We all have things that we no longer use hidden in our closets, or stuffed away in the attic, or crammed into the garage. It’s not that we’ll ever use them, but we can’t bear to just throw them away. They’re still good. Now, a new service is matching up people who want to get rid of things with people who want those things. In part of an ongoing series called ‘Your Choice; Your Planet,’ the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams explores freecycling:
We all have things that we no longer use hidden in our closets, or stuffed away
in the attic, or crammed into the garage. It’s not that we’ll ever use them, but we
can’t bear to just throw them away. They’re still good. Now, a new service is
matching up people who want to get rid of things with people who want those
things. In part of an ongoing series called ‘Your Choice; Your Planet,’ the Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams explores freecycling:
I’m a packrat. I just wanted to make that clear right from the beginning. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably confess you’re a packrat too.
But even I know when there’s something taking up space in my house that HAS to go. In the back of my closet, there’s a large, heavy, men’s wetsuit.
You know, a SCUBA diving suit. A relative gave it to me when he moved away. Now, I’m not a diver. I’m not even really a snorkeler. But I’ve kept it for two years. You know, just in case.
I need a little help getting rid of things. So, when I heard about freecycling… I thought, “This is it. This will help me face my inner packrat.”
Freecycling uses email groups to connect people in their hometowns. It brings together one person with their broken telescope… and that one person who needs – or just wants it.
The only rule – everything has to be free. No money, no trading. And also, you meet the giver or taker in person.
It’s Deron Beal’s idea. He manages recycling crews for businesses in Tuscon, Arizona. One day a year ago, he found himself with a warehouse full of stuff.
“We had a lot of the businesses we recycle with
downtown giving us old desks or computers, saying, can you do something with this. I’ll be darned if we got so much stuff in, I figured, let’s open this up to the public and set up the freecycle network.”
Beal emailed some friends and nonprofits. At first, he says it was just he and his friends giving each other stuff. But in just a few months, freecycle turned into a verb. Beal set up a website, freecycle-dot-org. And put instructions up so people could start freecycling in their own cities. Now, more than 90-thousand people all around the world are doing it.
So… I went to see the freecycling guy in my area, Aaron Liepman. He moderates two freecycle groups. He makes sure everything stays free, and steps in if people start arguing. He also helps packrats like me freecycle.
(sound in, typing)
Aaron sets me up on his computer.
“So, let me sign out and you sign in. (clicking) So now you type in your subject, just like an email message.
RW: “Offer: wetsuit. What else?”
“Wetsuit, SCUBA wetsuit. (crinkles, zipper noise) Looks like it’s a size large, that’ll be useful information. It has a little hat to keep you warm in the water (laughs).”
We look over my post, and I click Send.
So, I’ve started cleaning out my closet. But I’m not totally converted to this freecycling idea. I mean, really, aren’t we just moving our stuff from one house to the next? That doesn’t really cut down on consumption, does it?
I turned to University of Michigan professor Raymond DeYoung. He studies people’s buying and recycling habits. He thinks freecycling probably won’t change our buying habits all that much.
“Because we’re never going to be able with freecycling to get the new, get the novel, get the big, because by definition it’s already been bought, it’s already old, it’s the smaller. So it can’t impact our entire consumption behavior.”
DeYoung says, for freecycling to really succeed, we’d have to stop getting bigger houses. And stop filling them up with more and more things. But it’s hard, even for people who want to try to get by with less stuff.
I guess a wetsuit is a good first step.
It’s been a couple days, and I’ve gotten four messages. The first came five hours after my posting. From Shawn… he wrote: “I’ll take the wetsuit.” But he didn’t sound that excited.
In freecycling, you can use “first come, first serve” to decide who gets your item. But you don’t always have to. And I kind of wanted my wetsuit to be appreciated… you know, actually get to see the water. So I waited a couple days. Then, I got Kelly’s message. She wrote: “WOW!” in all capital letters and said her son would love the wetsuit… for snorkeling.
So I emailed Kelly. And we set up a place to meet in downtown Ann Arbor.
(street sound up)
“Wetsuit!” (Oh, are you Kelly?) “yeah, I’m Kelly.. (Hi, I’m Rebecca. This is the wetsuit.) Great!”
Kelly’s been freecycling for a month. And she says she’s hooked.
And judging from the postings, a lot of people are. They seem to like getting other people’s beer can collections and turtle sandboxes.
But some on the list worry it’s getting to be too much of a good thing. People have started to ask for laptops, and houses… and a time machine, any condition.
“I think because it’s so new, some people are asking for funny things, like don’t we all want cash, and a Lamborghini (laughs). I just laugh at those and go on.”
Kelly says she thinks the network will probably get past that after awhile, leaving behind just the really devoted freecyclers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.