‘Free sharing’ sites expand on Internet
One person’s trash is truly another’s treasure – even chunks of broken concrete.
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Freecycle and most of the other give-and-take groups maintain a simple system for posting messages. Members send a message either with an “offer” to give away an item or a “wanted” message asking for an item. When a transaction is completed, they alert the group that the item has been “taken” and “received.”Skip to next paragraph
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Often more items are being offered than being sought. But that may be changing. “I think the number of requests for items is going up. And people are not giving things away as frequently – maybe they’re holding onto them longer ... or they try to sell them on Craigslist or something like that,” says Robin Brown, co-founder of ReuseitNetwork.org. “People are also more concerned about how far they have to drive to pick up something,” says Ms. Brown, who lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. The give-and-take concept mostly involves trading within a local group, usually within one town.
She and four other former Freecycle volunteers founded Reuseit about a year ago in an effort to have more local autonomy. Reuseit now has nearly 300 member groups. “We had some differences of opinion on the management and direction” of Freecycle, Brown says, so “we decided to strike out on our own.”
So did Eric Burke, webmaster for Freesharing.org, another online sharing group with 250,000 to 300,000 members.
Mr. Burke saw how powerful the give-and-take concept can be when he moved to Anderson, S.C., and found his new backyard strewn with junk, including about 100 hard hats left by the local power company and a mobile home. He listed everything for free online. “I said ‘come and get it,’” he says. “Within six months nearly everything was gone.”
The hard hats were taken by a local teacher for an art class. Car seats and old tires disappeared. “All the aluminum went first, because that’s easily scrappable,” Burke says. “The I-beams from the mobile home got hauled off, and a guy built a barn out of them.
“It ended up clearing my backyard. It benefitted 50 or 60 people who came through and picked what they wanted. And it kept a certain amount of stuff out of the landfill as well.”
Most give-and-take groups can be used by charities as a way to ask for items they need. The large Freecycle group in Boston, with more than 11,000 members (London is the world’s largest, with 40,000 members) asks charities to list themselves in a separate part of the website from individual requests, says Mike Martell, who oversees the group along with a “co-owner” and five “moderators,” all part-time volunteers.
Beal says he hopes a revised Freecycle website, which he plans to have up and running by the end of the year, will be able to highlight requests from charities, as well as contain other helpful new features. In a quick poll of his local Tucson, Ariz., Freecycle group, Beal found about 90 charities who were making use of the site.
What amazes some observers is that most of the time the number of items offered exceeds the number being requested. To Beal, that’s “a life-affirming thing. The fact that Freecycle works means that we as [humans] are basically good and giving. Otherwise it would just be a greedy free-for-all where everyone is trying to get something for nothing.”
• To find a Freecycle or other free-sharing group near you, go to finder.overcycle.com.