When cast-offs are a give­away

As more and more per­fectly us­able house­hold items are dis­carded at the lo­cal tip, an on­line re­cy­cling ser­vice is of­fer­ing an an­ti­dote to our throw-away cul­ture. Jonny Beard­sall signs up to Freecy­cle and is soon in­trigued

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Remake, Remodel -

ree to a good home.” When­ever th­ese five words catch my eye on a card in the newsagent’s shop win­dow, the ef­fect is stu­pe­fy­ing. I al­ways pause and read on. It usu­ally refers to a puppy or maybe a ham­ster or, very oc­ca­sion­ally, to an alu­minium green­house, with the caveat “buyer to dis­man­tle”. But in a world where we keep throw­ing per­fectly ser­vice­able things away, of­fer­ing goods for free is a con­cept that is also wing­ing its way over the in­ter­net into main­stream homes.

If you al­ready re­cy­cle, then Freecy­cle sounds like the per­fect next step. In­stead of lug­ging your un­wanted con­sumer durables into your at­tic or heav­ing them into a skip or avari­ciously sell­ing them at a car-boot sale, you sim­ply give them away on a web­site.

It’s as easy as it is rad­i­cal. And given the num­bers of work­ing tele­vi­sions, fridges and lawn­mow­ers, ca­noes and chairs that even­tu­ally find their way into land­fills, it makes com­plete sense.

“It’s as if you’re liv­ing in a small com­mu­nity, it’s al­most a need to find some­thing we’ve lost,” ex­plains my neigh­bour in north York­shire, Rob Hall, who has a small-hold­ing, and first heard about Freecy­cle 18 months ago when it was fea­tured on Ra­dio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. “I saw some­one was giv­ing away a Land Rover the other day – it must have been com­pletely knack­ered but some­one will have wanted it. I’ve given away any­thing from an old gui­tar to com­puter soft­ware and I’ve picked up a new dou­ble-bed. It’s amaz­ing what comes up.”

Freecy­cle was the brain­child of Deron Beal, an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist from Ari­zona, who started it in 2003 as an au­to­mated e-mail list. To­day it re­sem­bles a cross be­tween an on­line auc­tion house and a global col­lec­tion of char­ity shops. The phe­nom­e­non now has 1.2 mil­lion mem­bers in 2,700 clus­ters world­wide. There are 60 groups in Bri­tain – and there is sure to be one near you – which means that items can be picked up rather than posted.

It’s free to join and in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and many char­i­ties are the bet­ter for it, par­tic­u­larly those in the well­heeled en­vi­rons of Kens­ing­ton and Chelsea, where one group has nearly 450 mem­bers. You log on and, from out of cy­berspace, some­one you will prob­a­bly never meet ap­proves your ap­pli­ca­tion. Then you’re off.

The York group has 6,000 mem­bers and this is grow­ing by 100 a week. Most will be ecoaware and not all of them skint or on their up­pers. “There is no par­tic­u­lar type... it’s mums and stu­dents to re­tired peo­ple, who all agree that stuff shouldn’t end up in a big hole,” says Ben Weaver, 28, an elec­tron­ics teach­ing fel­low at York Univer­sity, whose wife, Jill, is a PhD re­search stu­dent. “Be­cause I’ve run com­puter-re­cy­cling schemes be­fore this was some­thing that in­stantly ap­pealed to us when we first read about Freecy­cle.”

The two most pop­u­lar items of­fered in York are baby things and large card­board boxes for mov­ing house. “Some­times you can spot the same set of card­board boxes be­ing posted time and time again as they are be­ing passed down the line,” he says. “Al­though you don’t know who you’re deal­ing with un­til you go to pick up an item, or they turn up on your doorstep, you do re­mem­ber peo­ple that you’ve met and start recog­nis­ing them on­line. I’ve made friends with some of them.”

I cur­rently get about 10 Freecy­cle emails a day with up to 25 new items on each. Read­ing them be­comes strangely grip­ping. I can re­duce th­ese to one mes­sage a day, which will be less dis­tract­ing.

Bizarrely, not ev­ery­thing of­fered is in full work­ing or­der. It is up to you if you are re­ally mad enough to want a dish­washer “that is leak­ing slightly”, a CD that is “a bit tem­per­a­men­tal at times” or a 1,000 piece jig­saw “with one piece miss­ing”.


Trea­sure un­der the mat­tress: Ruby Beard­sall, 11, of Ellingstri­ng, near Masham, North York­shire, with fel­low vil­lager Colin Weight­man, who was given the bed with­out charge as a fel­low mem­ber of the Freecy­cle net­work

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