What is Freecycling?
Finding ways to keep goods out of landfills and help others can be rewarding, fun and extremely interesting.
Until I moved to Maryland a few years ago I had never heard of freecycling. A friend of mine introduced me to The Freecycle Network and I quickly signed up to receive the emails from the Columbia chapter, as there isn’t one for Ellicott City.
I just as quickly unsubscribed. I simply couldn’t manage the deluge of email, or reading the lengthy daily digests. It’s THAT popular. If you get the digest format you’ll be way too late to claim anything. Good stuff goes from “offered” to “taken” in no time at all.
There are 4,570 members of the Columbia group right now and as I’m writing this someone just posted the Yahoo Group’s 152,901st message.
The Columbia Freecycle group was started in March 2004 and in its busiest month (August 2008) there were 3,325 posts.
What exactly is freecycling and why is it so popular? Freecycling is defined by Wikipedia as “the act of giving things no longer wanted or needed away for free.” Think Craigslist but where everything is free, all the time.
Some of reasons people freecycle are:
- helping others
- helping the planet / reducing the amount that goes in landfills / reducing their carbon footprint
- saving money
- reducing clutter / getting organized
- reducing consumerism
The main venue for freecycling is The Freecycle Network, and they explain themselves like this:
“The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,934 groups with 8,347,785 members around the world. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them's good people). Membership is free.”
It’s made very clear that the network is intended for giving (and receiving) stuff for free, as all emails must be approved by the moderator first, and no selling, trading, borrowing or solicitation is allowed.
Some recent postings show people looking for folding tables, size 2T Easter dresses, a coffee table, a toddler bed rail, wooden fruit crates, packing peanuts, a toy guitar, picture frames, a fold up treadmill and much, much more. During this same time, the “offer” ads show people giving away a 14 foot trampoline, women’s clothing, a bag of used ponytail holders, the owner’s manual for a Dell 4600C, furnace filters, Christmas lights, a suede slip cover, cloth nursing pads, fridge magnets, mason jars, sippy cups and an unimaginable array of additional “things.”
The “taken” category gives interesting insight into what seekers are finding. Did you want some partly used sunscreen? It’s taken.
So are the patio stones, scuba tank, a Steelers sweatshirt, an old stroller, a wooden sign that says “William’s Room,” an array of hair products and “personal items,” and two kinds of hair remover.
I had a chance to trade emails with one of the moderators of the group, and she was extremely helpful. She told me that “some people on the group post several times a week. Others appear to post seasonally. Some have never sent in a post.” She also noted that “a lot of stuff goes through the group: moving boxes, furniture, clothes, toys and games, electronics (generally older), baby items, books and magazines, CDs, DVDs, tools, arts and crafts items, household items, plants, and less frequently, appliances.”
One of the fun stories she told me was of a woman who was able to reuse tires as toys for her goats. She also told me about the coffee maker she received that doesn't dispense into two cups evenly; which is perfect because she likes to have a little more coffee than her husband.
“Giving back to the planet is important to me…I like knowing that my help maintaining a space where people can freecycle in an efficient, and nearly-spam/spammer-free manner allows them to enjoy freecycling,” the moderator told me. “It's very rewarding when someone says ‘Thanks’ or takes the time to share their first experience …[or] their joy at having helped someone out. Someone recently said it felt like really good karma. It's definitely more fulfilling than just dropping something off at a thrift store.”
The overwhelming feeling when reading the message group or talking to a moderator is one of community. Although some of the items are a bit odd, they more often than not find a home.
Consider freecycling as an alternative to sending your stuff to the landfill; almost the modern version of having a yard sale, but for free.