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What is Urban Foraging?

Urban foragers may search dumpsters for usable goods.
Urban foragers may collect empty cans to turn in for money at scrap metal recycling centers.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 July 2014
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Urban foraging is an activity in which people attempt to harvest useful things from the urban environment. People may collect things like edible herbs, discarded furniture, and computer equipment in the course of an urban foraging expedition, and some people are successful enough that their living expenses are quite low or they even make money from urban foraging. This activity is especially popular among low-income individuals, people who are attempting to live a lifestyle with a low environmental impact, and urban youth.

A number of euphemisms are used to refer to various urban foraging activities, including trash picking, dumpster diving, scavenging, salvaging, curb crawling, and trash gleaning. Trash and other discarded items are often a prime source of goods for urban foragers, but urban foraging can also take advantage of freely-available public resources, such as plants growing in public parks, eggs from waterfowl, and handouts from service organizations who provide goods to homeless and low income individuals.

Food is often a major source of interest to urban foragers, many of whom establish sweet spots such as dumpsters around supermarkets which are friendly to scavengers. In addition to food, urban foragers can also find a variety of household goods like rugs, furniture, dishes, and so forth, along with clothing, art, and decorative items. Some urban foragers specifically gather goods for resale, such as scrap metal, furniture, and so forth, along with goods which can be restored and then sold.

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Urban foragers argue that their lifestyle is very environmentally friendly. By rescuing things from the trash, they reduce the burden on landfills, and also promote recycling. Some urban foragers are enterprising small business owners who manage to establish very profitable resale facilities for the goods they find, which contributes to community economic growth. Urban foraging is also low-cost, making it appealing to people who do not have a lot of money to spend, and the presence of urban foragers in a community can raise awareness about recycling and other options for getting rid of unwanted materials.

In some cities, this practice is unwelcome. Urban foragers may engage in dangerous activities to reach sweet spots, putting them at risk of injury and potentially exposing other people, such as the owner of a dumpster, to liability. While many urban foragers observe an honor code which promotes cleaning up after oneself and treating people with respect, others are not so honorable, and urban foraging can create a large mess. Other people regard trash as property, arguing that urban foraging is really just theft or a violation of privacy, although this argument certainly wouldn't hold up in a court of law.

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Discuss this Article

pastanaga
Post 3

@clintflint - That would probably be more welcome than the general practice of urban foraging, because it would be agreed on by the landowner and the person collecting the fruit.

The problem comes when people go dumpster diving for food when it is still considered the property of a business. It might seem wasteful to throw it out, but allowing people to just wait until the expiry date and then pick it up for free doesn't exactly sound like great business.

clintflint
Post 2

@Ana1234 - I've always thought that someone should set up an organization where they go house to house and offer to take any extra fruits and nuts and things off the owner's hands. They could sell them on behalf of a school, or a community project, or even sell them on behalf of the people who own the trees.

Lemons cost so much at the supermarket, but every second person has a lemon tree in my neighborhood. And most of the lemons go unused and end up making a mess on the ground. It's just silly.

I think the only problem would be overcoming reluctance of allowing people to come into their yards and harvest their trees, but it wouldn't take very long and would be very beneficial for the community as a whole.

Ana1234
Post 1

I've got to confess that I love urban foraging. I only really ever pick up growing things though, rather than picking through trash, but I respect people who do that as well.

I known of several trees in my neighborhood that are overhanging the road and their fruit ends up wasted if someone doesn't take it, so I don't feel bad about it. Although in some cases I've had people give me dirty looks. Honestly, fruit and vegetables can be so expensive in the supermarket, and it's so much nicer to get it straight off the tree.

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