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February 27, 2007 > Freecycle promotes reuse, generosity, and lighter landfills

Freecycle promotes reuse, generosity, and lighter landfills

By Julie Grabowski

Everyone is guilty of it at one time or another, if not repeatedly: that pile in the closet, mystery layers under the bed, that corner of the garage stacked with things you don't need, don't use, and never will use again. Alternately groaned over and ignored, excess stuff can be an annoying thing to deal with. Life has become a constant flux of new and cool items and it may be tempting to clear away older items with the close-at-hand solution of a garbage can. But are those things truly garbage? Are they bereft of purpose and use with no better place to go?

Arizona resident Deron Beal was dealing with those kinds of questions all too frequently. Working with a small nonprofit organization that provides recycling services to businesses in downtown Tucson, as well as transitional employment for local residents in need, Beal and his fellow workers were consistently finding perfectly useable items that had been thrown away. They began rescuing these discarded treasures and checking around to see if any nonprofits could use them. To eliminate the time consuming task of phone calls and driving around, Beal went electronic, setting up an e-mail group to locate homes for useful items. On May 1, 2003, 30 to 40 of Beal's friends along with a small group of nonprofits in Tucson received an announcement for The Freecycle Network.

The purpose is simple and precisely declared in a mission statement: "Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community." The Freecycle mission has already spread across the globe with groups established in over 50 countries including Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany with 3,938 participating communities that have over a million members. Working under the mantra of "reduce, reuse, recycle, and maintain," The Freecycle Network estimates that they are currently keeping 50 tons a day out of landfills.

Groups are set up to serve one city or geographic area only, based on population and to avoid redundancy, and all must go through an approval process before becoming "official." Each group has an owner along with one or more moderators who ensure that Freecycle guidelines are being followed.

Fremont's own group was established January 28, 2004 and currently has 1,908 members, a number that fluctuates as people come and go. The workings are simple: people sign up online to become members and post items they want to give away, or request items they are looking for. "The main guideline is that items offered must be free and must meet the mission of 'reducing landfills,'" says Fremont co-moderator Janice Oliver. "The obvious aspect is that the item should be something tangible. Services, coupons, requests for advice, etc. are not posted here." Items must also be legal and appropriate for all ages.

Members use the site at their own risk, choosing who they want to give their items to as well as making arrangements directly with other members for pick up of items. "Some choose to gift to the first responder, some to nonprofits, some to the most polite responder who is prompt to pick up as arranged," Oliver says. "Basically Fremont Freecycle serves those who work, live in, or travel through the city of Fremont. However we do know there are some from as far away as San Jose or Walnut Creek etc. who participate." Oliver claims that about 99 percent of their members 'play nice' and praises the Freecycle life. "I and the other mods believe that Freecycle is a great concept, and we have all de-cluttered to varying degrees and probably sometimes also picked up random items."

It is important to stress that Freecycle is not about scoring a bunch of free stuff. According to the Website, "It is a place to give or receive what you have and don't need or what you need and don't have-a free cycle of giving which keeps stuff out of landfills." Someone might not be able to afford a bike, bookcase, or kitchen table, or simply prefers to use what is already out in the world instead of purchasing something new. Either way Freecycle is a great discovery.

For those who already employ alternative recycling strategies, the Freecycle Website is still a must visit. The site is full of interesting information and insights, and includes links to other recycling sources. There are suggestions on what to do with old glasses, plastic bags, books, bubble wrap and packing peanuts as well as those pesky singular socks, and Auntie Clutter offers creative advice on how to reuse common items.

It is easy to make a big difference in the world by simply changing the way we see our belongings and in what we do with them. "By giving freely with no strings attached, members of The Freecycle Network help instill a sense of generosity of spirit as they strengthen local community ties and spirit." And what could be better than that?

Those wishing to join Fremont Freecycle can do so by going directly to their home page at For more information on The Freecycle Network visit




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