Frequently Asked Questions.


1) What is a freegan?

2) How many freegans are there?

3) What are the benefits of being a freegan?

4) Are all ‘freegans’ vegans?

5) Isn't freeganism just another term for 'dumpster-diving'?

6) Why are products thrown out?

7) Do some supermarkets/retailers waste more than others?

8) Isn’t it dangerous to rummage around in bins?

9) What are the legal ramifications of such things as dumpster-diving?

10) What measures do retailers use to prevent people from taking discarded products, and what are their reasons?

11) I've met people who claim to be Freegans, but all they do is dumpster dive. Would you still class these people as Freegans?

12) What are the positive aspects of skipping?

13) What is unjust about the economic system?

14) What do you think about 'ethical' purchasing schemes, such as Fairtrade?

15) Do freegans use money at all?

16) What are the most common criticisms of freeganism?

17) What are the weak points of the freegan ideology?

18) How does being a freegan help the world?

1) What is a freegan?

A freegan is someone who tries to live simply, reducing their consumption and the pressure they place on the environment, through such things as recycling, sharing resources and using one’s time to help others.

Freeganism is about climbing out of the socio-economic system and living with a new motivation. Rather than working for money, as in the current system, freegans occupy their time giving and receiving for free.

2)  How many freegans are there?

No one knows! Very few people currently think of themselves as freegans. However, many people are currently practicing the ideals of freeganism in at least some aspect of their lives. What we call ourselves is far less important than what we do. (Please check out the meet-up section of this site. :0)

3) What are the benefits of being a freegan?

Having a clear conscience and a sense of purpose and peace.

4) Are all ‘freegans’ vegans?

Although freeganism grew largely out of the vegan movement, not all freegans are vegans. Some vegans no longer find that the same arguments (e.g. inhumane treatment of animals) apply when it comes to using animal products that have already been produced and are now being wasted.

The direct impact of a freegan lifestyle on animals, people and the environment is less than that of even the strictest vegan who buys their food, as often large amounts of energy go into the production of vegan products for the market place.

Many freegans continue to follow a vegan diet for health and/or ethical reasons.

5) Isn't freeganism just another term for 'dumpster-diving'?

No! It is often wrongly assumed that freeganism is simply taking food from bins. This assumption is propagated by the media, who have an interest in covering the more sensational aspects. It has been said that "defining freeganism as 'dumpster diving' is similar to defining vegetarianism as eating asparagus." Dumpster diving is just one aspect of a much larger ideology.

6) Why are products thrown out?

(The list below mainly relates to food items, and is by no means complete. If you know of any reasons that are not listed here, please email us at: ukfreegans@gmail.com)

(i) The packaging itself has been damaged or soiled.

(ii) The food is part of a case which has had one or two items damaged or soiled (e.g. one broken drink tin that spills on the other tins in the carton).

(iii) The food is nearing (or has passed) the sell-by or use-by dates. (Often products are thrown out when the sell-by date expires, which means that perfectly edible/usable products that have not reached their use-by date are being wasted. It is also worth noting, that the sell-by and use-by dates often do NOT reflect the natural life-cycle of the product. A perfect example is something like honey, which can last for years past what supermarkets deem its best-before date).

(iv) The food did not sell quickly enough before a fresh shipment arrived.

(v) Sometimes there is 'seasonal-specific' branding on various products (e.g Christmas wrapping; Easter eggs etc.). Once the festival/season 'expires' product ranges are often thrown out because shoppers lose interest in these items. Packaging plays an enormous part in why and what people buy.

(vi) On a similar note, if a product line is withdrawn, or the branding is evolved to incorporate a new 'image', or new marketing strategy, this may be anothe reason that perfectly usable items are thrown out. New or experimental product lines that fail to sell are discarded in this way.

(vii) Some products have competitions on the packaging. Likewise, if the competition ends before the product is sold, this may be a factor in why products are thrown out (and often in large amounts).

(viii) Occasionally there are product recalls, usually as a result of health and safety concerns. Usually such items (especially when they are serious) are well publicised. So, freegans, as with anyone else who bought the product in the first place, will probably have been made aware.

(ix) Especially relating to non-food items, if someone returns something that they buy, often this means that the shop chucks out the item, even if there is no fault with it.

(x) Supermarkets/retailers way up their decision-making, not on 'best use of resources' but using economic criteria. They often believe that the amount of money it would cost them to recycle is not economical. This is where waste is an intrinsic component of capitalism/consumerism. It becomes more profitable to destroy resources. Freegans see that we need to have more criteria (and more rational/ethical ones at that) factored into the decision-making process. Cost to such things as the environment in which we have to live should clearly take precedence in any choice that individuals/organisations make in such things as discarding resources.

(xi) The main reason items are thrown out is due to selfishness, greed and short-term thinking, which leads to the irrational nature underlying many, if not all, of the reasons cited above.

7) Do some supermarkets/retailers waste more than others?

Yes, however some retailers are also better than others at hiding their waste, so it is difficult to make an accurate assessment. From our experience, family businesses tend to waste less, as it is easier to avoid responsibility for wrong actions in a larger organisation where others can take the blame.

Larger supermarkets, such as Morrisons, often have press departments, and this can be the source of some incredible hypocrisy. Morrisons have blatantly lied that they do not waste any food, because they mark down their prices!

Other supermarkets, such as Marks and Spencer, heavily over-prepare and over-package food, which expires more quickly, causing greater wastage.

Certain sandwich chains, such as E.A.T., used a marketing ploy, advertised on all packaging, claiming that they donated unsold sandwiches to charity. Despite this, freegans still found their produce in the bin, and E.A.T. have since removed this claim.

It should be noted that these are just a few examples of a problem that exists to a differing extent within ALL retailers, where waste is often not accidental but intentional.

8) Isn’t it dangerous to rummage around in bins?

Many people are not aware that the vast majority of discarded products are of good quality and still in their original packaging. The main thing with such practices as skipping is to use one’s common sense. You may wish to use gloves or other protective clothing while rummaging around bins, depending on personal preferences. It is wise to wash food and other consumables afterwards, either in plain water, or with a thin wipe of bleach water to kill off any germs. If packages are puffed up, it usually means that there is a build-up of bacteria, so it is wise to leave these items where you find them. A helpful saying to keep in mind is, ‘If in doubt, chuck it out!” Fish, meat, cooked rice and dairy products, all need to be treated with caution.

9) What are the legal ramifications of such things as dumpster-diving?

Raiding bins from the back of supermarkets is a legally grey area. If supermarkets want to be difficult, they could charge you with trespassing, or even with stealing, in certain cases. It is ironic to hear a store manager claim “Hey, you can’t steal our rubbish!”

We have heard that, legally-speaking, if you take something which someone does not value then it is not stealing. It makes sense that if we throw something away, we relinquish ownership of it. It should then become automatically available for anyone to make use of.

The real ‘crime’ is the (technically legal) stealing of the land by governments and corporations away from local communities, especially in developing countries; the importing of goods half way round the world at great expense to global ecology; and then the needless discarding of often perfectly usable goods and resources back into the ground or atmosphere, leading to pollution and the emission of harmful gasses.

To our knowledge no one has ever been charged in the UK with stealing rubbish. It is likely that this is because supermarkets realise that prosecuting someone for recycling waste would open up an ethical can of worms.

10) What measures do retailers use to prevent people from taking discarded products, and what are their reasons?

Supermarkets adopt a variety of measures to stop people from making use of their waste - everything from pouring blue dye or bleach over the bin, to erecting razor wire fencing, securing padlocks and employing security men.

Supermarkets often cite legal fears as their reason for hiding the waste, however this is usually just a convenient excuse.

In a world where over a billion people are malnourished, is fear of people getting an upset stomach an adequate reason to destroy millions of tonnes of food each year?

11) I've met people who claim to be Freegans, but all they do is dumpster dive. Would you still class these people as Freegans?

It is worth clarifying the distinction between 'scavenging' and 'freeganism', although of course there is some cross over between them. Scavengers may search for resources either out of necessity, or because they want to get something just because it is free. However, freegans see the need to give back as a result of being freed from needing to spend their time working for money (as a result of being able to make use of such things as wasted wealth from skips).

12) What are the positive aspects of skipping?

Finding free resources can provide freegans with time for more positive activities than needing to work for money.

Stores benefit from having less waste that they need to pay to dispose of.

Making use of discarded meat brings purpose to the otherwise needless slaughter of animals.

The environment benefits from having less waste rotting in landfill, or being burnt, leading to the emission of harmful gasses into the atmosphere.

13) What is unjust about the economic system?

(i) Starvation.
The poorest people in the world today are often denied access to their own land. Instead, it is used to grow 'cash crops' such as tea, rubber, and more recently oil for fuel. These replace staple crops like wheat and rice that could feed many more people.

(ii) Overfull landfill sites
The UK sends more waste to landfill than any other European country. It has been estimated that we will run out of landfill sites by 2016. This problem is not just limited to the UK. Other countries that have experienced such 'garbage crises', have suffered serious health risks and riots.

(iii) Carbon emissions.
Many of the products we buy have been transported enormous distances to reach us. Whether by airplane, ship or HGV, by the time they has arrived, it has earned a large carbon footprint. There are also usually emissions involved in agriculture and manufacture. Under the present economic system it costs more to cut down on these emissions than it does to let them continue.

(iv) Deforestation.
Cardboard for overpackaged products and paper for unwanted advertisements need to come from somewhere. Today they are often sourced from clear-cutting of old growth forests in places such as Alaska. The Amazon rainforest is rapidly being diminished by farmers and graziers who have been pushed off their land by large agriculture firms.

Magazines and books that do not sell are often discarded after the cover has been torn off and returned to the publisher. The publisher will then refund the full price of the publication. This is an example of deliberate waste for profit.

(v) Exploitation of workers.
Many of the products we enjoy are manufactured by underpaid workers operating in unsafe conditions. This situation is largely a result of the unfairly weighted rules that govern international trade.

(vi) War/Fighting over resources.
The recent gulf war was an illustration of how even the agressors in modern conflict admit that wars are fought over resources. Cheap oil is an integral part of the illusion of wealth that we have in modern society, and continual growth comes at the cost of human lives.

(vii) Creation of articifical needs
Rather than the market being driven by consumer demand, dishonest marketing and advertising techniques are used to sell people products and services that they do not need, and probably would never have wanted if left to their own devices.

(ix) Built-in Obsolescence.
Modern products are deliberately manufactured to either break, need updating or need upgrading soon after they have been bought. This is done in order to sell more products to generate more profit.

(x) Debt
Debt is a widespread form of modern day slavery, and our current system depends on and fosters it. Most inhabitants of the world today - from individuals to entire nations - are enslaved by debt.

(xi) Distancing from reality.
We are deliberately distanced from the means of production, which are responsible for most of the above injustices. This is in order to stop us from becoming disillusioned with participation in the economic system.

14) What do you think about 'ethical' purchasing schemes, such as Fairtrade?

Such schemes are often run with the best of intentions, however there are always flaws. Sometimes guidelines are cynically disregarded, and the scheme is nothing more than a marketing ploy for the retailer. At other times the markup on the selling price of the product is grossly out of proportion to the extra wage given to the producer. In cases such as these, a better way to help the poor is to buy the cheapest product and to donate the saved money directly to them. And the same problems with huge enviromental and human costs of transport and waste exist when purchasing goods from remote locations. What is the difference between a Fairtrade banana in the bin and a regular banana?

What people in developing countries need rather than our money is the food and resources that are being exported from their own countries.

The bottom line is that even the fairest system that involves people being motivated by profit, is still a system built on greed and distrust. Such a system will fail to deliver what is necessary regardless of any good intentions.

15) Do freegans use money at all?

A long-term goal of freeganism is the complete restoration of society without the need for a monetary system forcing people to buy or do things. However, it is important to be realistic. In working towards this goal, freegans see that it is likely that there will be occasions when using money may in fact lead to a wiser use of resources overall (e.g. if we spend a lot of time/fuel looking for free food we may be guilty of wasting more resources).

The fact that people and entire civilisations have survived without money is proof that money is not a necessity as people are conned into believing. The best way to test whether we need something is to live without it. We are only imprisoned by something we refuse to let go of.

16) What are the most common criticisms of freeganism?

(i) Aren't ‘freegans’ just ‘free-loaders’?

True freeganism involves giving back to the world. Through making use of such things as waste, while being content to live simply, freegans are actually freed to use their time investing in relationships; putting back into the local community; and seeking to make the world a better place. If we are recklessly consuming the world’s resources without giving back, then we need to consider whether we are the real ‘free-loaders’.

(ii) Why should freegans benefit from government services such as the NHS without paying tax?

Almost everyone in the UK pays tax of some kind, be it income tax or V.A.T. The amount of money earned, or tax paid, is not a fair indication of someone's contribution to society. Should a volunteer nurse who works in a developing country be more entitled to NHS benefits, than (for example) a wealthy, tax paying tobacco company executive?

Freegans believe basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, education and health, should be made accessible to everyone. This includes fat cats, wage slaves, the unemployed and drug addicts. Once we start excluding groups of people access to basic necessities, we are on a very slippery slope indeed.

(iii) Isn't freeganism just a term for vegans who 'cheat'.

(See: 'Are all freegans vegans?')

(iv) Aren't freegans who bin-raid taking food out of the mouths of those who can't afford to buy it?

There is more food thrown out in the UK than there are hungry people to eat it. The irony of the suggestion that food be donated to charities, is that often the charities themselves are forced to throw away food, because they are given more than they can effectively redistribute.

The poorest people in this country are rich in comparison to the vast majority of the world, where much of the food that is found in the bins orginated. We need to question who is really taking food from the mouths of those who can't afford to buy it.

When we make use of wasted wealth, we can redistribute any existing wealth to those in need.

(v) Aren't freegans dependent on the system they criticise?

No! It could be said that the system is dependent on freegans to slow down its own self-destruction. The system is destroying the very things we are ALL dependent on - the earth and its inhabitants.

Freegans would like to see the end of waste and dumpster-diving itself. Freegans currently make use of the waste produced by the economic system because it would be a waste not to do so. We need to realise that freeganism is a viable alternative to the current system and not a reaction to it.

If more people live simply, there is more to go around.

If more people reduce waste, there is more to go around.

If more people share what they don't need with those who do, there is more to go around.

If more people give their time helping others, there is more to go around (and we get more done!)

(vi) If everyone was a freegan, wouldn't society would cease to function?

No, it would start to function, and function sustainably!

17) What are the weak points of the freegan ideology?

Because it is not possible to define freeganism by a set of rules, it is limited to the sincerity of the person practising it.

There are some people who admire the concept of freeganism, but lament that they have yet to meet a true freegan!

18) How does being a freegan help the world?

Greed-fuelled over-production and over-consumption is destroying the planet and the people who inhabit it. Freeganism is a way out of these problems because it re-prioritises production, consumption and work according to NEED.

Greed and instant gratification blind us to what the real needs are and how we can fill them.