Freecycling, the eco ebay

G Magazine

One person's trash can be another's treasure - and keep waste out of landfill

Deron Beal, Freecycler

Credit: Jacob Chinn

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Have you ever tried to get rid of a second-hand mattress? It can be just about impossible, as Deron Beal discovered five years ago when he and his new wife rationalised their merged possessions.

"My wife and I were moving in together and we had this extra bed," says Beal, from Tucson, Arizona. "Good Will [an American charity store] wouldn't take beds, none of my friends needed a bed so it was headed for the dump."

He was convinced there must be a better way to keep a perfectly good mattress out of landfill, so Beal set up an email group for 'free recycling', and thus began the Freecycle story.

Cyber-kerbside, cashless eBay or gifting … whatever you call it, the Freecycle movement is a spectacular success, with more than 3.5 million members in over 75 countries, supported by an army of 10,000 volunteers. Each day, The Freecycle Network saves more than 300 tonnes of stuff from landfill.

"When I set it up I had no idea at the time it would be so big," says Beal. "I set it up as a tree-hugger, thinking environmentally minded people would use it to give items away rather than throw it away but it's grown to have a much wider reach than that."

Whether you are trying to shift your old mattress, a refrigerator, left-over hair dye or bubble wrap, odds are someone in your area will be willing to take it off your hands and put it to good use.

Freecycle matches up giver to receiver via online groups such as Yahoo, transforming someone's trash into someone else's treasure. Best of all, there's no money involved and no strings attached.

Freecycle is used by all manner of people. Non-profit groups use it to collect items for the needy, while empty-nesters and downsizers use it to get rid of extraneous clutter and renovators use it to dispose of or collect building materials.

Almost everything, however unusual, finds a home, according to Janelle Grimshaw, founder and moderator of the 960-strong Blue Mountains Freecycle Network.

"Somebody found a home for Sebastian the pet goat," Grimshaw says. "From kids' sandpits to old carpet - there's anything you can think of."

As a volunteer moderator, Grimshaw's task is to check the 10 or so emails a day from Blue Mountains Freecycle members offering or requesting items, and filter out spam or inappropriate posts. The Freecycle Network relies on a network of volunteers like Grimshaw to keep it running smoothly.

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