Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Freecycle to Freedom

Would you be surprised if I told you that right this minute there are 3,672,475 individuals or families who would give you, no strings attached, an item that you need if they owned that item and were done using it? A sofa, refrigerator, desk, clothing, computer, children's toys, just about anything you can think of that's legal and family-friendly could be yours for the asking. How? Freecycle.

The description from the website explains the way this on-line community works: "The Freecycle Network™ is made up of many individual groups across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free. . . . The Freecycle Network was started in May 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson's downtown and help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills. The Network provides individuals and non-profits an electronic forum to 'recycle' unwanted items. One person's trash can truly be another's treasure!"

What a great way to get stuff for free, but, more importantly for many of us, what a great way to give stuff away. Let's say that you've tossed out the obviously useless things, you've handed off all that you can to family members and friends, you've done your eBay selling, you've consigned some antiques at a local shop, and maybe you've even put yourself through the torture of a garage sale. Well, first of all, congratulations on such an incredible achievement and please contact me immediately so that I can interview you because you are a rare soul indeed.

But now, what to do with what's left of the excess stuff? (I can guarantee that there still will be excess stuff, even after you've made all those other valiant efforts.) You don't just want to trash it because it's still useful. Sure, you could haul it over to your favorite local charity, or perhaps have them come by and pick it up, and I highly advocate that you consider doing so. But what do you do if you have items that aren't accepted by charities but are still in good condition? You may be surprised to learn that many charities don't take such things as mattresses and box springs or older appliances. Or what if you're moving, you absolutely must get that old dining table and chairs out of your apartment and you don't have the means to transport it all yourself? Or what if you just like the idea of giving away some of your stuff on a more personal level? Freecycle could be the perfect solution. You join your local group on-line (or consider starting a group if your area doesn't have one yet), post the item you want to give away on the website, and wait for responses. It's completely your choice how and to whom you give it away. (Freecycle offers suggestions regarding your personal safety, regrettably an issue that must be considered when dealing with others.)

Freecycle's goal is not to help alleviate the needs of the many impoverished citizens of our society; there are charitable organizations and government assistance programs that are supposed to be devoted to that mission. Freecycle's goal is to help keep things out of the landfill. It's a great example of the convergence of local environmental activism, on-line social networking, and recycling at its best.

Do we really need a program like Freecycle? Oh, yes. According to a Lubbock Online article by Marlena Hartz about their local Freecycle group, that Texas county has two landfills. Some 2,000 to 2,400 tons of waste are added to those landfills daily. The population of Lubbock County in 2006 was only 254,862. Extrapolate that to the population of our entire country, currently estimated at 302,438,836 people, and the amount of trash we're piling into our landfills is staggering.

We need all the help we can get and Freecycle is one of many programs that offer hope. In a article by Marc Gunther, Daniel Ben-Horin, the founder of the nonprofit Web site, TechSoup, says, "What is really interesting about Freecycle is that unlike a lot of virtual communities, something very concrete happens."

Making something concrete happen to cut the amount of waste we generate is crucial on a national level, but it's also important for us individually. If we've wised up enough to realize that we own more than we need and we're ready to let go of the excess, Freecycle offers us a unique way to part with it.

Got something you could Freecycle? Of course you do. We all do.

(c) 2007 Cynthia Friedlob


Sunny said...

I love Freecycle and recommend it to all my friends. The unfortunate thing that happens because of human nature, is there are people who will use it as a vehicle to get things because they are too poor or whatever the case may be. Certainly, asking around if you're looking for something once in a while is one thing but thinking that Freecycle is a charity is another. I have belonged to two groups, one in which the moderator was present and people really cared about Freecyle's principles which you mentioned in your blog. The second group I currently belong to doesn't seem to have a moderator and I would say 90% are WANTED not OFFERED subject lines. I still belong though because I believe in Freecycle and hope that this group will eventually get it figured out.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I figure if the goal is to keep things out of the landfill, whoever ends up with the things doesn't really matter much to me as long as they get used. I agree that it would be disappointing to participate in a group that, on the whole, seems more interested in scoring stuff for free rather than making sure that useful items find a home somewhere other than the trash heap. Kind of misses the point of the spirit of the venture, but that ol' "human nature" you mentioned does make dealing with other humans a challenge sometimes!

Thanks for your comment, Sunny.

Jeri Dansky said...

I'm another huge fan of Freecycle, and I'm a moderator of my local group. I've used it to find new homes for both my own things and those of clients. I tend to use it for things that don't quite seem like thrift-store items, things that seem to cry out for just the right owner. And I know I'm never going to spend my time running a garage sale.

Some of the many things I've passed on through Freecycle:

One of those fabric sample books that decorators have.

An alarm clock shaped like an airplane, that ticked too loudly for my guest bedroom - but was perfect for someone else's airplane themed bathroom.

T-shirts with French phrases on them, given to someone from France.

Printer cartridges for printers no longer owned.

Books that I've highlighted as I read, which makes them harder to dispose of through other channels.

60 pencils.

A set of 24 inspirational tapes, with five of the tapes in the set missing.

An old lava lamp, a bit slow to heat up and somewhat sluggish even when heated.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

What a great list, Jeri! The fabric sample book, the printer cartridges and the highlighted books are particularly interesting examples of things that might very well be thrown out by either their owners or most charities. And yet, there are people who wanted them and were able to put them to use through Freecycle.

Thanks for the comment.