What if there was a way to take the things you need without paying for them, and doing it in a way that supports your moral beliefs?

Welcome to the freegan movement.

Pope Francis recently said via tweet, “Consumerism has accustomed us to waste. But throwing food away is like stealing it from the poor and hungry” – a sentiment that places the leader of the Catholic Church in the same camp as the anti-establishment activists who comprise the freegan movement.

Basically, the modus operandi is to buck the conventional economy and engage in minimal consumption of resources. This is done by living off of consumer waste – cast-off clothes, restaurant and supermarket trash, street finds – as the New York Times describes them, freegans are “scavengers of the developed world.”

The movement, which has been gaining strength since the mid-1990s, grew out of the antiglobalization and environmental movements. It is a way to boycott, an “economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider,” according to freegan.info, the online hub for all things freegan.

The freegan ethos

The word freegan is a mashup of the words “free” and “vegan.” Taking the ethos of veganism a step further, freegans go beyond advocating for animals and stand against the industrial economy in general, seeing at its core the abuse of humans, animals and the environment.

Of all the strategies practiced by freegans, the movement probably garners the most attention for the act of dumpster diving; rummaging through garbage in pursuit of usable items. Few places are off-limits – retailers, offices, restaurants, schools, supermarkets, and any other facility that throws useful items out are game.

“Despite our society’s stereotypes about garbage, the goods recovered by freegans are safe, useable, clean, and in perfect or near-perfect condition, a symptom of a throwaway culture that encourages us to constantly replace our older goods with newer ones, and where retailers plan high-volume product disposal as part of their economic model,” freegan.info notes.

Freegans, however, aren’t solely dependent on urban scavenging. There is a growing network of places where people can give away, take, share and trade items, like Freecycle and the free section of Craigslist. In addition, there are events like, "Really, Really, Free Markets" and “Freemeets.” In these meet-ups, rather than tossing perfectly good stuff into the waste stream, people can bring the thing they no longer want and share it instead.

Perhaps the best things in life are free, after all.

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