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At a time when New Zealanders are worried about food prices and employment prospects, one man in Christchurch cannot understand what the fuss is about.

Since moving to New Zealand from Malaysia in 1989, Eng Tang has been paying next to nothing for the food on his dinner table. The 48-year-old also says he has no concerns about employment because he has been able to make a decent living by repairing "rubbish" and selling it.

Mr Tang says the answer for people suffering in the current economic situation, is for them to switch to his way of life, which he describes as "beyond freeganism".

Freegan is a term used to describe people who lead an anti-consumerist lifestyle, including eating free food sourced from supermarket bins, market stalls and bakery doorways, destined for the landfills.

But Mr Tang says what he does goes beyond just food, and it has given him a decent income over the years as well.

Last year, Mr Tang, a former land surveyor, also completed the transformation of the second of two old houses he bought in the 1990s for $180,000. They're now modern 4- and 5-bedroom homes thanks to materials Mr Tang got mainly from the junkyard. He spent only about $50,000.

The properties at Dallington in Christchurch are mortgage-free and have a combined valuation of $600,000.

Both are completely furnished by old furniture and discarded appliances Mr Tang restored.

The income Mr Tang receives from selling restored rubbish and rent from one of his properties is enough for him to support his family of four.

Every Thursday, Mr Tang would scour the ads in the weekly advertising paper Buy, Sell and Exchange, for free things that people give away.

He calls the Exchange his "bible", and a guarantee for his family not to go hungry. "If you go through the ads, you won't believe what people are giving away," said Mr Tang. "It's like Christmas every week, and it's really exciting because you don't know what you will find."

From old cars and stereo systems to refrigerators, Mr Tang will then do his collection rounds with a trailer.

He repairs them, and sells them, and items such as cars and freezers fetch him between $200 and $2000 each.

Mr Tang said the paper could also be full of tasty surprises - such as giveaway fruits and unwanted animals like chickens and rabbits - which he collects for the family dinner.

On other days, Mr Tang scavenges trash bins and skips, and visits junkyards for old appliances and other discarded items that he could either use, repair or sell: "There's definitely enough good stuff that people throw away for those with the skills to repair and resell to make a decent income."

Mr Tang said his venture worked because New Zealand is a DIY country and Kiwis had a "garage sale culture".

But in 2004, Mr Tang found out there were limitations to DIY, when he was charged and fined $1355 by the Christchurch District Court for installing sanitary plumbing while not a registered plumber. The judge, however, noted that Mr Tang was "clearly an upstanding citizen who was valued in his community".

Mr Tang's wife, Myumi, is Japanese and the couple have two children, Dai-ichi, 12, and Yoka, 10.

The only furniture that was bought brand new in his house is the bed he shares with his wife - because she refused to sleep on anything he had picked up from the rubbish.

Anti-consumers keep waste under control

What's a freegan?

Freeganism is an anti-consumerist lifestyle where people live on strategies based on "limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources" and includes salvaging discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket dumpsters.

Eng Tang says his methods are "beyond freeganism" because they provide people with the means to make a living.

How do you do it?

Here are a few tips, based on Mr Tang's lifestyle:

One man's trash is another man's treasure. If you need anything, search the internet and classifieds first, and you may find someone willing to give something away.

Learn a skill, such as how to repair a car or appliances. You will not be limited to collecting working giveaways and have insurance should you lose your job.

Going through dumpsters, bins and skips can give you loads of surprises. If that is not your thing, then check out all the freebies people are giving away on sites such as Trade and Exchange, or items with $1 reserves on Trade Me.

Familiarise yourself with what's around you. You may find a nearby park or beach may have edible fruits, vegetables, nuts or shellfish, such as watercress, chestnuts, ginkgo or mussels.