Freeganism in Athens?

By: Patrick Adcock

It is broad daylight and Charles Bond is assessing the situation in front of him; he’s been here before. Four trash containers sit against the back wall of the parking lot behind a local grocery store. Four chances to hit the jackpot.

Bond has spoken with the employees of this particular store before. They would prefer that any scavenging take place after dusk, when there are fewer customers coming and going and so that day-to-day operations aren’t disturbed. It’s not dusk, but there aren’t too many people around either.

Unperturbed, Bond hops up onto the nearest container. The results are disappointing; the bin is empty.

Bond moves on to the next bin. He pulls back the lid and is immediately hit with the smell of rotting vegetables. This bin is obviously a no-go. It’s not a surprising situation; sometimes one has to go home empty-handed.

The third bin is opened to reveal more vegetables – fresh this time.

This is the experience of Freegans, a subset of people who “look outside of capitalistic systems” to obtain their food according to the movement’s website. This can include growing their own vegetables in gardens, but most commonly it means digging through trash thrown out by grocery stores.

Grocery stores have an obligation to sell fresh food to customers. The result is that a lot of food gets thrown out, either because it was damaged in shipping or has passed its legal sell-by date. A lot of this food is still edible or can be used for other purposes.

Freegans see this situation as an opportunity. Dumpster diving is not a new phenomenon; however, this is the first time divers have been part of a larger movement. For them, supporting Freeganism has a moral element.

According to the official website of the movement, “After years of trying to boycott products from unethical corporations, we found that no matter what we bought we ended up supporting something deplorable.”

Many have thus turned to diving in order to obtain the necessary food supplies while in turn not spending money on companies that they feel don’t have the customers’ best interests at heart.

A problem comes with diving, however. The legality around the practice is a murky at best. For example, there is no federal law that labels diving as illegal. At the same time, state laws can sometimes prohibit the action.

In the case of Georgia, diving is not illegal. Trespassing and entering private property, however, will result in a fine for the offender. Even diving in unmarked bins could result in being questioned by police.

University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson is careful not to condone diving, but also acknowledges that nothing can be done about it.

“It’s legal in Athens, but a lot of problems can still come from it.”

There are also serious health and safety issues, the least of which can be broken glass shards littered on the bottom of some trash bins.

These are the issues facing Charles Bond as he rummages through the bins of the back parking lot of a local grocer.

Bond is a 21-year-old student of bioengineering at UGA. He lives off-campus on a plot of land that he helps to farm as part of an agriculture group. Chickens wander his backyard where he also grows his own vegetables. Bond plays drums for several local bands.

About once a month, Bond goes diving. He has a few hotspots, such as the Earthfare on Milledge and the Kroger on Baxter. These places, he says, are relatively nice to divers and will allow them to take refuse as long as they don’t disturb daytime operations.

“Earthfare is the best,” says Bond. “I’ve heard about Trader Joe’s but I’ve never been there to look.”

Bond goes diving about once a month and has so far never been caught by either management or curious police officers. Store managers for Earthfare referred this writer to the PR department for comment on this story; however, the department never returned any emails or phone calls.

Some stores will put up signs prohibiting diving, which will result in trouble for offenders. There are also others methods for to stores hoping to deter people digging through their trash.

“In a block of buildings, because it’s not easy to get around to the back, it makes it feel more sketchy,” said Bond.

A good piece of advice for all divers is to ask someone in the store about their policies around the practice before engaging. It’s ultimately the store’s prerogative to allow or disallow diving into their own trash containers.

Bond doesn’t care much for any stigma associated with people who dive. Many people assume that Dumpster divers physically dive headfirst into trash. Bond has a technique of balancing against the side of the container so that he can reach inside without actually entering the Dumpster.

“If you are adventurous and you like free stuff, then diving is for you,” said Bond.

Bond does not eat anything that he obtains from diving, however. He uses the vegetables he obtains to feed his chickens. He is also not too enamored with the term “Freegan.”

“It sounds like a mixture of foodie, animal rights, pseudo-Marxist kind of stuff,” said Bond. “I went to Occupy, so I’m kind of tired of people using that rhetoric and not really doing anything about it.”

He hasn’t seen any evidence of the Freegan movement arriving in force in Athens, either.

“You just put a name on it and then people will attribute more value to it than there actually is,” said Bond. He is a supporter of urban gardening, but for him that is far different from a loose movement of Dumpster divers.

Bond says that the Freegan movement can gain publicity by advertising their label but it would be more meaningful if the movement was actually accomplishing something tangible.

Despite all this, Bond says he will definitely be diving again soon.

“Dig deep, don’t be afraid to get dirty, but try to stay physically outside of the trash container.”

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