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Freecycle Makes Recycling Easier


By Vicki Parsons

The promise of an electronic revolution that spawns a paperless office may never occur, but computers did help one enterprising group keep more than 100 million tons of goods out of the nation’s landfills in 2005.

Photo courtesy Tampa Tribune.
Municipal waste across the country has nearly tripled since 1960 — and doubled since 1990.

The Freecycle Network, originally conceived as a local link to recycle goods in Tucson, now has more than 2.5 million members around the world — including more than 20,000 members in a dozen Tampa Bay groups — committed to keeping useable stuff out of landfills.

The premise is so simple that it runs with just one staff person working from his guest room: if you have something you don’t want, post it online so that someone who needs it can find it. If you need something, just ask. It’s amazing what people will pull out from their garages and the back of their closets when they know someone else wants it.

“We’re running out of room and resources,” says Judy Brown, interim volunteer moderator for the 3179-member St. Petersburg Freecycle group. “Nobody wants a landfill in their backyard but trash has to go somewhere — unless we can figure out how to keep landfills from growing so quickly.”

While some groups have more rules than others, most follow three easy guidelines – it must be free (no trading allowed), legal and appropriate for all ages. Offers and wants run the gamut from a 3,000-square-foot home offered in Texas to work clothes wanted by a single mom who has a new job in Brandon. Computers, plus the parts and pieces needed to run them, also are regularly listed online along with a wide array of household materials, toys, clothes and collectables.

New Homes for Good Stuff

“I think most people join because they really don’t want to throw away perfectly useable stuff,” says Brown, who became active in the Freecycle movement when a landfill was proposed near her mother’s home in Lake County. “There’s a very good cross-section of people in St. Petersburg who are very active in Freecycle – I see a real push from people to find new homes for their old stuff instead of just dumping it.”

By the Numbers

200 tons
Weight of trash reused by Freecycle members nationally every day

60,000 feet
Height of trash reused daily if packed into
standard garbage trucks that are stacked on top of each other

5 pounds
Waste per person per day, which has almost
doubled since 1990.

1.3 tons
Waste per person per year

Waste recycled

Waste sent to landfills

Source: Freecycle

Available through Yahoo groups at www.freecycle.org, the network is open to anyone with an email address. Most people join the group closest to them to minimize driving distances for picking up stuff, but some people are on multiple lists because they want access to larger cities. Apollo Beach, for instance, has about 468 members while there are 6226 members in Tampa and 2316 in Brandon/Valrico.

Freecycle absolutely does not work on a “first-come, first-serve” basis because most members aren’t online 24/7 watching for items they may need. Most “gifters” wait a couple of hours or overnight to decide who should receive their items, with moderators strongly encouraging members to select local charities or people who really need them. Members also are asked to post more “offered” emails than “wanted,” and most comply with that request.

Helping Hands

That said, Freecycle members often respond generously to needs after natural and personal disasters, notes Sam Gwaltney, moderator of the Brandon-Valrico Freecycle group. “Following the many hurricanes that hit the Highlands, Hardee, Polk, and Desoto county areas I was blessed to work with an individual to collect and take toys (along with basic supplies) to those in need,” he said.

“She helped my son and me realize a desire to provide the children of the area with items not on the normal donation lists that would hopefully help ease the pain and fright they were experiencing. It was an amazing time and we would not have been anywhere near as successful without the generous outpouring of support from my Freecycle friends and neighbors.”

And from the point of view of environmental impact, something that’s resold still doesn’t make it to the landfill, adds Deron Beal, Freecycle founder. “Personally I’d rather people see that we live in a world of plenty if we all just help each other and reuse in a free cycle of giving rather than consuming so much,” he said. “By the same token, it still keeps good stuff out of landfills.”

 An admittedly non-scientific survey of a recent day’s emails on the Brandon/Valrico list shows about five offers to each wanted item, indicating that people really are taking advantage of an opportunity to clean out their closets, garages and sheds.

“It continues to surprise me how many good quality, new and sometimes almost new items we as a society have that we no longer have a use or need for,” adds Jeri Green, moderator for Largo Freecycle. “Most of us don’t want to just throw these away and don’t want the hassle of trying to sell them. So the Freecycle idea is a no-brainer. It just proves what an incredibly rich society we are and it also proves that along with that wealth we are also a generous, sharing society. It’s a win-win idea.”

Other lists:

While Freecycle is without a doubt the Internet’s dominant site for goods at no charge, other sites offer complimentary services.

ThrowPlace – less local than Freecycle so shipping or transportation costs will be higher. Also may be geared more toward businesses. www.throwplace.com

Craigslist – free local forums allow bartering and sales of used materials and animals, as well as personal and help-wanted advertising. www.craigslist.org

Reuse Development Organization – resources to help local communities start up new reuse centers and programs, generally geared toward tying larger donors and businesses directly to organizations that need materials. www.redo.org

eCycling – specifically focused on electronic equipment with a comprehensive directory of computer donation, recycling and trade-in programs. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/recycle/ecycling/donate.htm

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