Freeganism: Overview, History, Practices

What Is Freeganism?

Freeganism is an alternative philosophy for living, based on minimum participation in capitalism and conventional economic practices, as well as limited consumption of capitalistic resources.

Key Takeaways

  • Freeganism is a lifestyle philosophy focused on adopting alternative means to modern capitalism for the satisfaction of material needs.
  • Freegans, disciples of freeganism, believe capitalism manifests gross over-production and over-indulgences which are ideologies they try to mitigate and refrain from in their practices.
  • Some of the primary activities freegans seek to act against include animal cruelty, human rights abuse, and environmental destruction as well as capitalistic exploitations that create excessive competition, greed, production, over-consumption, and over-indulgence.
  • Practices freegans use to meet their basic needs often include foraging instead of buying, volunteering rather than working, and squatting as opposed to renting.
  • Businesses can employ Freegan principles to reduce waste, such as recycling and donating food to shelters and food banks.

Understanding Freeganism

The term freeganism first appeared in the mid-1990s, combining the behaviors of vegans—those who decline to buy animal-based products—with the philosophy of living a lifestyle free from modern capitalism.

Those who engage in the practices of freeganism are known as freegans. Many freegans are vegans who have based their beliefs on the idea that capitalistic over-indulgence is a driver for the carnivorous demand for meat. Freegans go beyond the practices of limited meat consumption by vegans, further boycotting nearly all aspects of capitalism and the over-indulgent behaviors they believe it creates across multiple economic aspects. As such, the welfare of animals ranks highly for freegans, as do human rights, the environment, and living a simplistic life.

Freegans aim to live outside of the capitalistic economic system, striving to buy and sell nothing. They prefer to live in less densely populated areas outside of capitalist hubs. This helps them to fulfill goals of exclusion from modern consumer behaviors and cycles. 

To satisfy their needs, freegans choose to use alternative living strategies, often foraging instead of buying, volunteering rather than working, and squatting as opposed to renting. Freegans will typically scavenge for discarded items, barter, or create their own goods

Freeganism is practiced on a continuum, with a range of participants from the casual to the extreme. Casual freegans may have no qualms salvaging discarded goods but refuse to eat food found in a dumpster. By contrast, a more extreme freegan may live in a remote desert cave, refusing to participate in the use of money for philosophical reasons. 

Dumpster diving is legal in all 50 U.S. states as long as it does not interfere with city, county, or state ordinances.

Generally speaking, freegans organize their lives around a few core concepts: waste minimization and reclamation, eco-friendly transportation, rent-free housing, and working less. Freegans embrace concepts of community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing, as these things help to satisfy needs and also create a network for fighting against capitalistic extremes.

The freegan lifestyle generally protests against capitalistic extremes in the areas of moral apathy, competition, conformity, greed, excess production, over-consumption, over-indulgence, and gluttony.

History of Freeganism

The philosophy of freeganism and the freegan label was first introduced by the founder of Food Not Bombs in the mid-1990s. Food Not Bombs has been known for recovering food that would otherwise go to waste and using it to prepare meals to share in public places, welcoming all to join. In the late 1990s, the manifesto "Why Freegan?" was written and circulated to explain the ideas and practices of an alternative freegan lifestyle.

Today's freegans are considered a spinoff of a 1960s anarchist group, the Diggers. The Diggers envisioned life in which all that was needed—food, supplies, and labor—were given. This group organized events to house the homeless and give away food and supplies.

Around 2003, an organized group of freegans formed in New York City. This group established the Freegan.Info website explaining the freegan philosophy and developing resource listings for followers.

Community events that have become popular among freegans include “Really, Really, Free Markets,” where there is a free exchange of goods, and “Freemeets," which focus on Freegan ideas.

Freeganistic Practices

There are several practices freegans use to achieve basic needs while also protesting anti-capitalistic extremes. Common activities include dumpster diving, hitchhiking for transportation, squatting or camping for housing, and sharing housing to promote working less. 

Urban guerilla gardening is one example of freeganism in action. In this scenario, Freegans support and participate in the transformation of abandoned lots into community-garden plots. Often, freegans see the development of community gardens in obscure environments and low-income neighborhoods as offering a resource of healthy produce for the community. 

Freegans believe in focusing less on capitalistic profit-making and more on community-building. This contributes to their "work less" mantra. Some freegans prefer to live completely off the grid and not work at all. Many other freegans seek some type of employment, conceding that when highly specialized services are required, such as medical care, using money is sometimes the only option. Freegans who have regular jobs often seek to extend their spirit of cooperative empowerment into their workplace, regularly joining worker-led unions.

Freeganism in the Workplace

Businesses can implement freegan practices to be less wasteful and more aware of externalities. Companies can donate supplies and perishable items to local food banks and shelters, for example, rather than discard them. To further prevent waste, they can order specific items that their employees or customers request instead of ordering in bulk.

It takes 24 trees to make one ton of printing paper.

Reducing the reliance on paper is another way to preserve the environment and eliminate waste. When paper is used, it can be recycled for further use. Businesses can also decrease their reliance on items that, when disposed of, harm the environment, such as styrofoam and disposable, personal coffee pods.

Limitations of Freeganism

In general, freeganism defies most developed economic theories of capitalism, some of which include rational choice theory and the benefits of the invisible hand theory. However, there are many casual followers of freeganism who believe its ideologies conceptually fight against some of the extreme excesses that capitalism can create.

In addition to limiting or eliminating the benefits of capitalism, living by the freeganism code can also come with several drawbacks. Chief among them are the health risks associated with dumpster diving. Rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and food facilities can lead to food poisoning and other health issues. To protect themselves, many freegans often check the temperatures of food, wear gloves, and target produce discarded in sealed packages.

Another big risk is getting arrested. Some cities have passed laws against foraging, even if taking something that’s been thrown away is not considered stealing. The legality of foraging can vary by city or county, and some municipalities may expressly prohibit it, passing laws that say entering a trash recepticle on private property can be considered trespassing. Squatting is also illegal in most U.S. cities as it involves the unauthorized use of property.

Article Sources
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  2. FreeganInfo. "Why Freegan?"

  3. Money Crashers. "Freegan Movement – Principles & Problems of Freeganism."

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  5. Rubicon. "What is a Freegan? What Your Business Can Learn from the Freeganism Movement."

  6. World Atlas. "How Many Trees Does It Take To Make 1 Ton Of Paper?"

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