and dumpster diving into action by resisting the temptation to purchase “the newest and best,” by repairing your own clothing, by doing your own cooking, by growing some of your own food. Freegans aren’t extremists – they make do with what they have, they recycle and reuse, they make things last. Oh sure, an indulgence every now and then is fine, but learning to live cheaply has its own rewards.