Skip Surfing USA

Published by Glasgow Guardian, 7 October 2007
The freegan community across the Atlantic share similar stories, with blogger ‘Madeline’ explaining how “with friends this week, I served Rondele cheese with crackers, followed by a pasta with tomato and eggplant sauce, a lovely big salad, and strawberries with whipped cream for dessert. The following morning I had a big glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, then an omelette with shitake mushrooms and fresh sage, accompanied by whole-grain sourdough toast.”

There are freegans all over the world, but New York City has emerged as a freegan hub, boasting a vast community of dedicated followers and volunteers. Earlier this year, following NYU’s class of 2007 graduation, a group of around thirty men and women assembled to take advantage of the end-of-year move-out – and pocketed free televisions, desk lamps and other objects for re-use.

Most were there in response to the NYC-based freegan website (http://www.freegan.info/), which posts details and listings of such events and rendezvous ‘dumpster diving’ points in the city, as well as information for followers across the globe. The site, run by volunteers, has become a database for all things freegan – including a recalled products and food safety alerts list (updated daily), a reuse/recycle directory and even an ‘internship and opportunities’ section. The website also posts a fanzine, a 34-page tirade against capitalism and globalisation, with the occasional quirky cartoon – sort of a bizarre marriage of Karl Marx and Quentin Blake. They claim that there are “at least 400 to 500” freegans living in New York who are part of their network alone.

But Adam Weissman, activist and co-creator of freegan.info, is however quick to dispel the notion that his movement is a brainchild, instead preferring to emphasise the collective nature of society. “We did not begin the freegan movement. The website is simply an organisation that exists to promote freeganism and to teach people how to live as freegans. The term ‘freegan’ goes back to (I think) the 1980s, and the practices and ideas it refers to are even older.” Speaking to the New York Times, he continued, “it has resonated around the world with people who love community, cooperation, and our planet. We believe that the survival of life on this planet requires a shift to the replacement of industrialism, capitalism, and globalism with a society that consumes less and shares more.”

The success of the movement in New York may also be owed by the quantity and quality of New York waste. According to the Environment Protection Agency, 245 million tons of municipal solid waste has been produced by individuals, businesses and institutions since 2005 across the whole of North America, equating to 4.5 pounds per person per day. New York’s equivalent figure is 7.1 pounds. Poverty statistics are just as alarming – one third of the city’s children live below the poverty line, every day 2,500 are turned away from food pantries and soup kitchens and 400,000 New Yorkers suffer from “moderate or severe hunger”, according to the website’s own findings.