He’s Not Buying It


    Every Sunday, professor Milton Saier visits the Encinitas Albertsons to gather food.
    (Will Parson/Guardian)

    On Sunday mornings around 8
    a.m.
    , 66-year-old biology professor Milton Saier fills his old Pontiac
    convertible with cardboard boxes and drives to a nearby Albertsons Dumpster in
    Encinitas. Wearing only a red bathing suit, he jumps in and sorts through
    discarded produce and products, filling his boxes with bananas, smoked salmon,
    pancake mix, plastic bottles — anything he deems fit to eat or recycle. While
    customers inside Albertsons are doing their weekly grocery shopping, Saier is
    doing his.

    “It’s one of the most fun things I do,” Saier said. “It’s
    like Christmas every time you go to the Dumpster; you find something of
    interest and you never know what it will be.”


    Saier’s “Freegan Wagon” only leaves his garage once a week for Dumpster diving trips.
    (Will Parson/Guardian)

    Saier, who first started Dumpster diving 30 years ago as a
    way to feed his farm animals, is a devoted freegan. As a concerned
    environmentalist and a natural-born bargain lover, Saier sees his lifestyle as
    a result of his inherent qualities.

    “There are some people who just derive natural pleasure from
    getting something free and I happen to be one of those people,” Saier said. “I
    think [freeganism] was a part of me before I even did it. Like, I could walk
    down the street when I was a kid and I would find something. Maybe it was a
    penny, maybe it was a nickel, maybe it was just a rock that appealed to me, and
    I would take pleasure in that.”

    Although many might see Dumpster diving as potentially
    hazardous to one’s health, Saier says upper- and middle-class Americans are
    often too cautious about sterilizing their children’s living conditions.

    “In a study, they found out that the increased incidents of
    asthma in developed countries were due to the conditions of sterility when they
    raised their kids,” he said. “And the poorer classes in America
    and elsewhere in the world are not suffering from increased incidents of
    asthma. And when they raised piglets under comparable sterile conditions they
    also came down with asthma and certain types of allergies that are common in
    humans. So, yeah, you can be too careful.”

    Saier searches through local garbage bins for brances and foilage he later plants in his garden. (Will Parson/Guardian)

    While social stigmas about his freegan lifestyle don’t
    bother Saier, his larger obstacles are the anti-Dumpster- diving policies of
    many grocery stores.

    “It does upset me when some employee or some manager comes
    out and says, ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to take that,’” Saier said. “I’ll
    respond and say, ‘Why not? Did you want it?’ I don’t see why anyone should
    object. If it’s something that was thrown away and it’s not to be used then why
    shouldn’t someone come along and take advantage of it if it’s of use to them?”

    However daunting Dumpster-related deterrents are, Saier has
    found clever ways to get around possessive policies, or at least reciprocate
    some benefit.

    “I used to own some stock in Albertsons and I would tell
    them that I had the right because I owned the store,” Saier said. “I didn’t
    have very much but I decided I would buy a little since I was deriving so much
    benefit from them. I didn’t do well with their stock. They throw away billions
    of dollars worth of food a year.”

    In addition to getting his groceries from the Dumpster,
    Saier also uses tree branches and other foliage from his neighbors’ trash cans
    to fill his farmland. According to Saier, the majority of plants in his
    2.5-acre backyard started as recycled bits and pieces.

    “Some trees, especially subtropical trees, will root if you
    just put them in the ground,” Saier said. “You break off a branch, stick it in
    the ground and it will grow. I have trees with huge diameters now which I
    planted when we first moved here just by sticking a branch in the ground.”

    Saier’s commitment to recycling and reusing also extends to
    everyday activities. He bikes 16.6 miles to work from Encinitas each morning
    and returns home by bus. Besides special circumstances, Saier only uses his car
    to drive to the Dumpsters. He will buy retail gifts for others, but relies on
    thrift stores and swap meets for his own clothing and luxury items. Saier never
    rides elevators, never leaves the water on when he’s soaping in the shower and
    always turns the lights off. Although these deeds are small, Saier said they
    add up.

    America
    is a land of waste. We’re all addicted to lifestyles of waste. And I’ve made an
    effort, a conscious effort, at least at first, in order to stop wasting
    everything.”

    While Saier lives frugally, he is also dedicated to
    educating others about important environmental issues. He has authored two
    volumes of the book “Our Precarious Earth and Its Biosphere” and regularly
    contributes to the Environmentalist and Water, Air and Soil Pollution journals.
    In addition to sponsering UCSD’s Human and Earth Rights Organization, Saier
    teaches a “Human Impact on the Environment” class and leads a freshman seminar
    entitled “Earth’s Fragile Biosphere,” in which he discusses pollution’s
    detrimental effects on the environment and urges students to make a difference
    by conserving.

    “I decided it would be a great assignment for my students,
    to have them write down 100 ways in which they could be more environmentally
    friendly,” Saier said. “There are really so many ways.”

    Because Saier supports population control for the benefit of
    the environment, he also donates half of his annual salary to Planned
    Parenthood, the United Nations Family Planning Agency, Population Connection
    and Population Communications Incorporated — a nonprofit group that produces
    soap operas in underdeveloped countries that encourage the use of birth
    control.

    Although he is extremely active now, Saier didn’t become
    involved in environment conservation until he learned of the ocean’s depletion
    at a lecture six years ago.

    “I realized everything [the lecturer] said, I could confirm,
    based on my own personal experiences,” Saier said. “And it was on the basis of
    that knowledge that I decided that I had to devote myself to environmental
    issues. And that’s what I’ve been doing since.”

    As both a freegan, an active teacher and a concerned
    scientist, Saier practices what he preaches in hopes that others will follow.

    “Why should I condone an economy based on waste when it’s
    not benefiting me?” Saier said. “I see no reason. I think I can do better. I
    think I have personal responsibilities to the world. I think also, maybe, by
    doing so, I’m going to set an example for someone who’s going to change. And if
    enough people change then it really will make a difference.”

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