A freegan is someone who has chosen to live a lifestyle which has minimal environmental and economic impact. The word is a portmanteau of “free” and “vegan,” as much of the philosophy behind freeganism is similar to that of veganism, although a freegan tends to be more extreme than a vegan. Although the term integrates the word “vegan,” not all freegans are vegan, though many choose to be because they were vegans originally, and they are not interested in consuming animal products. According to freegan ethics, every human has a responsibility to live a life which reduces exploitation of animals, natural resources, and other people. While many vegans agree with this, freegans argue that veganism does not go far enough, and that a purely vegan diet can still be harmful. Most freegans reject capitalist systems as part of this ethic, because they believe that capitalism is inherently exploitative.
A number of practices are incorporated into a freegan lifestyle. The cornerstone of living for most freegans is waste reclamation or urban foraging. Especially in capitalist societies which are driven on the purchase of consumer goods, large amounts of goods are discarded every day. Freegans search through dumpsters to reclaim usable goods including food, electronics, clothing, furniture, books, personal care items, and other useful things. Freegans who choose to eat animal products reclaim them from dumpsters, arguing that the food should be eaten, rather than wasted. Some freegan collectives also establish relationships with supermarkets and other stores, and will pick up products which are about to be discarded before they even hit the dumpster.
Most freegans live in collectives or groups so that they can share resources and skills. The freegan community in general is highly supportive, and freegans will help each other out in times of need with housing, supplies, food, or simple companionship. As a collective, freegans can also be more efficient, and they can work together to create community gardens, organize free swap meets, and participate in other collective tasks. In many urban areas, freegan swap meets can provide fertile ground for usable goods, and are an excellent way to supplement waste reclamation practices.
In addition to trying to forage most of their goods for free to avoid supporting capitalist economic systems, freegans also try to minimize their ecological footprint on the world in other ways. Many freegans squat in vacant buildings, rather than contributing to the real estate market, and large collectives will often make substantial improvements to abandoned structures. Freegans also prefer bicycling, walking, and using public transit to driving personal vehicles. Because of the collective and supportive nature of the freegan community, many areas with a large freegan population also have a large number of freegan supported community services such as health clinics and educational collectives. Many freegans also choose not to have jobs, because they believe that working within a capitalist framework also contributes to its longevity.
The primary goal for most members of the freegan community is to live a lifestyle with no negative impact while also contributing to the community in general. Many freegans start out with small steps, or only integrate some freegan values into their lives rather than totally converting. In the eyes of the freegan community, even small actions can have a big impact, and most people who are just beginning to explore freeganism are welcomed.