Freecycle promotes waste-not, want-not culture

While government think tanks and big business ponder ways to increase recycling rates and reduce the mountains of waste still going to landfill, a growing grassroots network is making inroads on a global problem.

Launched in Tuscon, Arizona in 2003 to combat the proliferation of landfill sites in the desert, the Freecycle network took the concept of hand-me-downs and ran with it, setting up an online community where people listed things they no longer had a use for and offering them to other members, free of charge.

The result was a kind of Ebay where no money changed hands and the scheme looks set to mirror the success of the online auction house as branches spring up all over the world.

The UK alone now has dozens of groups dotted around its towns and cities, many with over 1,000 members, and the idea has also seen huge success in Canada, Australia, Malaysia and its native USA.

While furniture makes up the bulk of the goods swapped in Freecycle networks building materials, clothes, toys and even electrical goods are also often seen changing hands.

Under the banner ‘changing the world one gift at a time’ Freecycle was established to try to combat the wastefulness of Western society, as people often found themselves throwing out perfectly good items as they upgraded or outgrew old possessions.

Beautiful in its simplicity, the scheme allows members to send out an email offering an item up for grabs which will be received by all the other members in the group.

Anyone interested in the item then contacts them and arranges its collection or drop off, all with no cash involved.

As well as the obvious environmental benefit of creating less waste for disposal, and the fact one person gets rid of unwanted clutter while another gets something they need free of charge, organisers say Freecycling creates social benefits too.

Instead of feeling guilty that they have binned serviceable possessions, members get to feel good about themselves and know their hand-me-downs have gone to a good home.

And, given time, the scheme can also build up a sense of community as members get to know each other through helping each other out.

The original scheme has inspired many copycats and spin offs and there are now similar ‘Borrow Me’ communities springing up around the UK where members list items they are prepared to loan out, such as tools or camping equipment, which borrowers are then expected to return once they have finished them.

Those who have become immersed in the Freecycle culture say it has also changed their perspective on trust and led them to question the need to own everything they use.

Detailed information on the grassroots movement and how to contact a group near you can be found at the original Tuscon Freecycle website, as can advice on how to set up your own network.

By Sam Bond

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