Don’t Dump it; Freecyle it

Sharing unwanted items helps to save the environment

By Paul Kopp
Contributing Writer

Sometimes it seems that, in our consumer-based culture, we have forgotten how to share. People seem to be constantly buying new items to replace older ones, and often those things end up in the garbage when someone else could still use them.

Now there is a system that might offer a solution, helping people share while at the same time benefiting themselves and the environment as well.

Freecyle.org is a non-profit community network that was created as a forum for people to give and receive things for free. Founded in 2003 in Tempe, Ariz., to promote waste reduction and lessen desert-landfill usage, it has quickly become an international movement.

There are now 3,500 Freecycle groups throughout the world, administered by local volunteers from each group’s area. Membership is free. Each group has an online forum for posting items that members want to give away and items they’d like to receive. No money is involved, and each group has moderators to make sure that members follow the group’s guidelines.

Green and frugal

Freecyle has three groups in Cincinnati, corresponding to the city’s neighborhoods: west side, east side and central. The central group, which includes areas within the city limits, has 6,373 members. Don Freeland, one of the group’s five moderators, says the membership has nearly doubled in the five years since he joined.

Freeland, who lives in Hamilton, found out about the group through word of mouth. As a moderator, one of his duties is to review new members’ posts to make sure they understand and are following the guidelines.

“One of the things that we are very particular about is that the subject lines of the postings are consistent,” Freeland says. “These would be ‘wanted,’ ‘taken,’ ‘offer,’ ‘received,’ ” he says.

Another key rule is that there must be a 2-to-1 ratio of “offer” to “wanted” postings. This rule is indicative of the initial idea behind Freecyle. Rather than operating as a forum for people to get free stuff, Freecyle is at its core an environmental and humanitarian effort.

Frequently offered items include baby and children’s accessories, clothing, furniture and household items. The central Cincinnati group doesn’t allow pets to be posted, because animals aren’t something that would go into a landfill, and including them wouldn’t fit with the group’s goals. The decision on whether to include pets is decided regionally.

In Cincinnati, two different cultures make up the city‘s Freecyle base, according to Kim Dye, the Central Cincinnati moderator.

“There is a green group and a frugal group, and they have kind of come together,” she says.

Because society is becoming greener in general, people have become more conscientious about putting things in the landfills, Dye says. They, along with people who can’t afford to buy new things, need to save money or want to help someone in need, are finding Freecyle a simple solution.

“Some people are more on the environmental side, some feel it’s right to give things away to those who have the need for it and some are just out there because they want to get something for free,” Freeland says. “It’s a pretty wide spectrum, but the majority of people are probably a combination of all of those. Nobody does it for any one specific reason.”

Jess O’Rourke, a nurse who has been a member for two years, gives examples.

“I cleaned out my friend’s basement last year, and he told me to just throw everything away,” O’Rourke says. “Instead, I used Freecyle, and nothing was thrown away at all, at least by me. That was a lot of stuff! When I moved, I really needed moving boxes. I put up a ‘wanted’ post and I received moving boxes galore, packing paper, bubble wrap, etc. When I was done with them, I used Freecyle for everything I had received. It was great.”

Help for non-profits

Most participants arrange to pick up items at the donor’s home, usually left on a front porch. That way participants don’t have to worry about scheduling conflicts.

“When I go to pick something up, it always gives me that Christmas feeling, to have a little gift with your name on it,” Freeland says.

Using Freecyle is beneficial for families who have no way to take items somewhere to donate, Dye says.

Non-profit organizations have also made use of Freecycle. Dye, who is the human-resources manager for a non-profit agency that works with inner-city youth in the Cincinnati Public Schools, says she has received expensive graphing calculators for students through Freecyle. Organizations that donate items are also able to receive a receipt for tax purposes.

Laura Hasenstab, a Freecyle member and retired high-school English and special-education teacher, says the movement says both good and bad things about society:

“The majority of people offer items that others need,” she says. “It keeps them out of our landfill, and it is a deterrent to more spending for those items. However, it also points out our obsession with ‘new.’ Many people offer items that are working well, serviceable and in good condition just because they are redecorating, or are bored with the item. At least those items are getting used to the end of their life span, and that’s an important function of Freecycle.”

Though the group’s membership seems to be steadily growing Dye thinks there is still much work to be done.

“If you are driving down the street and still see things sitting out for the trash, then we’ve not done our job good,” she says. “As long as you see useable things on the curb, the group has not got its mission out to people yet.”

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