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Freecycle it, don't bin it


CHURCHES have always been philanthropic givers. There is a tacit understanding that most goods and services can be exchanged for free, rather like the old bartering system.

Now there is an online community that fits perfectly with this. Freecycle.org was set up in May 2003 to promote recycling in Tucson, Arizona. The idea was simple: develop a network of people who advertise unwanted goods on the internet, and you instantly recycle.

The Freecycle website is at pains to highlight its aims: "The network is not a place to just go and get free stuff for nothing. 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." Freecycle's founders worried that unwanted furniture, white goods, and other things would wind up littering the nearby desert if action wasn't taken. Freecycle was born.

There are plenty of places where people can dispose of their unwanted goods: the local dump; through a small ad in the local paper (possibly raising a few pounds); at a church fête (raising less); and on eBay (arguably where you'll raise the most cash; Web Page, 15 July).

But what if making money isn't your aim? What if you simply want to pass on something that you've finished with, which could benefit someone else? Freecycle is the place for people with that kind of mentality. Its advantage is that it widens the circle of people who will benefit from your generosity from just a few folk who read a notice on the church board. Its downside is that you won't make any money.

Freecycle works on a system of communities. Many are in Canada and the US, but Freecycle has 55,731 members in the UK, which should give plenty of options for handing over your old CD player, or finding a new ladder.

Of course, the success of Freecycle does depend on where you live. There are online communities everywhere from Aberdeen, Belfast, Bristol, Chorleywood, and Exeter, to Tunbridge Wells and Wyre Forest; but you have a higher chance of giving or receiving in London, where there are nearly 15,000 members, than you do in Barrow-in-Furness, where there are six.

My home city of Winchester has no Freecycle community - possibly because of the excellent local dump, where such goods are bought and sold. But the Southampton group nearby has 910 members, despite having been running since only November. I'm hopeful that requests for warehouse shelving and a DVD player may meet with success. In any case, I have an AR EB101 record player and a couple of old suits that wouldn't fit if I stopped eating until Lent. Be warned, though, I found it slow to use and clunky to navigate (others have met fewer problems, however).

The principle of recycling is obviously good. Forty years ago, we produced one kilo of rubbish per person per day. Today, this has doubled: we dump 30 million tonnes of unwanted stuff into the ground each year. With Europe producing almost two tonnes of domestic and industrial waste per household each year, you feel as if joining Freecycle will make a small difference to some shocking statistics. And I might get my industrial shelving, too.
Hazel Southam is a former editor of The Baptist Times.

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