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What is Urban Foraging?

Urban foragers may search dumpsters for usable goods.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 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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