There are different degrees of commitment to freeganism. Some freegans like Andollo, aim to buy nothing. Others, like Daniel Verinder, 38 of Boston, who calls himself a “freegan reservist,” work full-time and often buy groceries. But Verinder said he would be more active as a freegan if his wife and daughter were more on board with dumpster diving.
“I dive about once a month,” Verinder said. “I take the train and walk most places. I seek forms of entertainment and culture that are free and/or not thing-based.”
Janet Kalish, 50, of Richmond Hill, Queens, is one of the organizers of the New York City Freegans, the group that met at Whole Foods to discuss trash-picking. Kalish said that freeganism is about more than just dumpster diving. It is not just about getting free stuff, she said: It is about building community and sharing with others.
“Helping other people is the better way to live for everybody. It actually feels better to give than to take,” she said.
Cindy Rosin, 36, of Rockaway Park, Queens, has been actively living a freegan life since 2004. She is one of the original founders of the NYC freegan group. “It’s disgusting that so much good food is wasted when people are going hungry,” she said.
Rosin said she hopes that one day she won’t be able to live off the waste of capitalism. “I hope in my lifetime there is a time that we can’t live off the waste… that there isn’t enough waste to live off of,” she said.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, Americans throw out $165 billion worth of food each year, which is about 20 pounds of food each month.
Between 4 percent and 10 percent of food purchased by restaurants becomes “kitchen loss” before it reaches the consumer, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. On average, diners leave 17 percent of meals uneaten, and 55 percent of these potential leftovers are not taken home. Today, restaurant portion sizes are often two to eight times larger than standards recommended by the USDA or Food and Drug Administration, an increase from past decades.
Restaurants don’t have to throw away food considered unattractive. They can donate it without being liable. In 1996, Congress passed the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to encourage donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations.
The act states that “a person shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability arising from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of apparently wholesome food that the person donates in good faith.”
Dana Gunders, project scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, said that when people throw out their food, they are wasting more than just money.
“It is a large use of resources to grow that food, and so we are spending a lot of water and energy and land to grow food that is not getting eaten,” she said. “It is also a shame that it [waste] exists alongside a significant hunger problem in the U.S.”
But David Tonjes, professor at Stony Brook University and expert in waste management, says that people are always going to generate waste and scientists are forever trying to calculate how much waste humans will generate in the future and the best ways to dispose of it. Realistically, Tonjes argued, it is not a huge problem, despite perceptions.
“The solid waste of the world for the next thousand years would fill up the state of Rhode Island,” he said, restating one of the many scientific waste calculations. “… which would be terrible for Rhode Island, but in terms of the world, it is pretty small.”