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Changing the world one gift at a time.

If it's useless to you, and you can't sell it, don't throw it out - give it to someone else living nearby! That's the philosophy behind the worldwide Freecycle network, which will celebrate its first anniversary next month.

"In the face-to-face world, it's often hard to find that deserving person who needs your specific load of useless castoffs," Katharine Mieszkowski wrote in Salon. "Enter the Internet, which not only makes such networking easy but also has long been suffused with an ethic that promotes gift giving. Since May, the Freecycle concept has exploded, spreading from city to city with the speed of a grass (roots) fire."

Deron Beal, of Tucson, Arizona (US) told us in an email that he was a part-time worker for a non-profit group called RISE, when he "thought up this crazy thing" just a year ago. RISE initiated the project to promote waste reduction in the city's downtown area, and help save the desert landscape from being taken over by landfills.

The idea quickly caught on, and spread throughout the US and to Canada, the UK, Japan, India, Australia and other countries. Independent groups have been set up in 300 cities ranging alphabetically from Acadiana LA to Whatcom County, Washington. In all, more than 40,000 members have joined up.

Each local group is run by a local volunteer moderator. Membership is free. To join, you simply click on your city's name on the home page. That action will sign you up for your local group and send you a response with instructions on how it works.

Everything posted must be free. "Whether it's a chair, a fax machine, piano, or an old door to be given away, it can be posted on the network," say the organizers. "Or, maybe you're looking to acquire something yourself? Respond to the posting directly and you just might get it. After that it is up to the giver to set up a pickup time for passing on the treasure.

"Non-profit organizations also benefit from the Freecycle Network. Post the item or items you want to give away and a local organization can help you get it to someone in need."

Just what articles are classified as junk varies from place to place. The Tokyo (Japan) website says: "Computers, futons, clothing, chopsticks - no item is too big or too small."

Katharine Mieszkowski's Salon article was headed "From each according to his junk, to each according to her need. Need a pile of dirt? Got a pile of dirt? It's Christmas every day in the new world of freecycling."

She reported that on the Freecycle Portland mailing list, photographer Brad Wallis offered to give away large mirrors, art prints, tires, firewood, bike helmets, bicycle racks, trees, a sump pump, 12 Cuban cigars and even a whole computer.

The New York Times last month published an amusing story by Tina Kelley, under the heading One Sock, With Holes? I'll Take It; Freecycling Brings Castoff Goods Back From the Bin. It began:

Wanted: old socks, ''ripped, without partners, and of any size or color.'' Offered: a telephone pole. Wanted: a chicken coop, a doghouse, a barn.
Offered: ''Excellent quality landscaping rocks. Organic lemons will be given away to those who take the rocks as an extra bonus.'' ... The Internet has fed...

The Freecycle network is a great idea which deserves to succeed. But it has already struck major problems. Illegal drug equipment has been advertised on some websites, and a few dollar-hungry dealers have abused the system by grabbing donated items and selling them for profit.

Sydney readers will be disappointed to find that although three other Australian state capitals (Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide) have joined the Freecycle network, each with its own website, our Emerald City is not yet represented.



Story first posted April 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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