Cos she gave an interesting article on Freegans in Singapore, cos she previously dumpster dived in the US but now doesn't do so, and she posted some counter points against freegan-ism and why frugality is better.
I found the views very interesting actually.
And I do agree with her in multiple places, and certain points I find it a bit puzzling...
I'll do a commentary to indicate my views.
Is Anything Truly Free? Freegans, Freeganism and the Salvage Economy
Written and found in https://frugalinsingapore.com
I’ve salvaged furniture from the dumpster, and have even saved some imperfect but still-edible produce. But as someone who tries to be frugal, I passed on freeganism because it conflicted with some of my values. To be clear, frugality (as defined by the Reddit community) is “the mental approach we each take when considering our resource allocations – time, money, convenience, and many other factors.” Freeganism, while its origins began with anti-consumerism and veganism, has steered into the direction of not spending at any cost and living on the discarded excess of society. It has recently garnered much media attention in Singapore. So why can freegan thinking lead to unhealthy behaviours?
(ERSG: I agree that freegan thinking CAN lead to unhealthy behaviours.)
What It Really Means to Be Freegan
(ERSG: Not interested in definitions, the same as what makes a minimalist, what it means to be retired, etc)
I’ve met a true freegan once. No, this wasn’t a dumpster diving uncle who had his meals sourced from the dumpster or delivered from social welfare organisations. This was a retired couple who lived in a paid-off self-built home (in the States), generated solar electricity, used well water, and grew or foraged everything they ate.
They were Adventist and they were vegans. And like bears, they noticeably gained weight during the harvest seasons and lost it during the winter. They truly lived off the land.
But their lives were not easy. Although they had retired from their careers, they worked the land every day. Their participation in the conventional economy, as well as their carbon footprint, was minuscule.
There are actually a lot of people who are like this – subsistence farmers, tribal foragers, scavengers, and members of a collective or commune. They’re just not commonly seen in the first world. And in the third world, their lifestyle is not referred to as freeganism; it’s just survival.
What Freeganism Has Become in Singapore
I agree with some principles of freeganism, such as minimising consumption. However, many self-proclaimed freegans I’ve met in Singapore seem to have increased their consumerism since their conversion. They consume, not by buying, but by finding or receiving.
(ERSG: Personally, I don't care about minimizing consumption, I'm not here to save the Earth, I'm here to save my pocket.)
Their dumpster diving expeditions produce an almost drug-like high, no different than what conventional consumer shopping gives a shopaholic. They even describe it similarly. “When I find things, it makes me so happy. I can’t wait to take it home to admire it,” one freegan told me. If you replace the word “find” with “buy”, the thinking and behaviours are essentially the same. It’s just that one involves the exchange of money.
(ERSG: I agree, the dopamine is the same, the high that a dumpster diver feels when he gets something nice is similar to buying stuff... hmm actually, that's not true, I don't get high when I pay money. But you get the picture...)
In the Freegan in Singapore Facebook Group and WhatsApp chat group, every item found and offered is almost immediately “choped” and taken by other freegan members. If the intent was truly to reduce consumption (i.e, anti-consumerism), there should be a reluctance to possess the item, a desire to pass it on to those who truly need it, and an outcry to reduce its demand and production. Instead, “Gone in 60 Seconds” is an often used phrase in the chat group, indicating to others that the aforementioned item is no longer available. Another freegan member has snatched it.
(ERSG: Agree, this was the case about a week back, there are a few characters who were just grabbing anything and everything. Doesn't mean that everyone does this.)
Many of them say they are reducing harm to the environment, but as one blogger put it, “Just because one picks up something for free that has been discarded, and doesn’t directly give money to the corporation which produced it, doesn’t make the production of that item harmless. The lack of money changing hands hardly ‘divorces’ a consumer good from the harm.”
(ERSG: Don't agree... errm... I wanted a printer, I found one... if I bought one I would have created more demand and the company creates another product. By reusing someone else's printer I have harmed the Earth less. The alternative would be NOT to own a printer, but to NOT own a printer is the same as using someone else's printer, cos the resources used to produce that item has already been spent.)
Freegans decry capitalism, but they are still benefiting from it. They say they don’t like waste, but rely on others to be wasteful to continue in their ways. Many of them operate under the guise of environmentalism, but when you talk to them, they mostly want to tell you about their sensational finds and how thrilling it was to get their first branded handbag.
(ERSG: Yes, the freegans benefit from someone else's wastefulness, but they don't encourage him to be wasteful, if he's going to waste or over consume anyway, then might as well I benefit from it. Not to mention by reusing someone else's item, it reduces production of more material stuff.
Yes some people like to talk about their sensational finds.)
Some of the more enlightened freegans do scavenge and dumpster dive for the purpose of redistributing the goods to those in need. Or they do it to raise awareness about the wastage in Singapore. These types of freegans I commend, and they could serve as role models to other freegans. But not every freegan reaches this state. Most freegans I meet merely substitute price-constrained consumerism with a free unfettered hyper-consumerism, and mistakenly believe they have already reached a state of enlightenment.
(ERSG: Most freegans don't hyper-consume. Most freegans are people who just work and are normal people who reduce expenses by getting some stuff free.
The extreme ends, which are very few, are... those who spend less than $100 per month, they actually live very simple lives.
And the hoarders... I don't deny that hoarding problems will exist. But they are few. None that I know of yet within this community.)
Some freegans believe strongly in gatecrashing weddings and private events to rescue and help themselves to buffet food. Some of them will insist on leftovers from a cafe to be given to them free at the end of the day. Others will ask their neighbours for uneaten food but not bother to investigate the reason behind the waste, such as a medical condition or a welfare organisation delivering food that is unwanted.
(ERSG: I don't know of any freegans who gatecrash weddings or private events in Singapore. There is a group which goes around eating leftover buffet from events in Singapore, but this is after getting approval from the organizers.
What's wrong with asking for leftover food? It's going to be thrown away anyway... I don't ask for leftover food, but... it's one of those things... you eat it, I eat it, someone else eats it, or it's going into the dumpster anyway. Why the need to investigate anything? Unless the food is unhygienic.)
In the chat group, some freegans jokingly proclaim that spending money “is a crime”. And when someone confesses his crime for the day (that he spent money on something), others chime in to jokingly rebuke him.
(ERSG: Key word, Jokingly... the people in the chat group know that each other are normal people who spend money and just use this freegan mentality to reduce costs, and a side effect is that it actually helps reduce waste as well.
Most of the people are normal people who try to be frugal by trying to get more of their stuff for free.
But the community reminds them that they should think about HOW to get stuff for free instead of just mindlessly spending money.)
Many of them also don’t realise that there was a salvage economy long before they entered the scene. And their dumpster diving activities may have displaced some karung gunis or those living in poverty, who rely on disposed goods for survival. They, unlike these freegans, can’t just opt out of the lifestyle when they feel like it.
(ERSG: If you see the amount of junk, there's enough for everyone. There are 2000 people in the Facebook group, not everyone dumpster dives, in the dumpster diving chat group there are 200 people...
200 people who pull a small trolley to pick up some junk on their free days isn't going to displace businesses. As for the poor, there is junk to supply the poor with their resources as well.
Many freegans also volunteer at charitable organizations cos they realize that using free stuff or excess stuff, they can help the less fortunate. This does not mean ONLY dumpster diving.)
I’ve previously spoken with representatives from waste management (Veolia) and e-waste recycling (TES). They’ve told me about their current waste processing methods and future plans for reclaiming materials, such as food waste, metals, lithium ion batteries, and construction debris. As a former chemical engineer, I’ve personally seen the process of reclaiming materials, processing waste though bioreactors, and generating fuel through biomass.
In San Francisco and Davis (both places I’ve lived in), composting and biofuel generation is big business. And freely taking their raw materials (that is, food or other materials from dumpsters) can be akin to stealing.
(ERSG: I do not disagree.)
There’s a reason why each dumpster is provided by a waste disposal company and stamped with a company name. And often, there are locks on these dumpster. The waste company technically owns not just the container, but its contents. And they are in the business (and better suited than individual freegans) of processing those contents.
(ERSG: A printer is supposed to be a printer. If I can give it a second life as a printer, I think I am doing the justice to the printer. A waste company will destroy the printer and reduce the printer to raw materials and further process it to make stuff or as landfill material.
I know of no freegans in the community who will "process" the contents the same way as a recycling company would. They usually pick it up and just reuse it as what it was intended to be used as.)
How Frugality is Better
(ERSG: Why must everything be Black and White... Yes or No? Better or Worse?)
1. Having a frugal mindset will result in an overall reduction of consumption. The desire to buy (or consume) is lessened, and with lower demand comes lower supply. In the 3 R’s of sustainability, though “Reduce” comes before “Reuse” and “Recycle”, it often gets the least attention. While freegans reduce their own buying, many of them desire for those at the top to continue their wild spending so that they can eventually receive any excess for free.
(ERSG: Most of the freegans DON'T desire the top will continue their wild spending. They recognize that normal people will naturally be wasteful. And so they just feed off the excess.
Most normal people do not REDUCE. So freegans are thus able to REUSE and RECYLE. It is not the other way around.)
2. Remember that dumpster diving still is considered trespassing if you’re not given explicit permission. And trespassing on one’s property or in a dumpster, which is the waste company’s property, is illegal. There’s also a specific regulation regarding dumpster diving in Section 10 of the Environmental Public Health (Public Cleansing) Regulations.
(ERSG: I do not disagree.)
3. Let’s also not forget to mention the possible health and safety issues. Dumpster diving for food can lead to food poisoning, hepatitis A, and foodborne botulism, among other things. And dumpster diving for items might bring bed bugs or lice into your home.
(ERSG: I do not disagree, there are potential health issues.
Most freegans know this risk, and thus they take special care to learn more about such issues or medical conditions so that they can do their hobby safely.
I have gotten food poisoning eating at restaurants as well. If you sit on a movie seat, a bed bug can get on your clothes and also make it into your home as well.)
4. Another downside to dumpster diving is a tendency to hoard. A Singaporean freegan once told me, “Just think that everything you’ve ever wanted but could not buy [or afford to buy], you can now have for free. How could you resist?” No, thank you. I can resist. For me, frugality and a frugal mindset curbs my desire. It makes me aware of the tradeoffs of ownership. And I ask myself, “Do I really need this? Could someone else have a better use for it? What are the downsides to owning this?”
(ERSG: I do not disagree that there might be a tendency to hoard for some people.
But it's not true that just cos it's free, I don't think about "Do I really need this? Could someone else have a better use for it? What are the downsides to owning this?"
The cost to me is the cluttering of my house. And I still consider that cost before I bring things home.
I do not need a frugal mindset to curb my desire, I just use some discipline and common sense.)
5. One of the worst consequences that can result from freeganism is the devaluing of items. I know, this sounds a bit ironic. But just think about it. When you have to pay for an item, you might value it more and treat it with more care. When you feel that there are plenty more of something around every corner, you might see that item as disposable or easily replaceable. After all, you spent no money obtaining it, and can just as easily find another. “If it turns out that I don’t like it, or it does not fit, or I find a better one, I’ll just throw this one back into the trash,” said one freegan.
(ERSG: I do not disagree on this. I don't value stuff as much anymore.
But I don't see what's wrong with that...
It has made me realize that everything is transient and I don't need much material stuff.
I never had a printer, then I found one, so I use it, if it spoils, I dump it and find another...
The printer was already destined to be destroyed. I saved it for a short while, and then when it really couldn't work anymore I returned it to where I found it. Doesn't mean I intentionally spoil it just for the sake of it.
Then I find another...
Everything is already meant to be destroyed. By picking it up you are giving it a second life!!! By throwing it away again, doesn't add to the waste, it just delays it and allows someone else to gain more utility from the item.)
Some Concluding Thoughts
Yes, we are a wasteful society. We buy things we don’t need, then discard them after we find something else better or newer to consume. And worst of all, we are messing up our environment as a result. This needs to change.
(ERSG: I agree this needs to change.)
Ideally, we should aim to be less wasteful rather than rely on other methods for salvaging our waste – whether it be through freegans, karung gunis, other scavengers, or technology. Reducing consumption at the source can make a much greater impact than trying to recover a discarded item. As the saying goes, don’t get too busy with mopping the floor; turn the faucet off first.
(ERSG: The faucet is Governments, politicians and policies. The over emphasis on GDP, etc etc... the Governments all know that this is not right, but when it hurts the GDP, it's hard to put into policy. So they focus on other things which can be done and accepted by the population. If you talk to politicians or people who are in that industry, you will know. They know what is wrong, but if they try to fix it, then they lose their votes, and then they become powerless to do any other thing cos they are no longer in power. Doesn't mean the next person who takes over will do any better.
In the meanwhile, mopping the floor sounds like a fair enough alternative.)
In the States, in-kind (non-cash) donations of used goods are given a small tax deduction, which encourages people to pass on their items instead of discarding them. This is in part why just about every town in the States, no matter how small, has thrift shops. This policy helps to extend a product’s life cycle, effectively matching the needs of a person to the best use of a particular item. Perhaps we could adopt a policy that incentivises people to donate their items to charity rather than tossing them in the dumpster. For a list of places that accept donations, please click here.
Lastly, I want to conclude by saying that nothing is truly free. Let me repeat that. Nothing is free.
(ERSG: I agree, nothing is truly free.)
Although you’ll see that word a lot on this site, I actually dislike the word “free”, and only resort to using it because of convention.
I do, however, like the word “complimentary”. Always remember that everything you find, receive, or obtain even without money has been paid for by someone else. Someone had to mine, grow, procure, harvest, assemble, produce, transport, package, and display it before it ever got to you. And when it reaches you, it comes “with compliments”. There is really nothing in this world that doesn’t have a cost – whether it be raw materials, energy, money, or your health, integrity, and time.
(ERSG: I don't really agree with this point.
I agree that nothing is truly free. Someone has already paid for it and he has discarded it. In essence that is the end of the life of the product, cos it would have been destroyed.
And everyone along the production chain has been rewarded for the production and sale of the item. So it has all been paid for. But by someone else, and to him, he has utilized the product sufficiently so now he decides to throw it away. So he already has paid the money and obtained what he feels is sufficient economic benefit from the product. The story is supposed to end here.
Here comes the freegan dumpster diver, note not all freegans are dumpster divers, not all dumpster divers are freegans. So here comes the dumpster diver... he pays with his pride and sweat and gets dirty he rummages through the rubbish to give stuff a second life. What's so wrong with that?)
I'm not saying this is poorly written. It made me think. And anything that makes me think is worthy. Cos it makes me think of what is right, what is wrong, is there a point or not?
But what really got to me was that the writer made the comment "How Frugality is better".
Why can't they both co-exist? Why must one die so that the other can thrive?
I've always been saying keep the best, dump the rest.
Learn new ideas, try to make it work for you. For stuff that you can get for free... Why not?
How can reusing something already meant to be destroyed be worse than buying it?
Like I said earlier...
1. I don't own the product.
2. I find the product and use it second hand. Else the item would be destined to be destroyed.
3. I buy the product.
4. I forgot, I can also borrow the product...
Options 1, 2, 4 are similar. There is essentially no new resources put to make a new item.
So I find it puzzling to see what so wrong with option 2?
Cos option 2 is very close to option 3, but it's free and it reduces waste.
Now, I'm not someone too concerned about the environment. Cos I believe it's a Government and policy issue and unless that is fixed small movements by individual small groups aren't going to do much.
But the side effect of my side hobby now is actually helping this cause. So what so bad about that?
The other issues pointed out by the writer are personal discipline issues. And every activity has issues. One could overspend, but if someone is disciplined, they can control their spending, one can overeat and get fat, others are better able to control their intake, etc etc...
How can spending money be more frugal than free???
So I don't think in terms of just black and white, what's right or wrong, I think... how best can I use this idea to help me.
It's not about just rejecting things outright. That's what we call throwing the baby out with the bath water.
For a frugal person, getting things free is better than paying for it. If you deny this something is very wrong with your definition.
People can be a minimalist AND a freegan. Just don't collect stuff. Own only 1 dining table. If the dining table is spoilt, then go out and find a free one.
Being tempted by MORE STUFF is not the problem of the idea. It's the problem with the PERSON.
Hoarding is a problem of the individual, not a problem with the idea.
So yea... seriously, I find it quite puzzling, why people would want to straight out draw distinct lines when there are so many other benefits which can be obtained by combining multiple ideas together.
This is what we usually call... SYNERGY...
I would like to end with this paragraph and maybe some of you might understand better...
The idea is that buying these stocks is like finding a mostly smoked, discarded cigar. "Though the stub might be ugly and soggy, the puff would be free," Buffett explained in his letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders last year. "Once that momentary pleasure was enjoyed, however, no more could be expected."