FW-104 -- Freeganism and "Not Buying It" in Japan

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A monthly roundup of how to be frugal in the world's most
expensive country to live (unless you read this!), written
and compiled by Wendy J. Imura.

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July 10, 2007 Issue No. 104

***** Freeganism & "Not Buying It" In Japan ****
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***** Freeganism and "Not Buying It" in Japan ****

Dear Frugalites,

First, and foremost, my apologies for neglecting this newsletter
for the last two months (almost). I hit a very busy period
professionally, and am now just recovering. Even the most frugal
of folks must, unfortunately, pay the bills with a day job. I
appreciate your patience, and hope to write more regularly in the

Today's topic is what might be an unfamiliar word "freeganism."
It's pronounced like the word "veganism" (VEE-gan-ism) in
English, and is similar in origin. Simply put, freeganism is a
brand of anticonsumerist culture where by practitioners strive to
"minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the
planet." They are the "scavengers of the developed world" who
forage through trash for just-expired food, dress in castoff
clothes, and furnish their homes with items found on the street
or on Freecycle.org swapmeets. (All quotes are taken from a
recent NY Times article on the subject, which I strongly
recommend reading: http://tinyurl.com/3bwuq4)

While turned off by typically overboard, American application of
an otherwise worthy ideal, I was set to thinking by a quote from
Bob Torress, a US sociology professor, who thinks that
environmentalism "is becoming this issue of, consume the right
set of green goods and you're green, regardless of how many
resources are used to distribute and manufacture the goods." He
also added that "If you ask the average person what can
you do to reduce global warming, they'd say buy a Prius."

With the recent spike in oil prices driving American retailers
like Home Depot to offer environmentally-friendly products like
a so-called "green chainsaw," one has to wonder if Japan will not
be far behind. I do think Japan is seeing a more determined shift
to greener policies. A new law enacted in April mandates reduced
packaging on consumer goods and offers retailers incentives for
cutting the use of plastic bags. But at the same time, we also
see greater media attention devoted to the logical backlash of
somewhat misguided environmental policies.

Take Kunihiko Takeda, a professor at Nagoya University who made
a big splash with his recent best-seller "The Lie of An
Environmental Problem" (Kankyo Mondai wa Naze Uso Ga Makari Tooru
no Ka, Senyosha). Takeda makes some startling claims - for
example, that recycling certain products (such as PET bottles)
actually generates more energy waste than it saves due to high
costs and limited uses for the recycled plastic. He also states
that reducing use of plastic bags for packaging will actually
hurt the environment, as purchases of new "reusable" cloth,
plastic, and other bags will consume more resources than would
have been spared. While controversial, Takeda agrees with the
freegans in one aspect—that the most responsible thing for a
consumer to do is to use what s/he already has for as long as
possible, without buying new.

After much consideration, I think I agree. Forgoing the purchase
of a canned drink from a vending machine and having a cup of
barley tea at home is certainly cheaper, and more
environmentally friendly, than buying that drink and recycling
the can. Finding ways to reuse or redistribute items already in
the "consumer food chain" is better than buying something new,
even if it is cheap. In fact, one could contend that while the
advent of a global manufacturing and distribution networks has
cut prices and brought material prosperity, it has also cheapened
goods to a dangerous level.

I remember being so happy when Uniqlo and Daiso brought cheap,
quality items to consumers in Japan, but now I wonder if we
haven't gone too far. Maybe we should pay a little more for a
little less, and use it longer. I'll focus on more specific ways
we can do this in a future issue, but for now, I challenge you
to give this philosophy a try. While you certainly don't have to
go around foraging like a fanatical Freegan, try and think of
ways you can simply 'buy' or 'consume' less. Any great
suggestions? Send them to frugalwatch@japaninc.com!

I think I'll join you!

Frugally yours,
Wendy J. Imura

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Written by: Wendy J. Imura (frugalwatch@japaninc.com)
Edited by: JI

Copyright 2007 Japan Inc. Communications


I totally agree with re-using things as long as possible. Stuff in our house rarely goes to waste until it's really ready for the trash, not to the point of being disgusting or sub-standard, but to the point of repairing, mending and finding creative uses for things. I rarely throw plastic shopping bags or empty bread bags away, but save them (I have quite the bag collection) for the garbage cans, fridge food storage, cleaning up the dog and cat poop, and just general household use. We also don't every buy extra bag for those purposes. Egg shells and coffee grinds often go into the garden for compost, and I usually keep a small tomatoe and cucumber plant growing through the summer, two plants that don't take up too much space, and produce enough to feed our family through those months. The bath water gets used in the laundry machine, the rice water gets used for watering plants, and milk cartons are often used for various cupboard organizing purposes. Newspaper is kept for cleaning and packaging purposes.

Something else I do is I generally don't buy cheap goods. The children's shoes are rarely bought in the 980 yen bin, but I prefer to get them a good pair of Skechers or other sturdy brand, as they last far longer and have often been cleaned up and set aside for the next kid to wear. While I don't seek out top-of-the line Chanel stuff, I also refuse to buy makeup at the 100 yen shop, or the cheapest t-shirt I can find, as unerringly they will fall apart within 2 washes and get tossed into the rag box. Speaking of rags, I told my kids if they wanted brand new rags from the shop to take to school they'd have to use their own pocket money for them, because I have a pile of old towels that are cut up and sewn for rags.

I still haven't figured out what to do with all those horrid PET bottles which tend to collect in the recycle can, I'm really open to useful suggestions on how to use them!