Interview: Gauche onĀ freeganism

Adolfo interviewed me for an article about dumpster diving and freeganism back in 2009. Here are my responses in the raw:

1. Do you think there is anything ‘wrong’ with what you’re doing (legally, morally, culturally)?

I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with freeganism, and I think there’s plenty that’s good about it, though perhaps sometimes people are more righteous than they ought to be.

Legally there are some issues but I think they’re based in some very silly ideas about property. I can understand moral and legal concerns about going through someone’s trash if you’re opening their mail, but I think that’s a privacy concern, not a matter of theft which is what makes it legally problematic.

Culturally and aesthetically I find freeganism interesting — there’s a kind of grungy glamour around these practices, some of which I appreciate (there’s something beautiful and magical about reclaiming waste) and some of which I think is problematic as it somewhat romanticises poverty.

2. Why do you engage in freeganism? (Is it merely out of utility, a political statement, or a bit of both?)

A bit of both, for sure: I wouldn’t have had any furniture other than my bed in my first sharehouse if it weren’t for scrounging around hard rubbish. But sometimes it’s more work than it’s worth economically — for example organising a clothes swap party instead of buying some new things off the $5 table at Supre — and that’s when you’d need to have the political commitment to opt out of a cycle of needless consumerism.

3. Have you ever been given trouble by authorities/corporations because of your activities?

Not really — a couple of times I’ve been told off when dumpster-diving but you can just leave and go back later. Generally staff at supermarkets don’t care because they’re just working for a wage. If you explain what you’re doing, most people are more sympathetic to the idea of salvaging trash than protecting waste as property.

There’s a lot more chance of legal issues with squatting, because even though that’s reclaiming waste in a sense, people see real estate as being property you only give up through explicit legal means, not simple abandonment.

4. What got you started in freeganism/recycling/anti-consumerism?

I’ve always tried to re-use and recycle and increasingly since I was about 16 I’ve shopped vintage. But I’d say I started to think more about consumerism when I finished high school, moved out of home and became involved in the environment movement.

Coming both backwards from thinking about ethical production (eg fair trade, no sweat etc) and forwards from wanting a society where goods are produced on demand rather than the other way around is how I got to this position of feeling the most ethical consumerism is none.

5. Do you think you’ll keep doing it in the future?

Yep!

6. Any other thoughts?

Yeah, I want to add something about the politics of dumpster diving and squatting: I think minimising unnecessary production and consumption is a valuable political goal. But an equally important goal for me is for all people to have their needs met without duress. So while I think salvaging garbage can be an effective way to highlight the wastefulness of our society, I don’t want it to affect how we measure someone’s standard of living.

The dollar economy is incredibly dominant in our society, so in terms of governance I think we need to provide people with the means to acquire what they need through social services, or the money to purchase it through the market. The economy of salvage is unreliable, and more importantly it depends upon a cycle of waste I would rather see stopped at the point of production.