Website puts unwanted items to good reuse
by Jackie Tirey
Don't dump that dryer lint just yet, and hang onto that bundle of hangers. Someone, somewhere just might need them.
More than 4 million people across the world turn to The Freecycle Network to give away their unwanted items or search for hidden treasures others are throwing out.
Lee Levitt, who lives in Boston, discovered Freecycle a year ago when he found items he needed to give away. "The best benefit of this program is reinforcement that we do live in a consumerist society, and we don't have to be that way," Levitt says. "When I'm done with something, it doesn't have to go to the dump. Someone else can use it."
That's precisely the idea behind the program, says founder and executive director Deron Beal. "People don't quite get how critical 'reuse' is to our environment just yet, but they will, by necessity," Beal says. Based on studies conducted by the city of Des Moines and the University of Iowa, Beal estimates Freecycle members keep 300 tons of garbage a day out of landfills.
Beal started Freecycle in his hometown of Tucson, Ariz., more than four years ago with a few dozen people on his mailing list. Since then, the nonprofit network has expanded to 4,000 local groups in 75 countries. To join the free program, visit freecycle.org and locate the nearest Freecycle city near you. Once you've joined a group's mailing list, you can see what items other members are offering or post your own giveaways. Members then contact each other to make arrangements for pickup.
According to a recent Angie's List Quick Poll, 17 percent of members use the Freecycle program. For example, Sylvia Amsler first joined the Ann Arbor, Mich., group in January and liked it so much that she switched to the Little Rock, Ark., group when she moved. "I hate to throw things away, so I was thrilled to have a way to get rid of items we no longer need without sending them to the landfill," Amsler says.
Virtually every imaginable item has been passed on through Freecycle - from cars, clothes and computers to the aforementioned dryer lint. "It's good for stuffing teddy bears," Beal says.
Each city's group has its own rules about things like giving away and picking up items, but they tend to be similar. For instance, moderators are often looking for ways to reduce the number of instances when members say they'll pick something up, but don't. Indianapolis Freecycle moderator Wanda Casad has a "three strikes and you're out" policy. It doesn't always deter the practice, however. "How do you make someone follow through?" Casad asks.
Still, the program provides a great service, its members say, and Beal expects further growth. "This will be an exciting time for us," he says. "We're currently in the middle of a site redesign that will allow gifting directly from our website. In five years, I hope we're ticking along in all the major languages and countries of the world."