The New York Times reports:
ON a Friday evening last month, the day after New York University’s class of 2007 graduated, about 15 men and women assembled in front of Third Avenue North, an N.Y.U. dormitory on Third Avenue and 12th Street. They had come to take advantage of the university’s end-of-the-year move-out, when students’ discarded items are loaded into big green trash bins by the curb.
New York has several colleges and universities, of course, but according to Janet Kalish, a Queens resident who was there that night, N.Y.U.’s affluent student body makes for unusually profitable Dumpster diving. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the gathering at the Third Avenue North trash bin quickly took on a giddy shopping-spree air, as members of the group came up with one first-class find after another.
Ben Ibershoff, a dapper man in his 20s wearing two bowler hats, dug deep and unearthed a Sharp television. Autumn Brewster, 29, found a painting of a Mediterranean harbor, which she studied and handed down to another member of the crowd.
Darcie Elia, a 17-year-old high school student with a half-shaved head, was clearly pleased with a modest haul of what she called “random housing stuff” — a desk lamp, a dish rack, Swiffer dusters — which she spread on the sidewalk, drawing quizzical stares from passers-by.
A few of those present had stumbled onto the scene by chance (including a janitor from a nearby homeless center, who made off with a working iPod and a tube of body cream), but most were there by design, in response to a posting on the Web site freegan.info.
Many freegans are predictably young and far to the left politically, like Ms. Elia, the 17-year-old, who lives with her father in Manhattan. She said she became a freegan both for environmental reasons and because “I’m not down with capitalism.”
There are also older freegans, like Ms. Kalish, who hold jobs and appear in some ways to lead middle-class lives. A high school Spanish teacher, Ms. Kalish owns a car and a two-family house in Queens, renting half of it as a “capitalist landlord,” she joked. Still, like most freegans, she seems attuned to the ecological effects of her actions. In her house, for example, she has laid down a mosaic of freegan carpet parcels instead of replacing her aging wooden floor because, she said, “I’d have to take trees from the forest.”
Not buying any new manufactured products while living in the United States is, of course, basically impossible, as is avoiding everything that requires natural resources to create, distribute or operate. Don’t freegans use gas or electricity to cook, for example, or commercial products to brush their teeth?
“Once in a while I may buy a box of baking soda for toothpaste,” Mr. Weissman said. “And, sure, getting that to market has negative impacts, like everything.” But, he said, parsing the point, a box of baking soda is more ecologically friendly than a tube of toothpaste, because its cardboard container is biodegradable.
These contradictions and others have led some people to suggest that freegans are hypocritical, making use of the capitalist system even as they rail against it. And even Mr. Weissman, who is often doctrinaire about the movement, acknowledges when pushed that absolute freeganism is an impossible dream.
Of course it is only because of capitalism that people — even college students! — are so wealthy that they can simply throw away such miraculous products as television sets and computers when they’re done with them, and bums (let us call freegans what they are) can live relatively well off them for no money. These people have not “absented themselves from capitalism” — they’re among its least productive (and thus highest paid) beneficiaries.