Living the Repurpose-Driven Life

04/14/2010 3:40 AM |

I’ve been pulling things out of the trash since before I can remember. Clothes. Furniture. Food. Two croissants atop a cardboard box in a garbage can in Montmartre. A dozen loaves of organic bread in a Brooklyn dumpster last week. A door with a mirror that almost broke my back three summers ago. Towels. Rugs. An entire bag of clothes from J.Crew, my size. A small dresser with Tiffany and Co. sterling serving pieces in the bottom drawer…

I have become obsessed with all the things we throw out, and I have become obsessed with saving some of them.

The waste seems to be accelerating, a natural corollary of our ever-growing, ever-cheapening consumer culture. I started finding stuff daily, or very nearly, a few years ago, and ramped up my efforts at “placing” it—taking food to people who I knew needed it, towels and bedding to the local animal shelter, building supplies to a local materials-reuse group, and clothing to friends or the local thrift shop.

Now I’m immersed in the thrown away. I’ve started seeing patterns, knowing which buildings are profligate and which are not. I’m starting to have notions: reading about how much we waste here in the United States, and many other places around the world, I’m beginning to understand that our addiction to the garbage can is like our addiction to oil, or our addiction to eating meat—entirely unsustainable.

If we didn’t waste all the food we DO waste, we could both feed everyone who’s currently undernourished, and take a significant amount of land out of energy-intensive food production, and return it to a carbon-absorbing natural state (and provide a little space for wildlife in the bargain). We’d dramatically lessen our consumption of fossil fuels, of pesticides and fertilizers. There would be fewer trucks on the road, spewing less pollution, and less agricultural runoff causing fewer algae blooms and the resultant dead zones. Not to mention less fresh water squandered irrigating crops that will never be eaten. The best estimates put food waste in the United States at just below 50 percent of food produced. Many studies point to food—meat in particular—being the single greatest contributor to our impact on the environment. If nearly half of it is going to waste, we’re doing a lot of unnecessary damage.

If we could recuperate all the usable goods that get thrown out every day—all the clothes, shoes, textiles, dishes, etc.—how much energy could be saved, how many households provided for, how many charitable groups bolstered by donations of goods to use or sell or distribute? How many fewer ships would have to cross the oceans bringing us those products?

As any regular reader will know, I’ve covered this ground before, writing about freeganism in New York a number of times. The problem of waste is still here, though more and more frequently getting the attention it deserves in mainstream media. And I, part of the less-than-mainstream media, am going to be regularly adding my voice to the growing chorus of waste theorists.

For me, it’s time to quantify, or at least document, a small slice of the waste, and its diversion. For an idea of what can be found in the trash cans and dumpsters of this fair (and profligate) city, come visit me at my new blog,, where I’ll be digging, and dishing—in more ways than one—every day (you can also find my discoveries at, where I’ll be cross-posting). Depending on your inclinations, be disgusted, delighted, enraged or appalled, or just come and learn how to freegan, and what to do with your finds. Expect recipes, photos, and a place to talk about your own experiences in the land of the discarded (if you have them). Happy hunting!

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