Freegans: Reducing consumer waste or diving into danger?

6:02 AM, Aug 8, 2010   |    comments
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To Freegans, also known as Dumpster divers, the contents of a grocery store's trash can be dinner, trash from an apartment move-out could mean new furnishings and there's a useable item to be found in every garbage receptacle.

For most Freegans, this way of life it is not an economic necessity, but rather it is an ideological remedy.

Freegans say they believe today's society is extremely wasteful, and they are willing to go to the extreme to exit the cycle of buying, using, tossing and buying again by refusing to buy to begin with.

Instead, they scavenge in attempt to reuse what's already in the system, including food, something which 9NEWS viewers reacted very strongly to.

"I think the stores should waste less and actually make the products better, and not actually waste the food," one viewer walking along the 16th Street Mall told 9NEWS.

"You do see a lot of waste. You go to a restaurant and you see these huge plates and nobody can eat all that, so then they throw it out I suppose," another woman said.

A third woman, who seemed to have a more tolerant view, said, "As long as they don't get sick, and they never invite me for dinner, I'm fine with it."

According to 9NEWS Health Reporter Dr. John Torres, the Freegan lifestyle can make you ill if you aren't careful.

"For one thing, you really don't know what's going to be inside that Dumpster. There could be sharp material you can get cut on. There could be hazardous material you could get on your skin that can cause burns. You could ingest things that are poisonous, and then there could be 'sharps,' which are essentially needles that are left over from either diabetics, or even drug users that threw them in there, that could have their own diseases including HIV or Hepatitis. So you have to be very, very careful when you do something like this," Dr. John says.

Dr. John cautions taking food from a dumpster may be especially dangerous.

"Food in there, you don't really know where it's been or what contamination it might have on it, like Salmonella, or any other type of issues that might cause a lot of problems," he said. "You can get very sick doing something like this."

He says reclaimed household goods could bring unwanted insects into your home.

"There's usually a reason that someone throws something away. It's because they can't use it anymore. A lot of times there materials, mattresses for example, could have bedbugs. Hats could have head lice," Dr. John said. "I mean, you could have these different things in there that could cause problems once you take them back to the house. And so definitely avoid any of these types of products because again, someone threw them away for a reason. If they've been lying out by a Dumpster you have no idea how long they've been out there. There are all sorts of issues that could be going on."

Waste Management, the company that owns many of the Dumpsters in and around Denver, also discourages the practice for safety reasons.

"Although Waste Management philosophically understands the passion and intent surrounding dumpster diving, it can be a highly dangerous and hazardous activity as there is a potential for injury. Just entering trash containers expose divers to broken glass, sharp objects, etc," Waste Management spokeswoman Tiffiany Moehring said in a written statement.

Instead, the company encourages consumers to use Waste Management's various recycling programs.

Many Freegans disregard these warnings. For those that intend to Dumpster dive anyway, Dr. John offered one final piece of advice.

"My number one recommendation, if you do decide to do this, is make sure your shots are up to date because if you jump in a dumpster and get cut, Tetanus is going to be the biggest concern and after that an infection," he said. "If it's not a bad cut, you can take care of it at home just like you would anything else with a bandage and some antibacterial ointment. If it starts getting red, or you start noticing puss or you start developing a fever, that means it's getting infected and you have to be very, very careful, especially with something like that. Get it checked."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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