Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reduce, reuse, Freecycle in village

In the battle against clutter, Yellow Springs residents turn to Freecycle.org. According to their website, Freecycle Network is “a grassroots and nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills.” With almost 6 million members worldwide, Freecycle users go to the designated website for their town to view items being sought or given away.

Wrapping paper, body spray, jogging stroller, bales of hay
Running shorts, baby gate, “Barely used,” “Works great!”

“The stuff is certainly garage sale-worthy,” said Freecycle member Eric Clark, “but maybe you don’t have enough to have a garage sale. Or you might be someone like me who just doesn’t have the time or wherewithal to advertise, put up signs, push away early arrivals, haggle all day, then clean up. If I have something I no longer want, I’m too much of a Socialist to put a price tag on it. If you can get some use out of it, you can have it.”

Pressure cooker, infant clothes, pillowcases, soaker hose
“Moving out,” “Don’t have room,” “We’re going to have a baby soon”

“The best thing I ever read was a post for 50 frozen mice,” said Barbara Lenschmidt, moderator for the Yellow Springs and Springfield Freecycle websites. Once she got over her initial shock, Lenschmidt remembered the [Glen Helen] Raptor Center. “I called them and asked, ‘Could you use 50 frozen mice?’ and they said, ‘Oh, yes! We’ve got all these birds to feed and that’s what they eat!’”

Tomato cages, rawhide sticks, canvas bags, old bricks
Pine chips, prom gown, “Never used,” “Leaving town”

In addition to her website moderator duties, which include making sure Freecycle’s rules are being followed and assisting new members with questions, Lenschmidt also compiles relevant recycling information and makes it available to members.

“One lady tried to give away frozen breast milk,” Lenschmidt recalled. Due to public health concerns, Lenschmidt regrettably had to withdraw the request but through her research she came upon a suitable solution. “It turns out,” she said, “there’s a slew of organizations that help mothers interface with each other.” This and other information, including a list of local thrift stores, is available on the YS Freecycle site.

“We are not a charity,” she said. “We’re simply a way to circumvent the landfill problem by interfacing people with things they don’t want anymore with people who could use them.”

Bar stools, bubble wrap, bird bath, animal trap
“Instructions lost,” “Has a chip,” “Still a lot of life in it”

The Freecycle Network prides itself on keeping 300 tons of garbage out of landfills every day.

“I’ve gotten rid of the most remarkably unwant-able things!” laughed Lenschmidt. “I do a lot of gardening and I had a whole pile of stakes that termites had eaten off at the bottom. Somebody wanted them. I have yet to find anything that I can’t get rid of.”

Strait jacket, life jacket, denim jacket size four
Briefcase, microwave, water fountain, shower door
Dollhouse, window fan, wire fencing, blender, sand
“Can’t sell,” “Can’t store,” “Can’t use anymore”

“One of the things I appreciate about using [Freecycle] is the efficiency of it,” said Freecycle devotee Laurie Dreamspinner. “I don’t have to go somewhere and hang out for hours trying to unload the unwanted items.”

When the Yellow Springs Freecycle group was first formed four years ago, Dreamspinner was in a lucky locale — her home.

“It was myself and another woman who were the original moderators and we all lived at Laurie’s at the time,” said Amanda Turner. “We had all just learned about Freecycle and we thought, ‘This is what we do every day!’” Dreamspinner and her housemates were already avid practitioners of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” and particularly enthusiastic about the online organization because, as Turner pointed out, “then the stuff didn’t sit around in Laurie’s livingroom so long!”

“Metal pot missing handle,” “Gently used Christmas candle”
Breast pump, whisk broom, broken toaster, “Don’t have room”

Members appreciate the Freecycle Network not only for its environmental conscientiousness but also for the organic way in which the virtual community exists. “It’s really important that people understand it has to be a balance between people willing to give and people willing to receive,” explained Dreamspinner. If the balance shifts too much in either direction, the concept falls apart. Another appealing aspect is that members are free to choose how they want to make the transaction. “For example, you don’t have to make the exchange at your house,” she said. “You can work out a neutral place to hand something over.” The Freecycle giver sets the terms — who, what, when, and where. “It can accommodate people’s desire for anonymity or safety or whatever.”

Toddler clothes, trampoline, furnace filter, magazines
Canning jars, cherry pits, “Needs repair,” “Doesn’t fit”

Moderator Lenschmidt has some advice for newcomers to help them get the most from the site. Politeness and follow-through are at the top of the list. “Usually members will give a sentence as to why they are interested in the item and what they’re going to do with it,” she said.

“What’s important is that people be respectful of the contract that they make with each other,” explained Dreamspinner. “Because of the culture that we live in, money somehow makes things more important. This is a way to get away from that.” On Freecycle, money never changes hands. “This is a way we can make a contract with each other for everybody’s betterment,” she added, and for the betterment of the planet.

“Twice a year I change out all my pillows,” said Clark, who owns the Springs Motel. “What do you do with 36 pillows twice a year? I put them on Freecycle. In the past three years I’ve been a member, I’ve kept 216 pillows out of the landfill.”

Desk, crib, crayons, cradle, “Can’t take with us,” “Missing ladle”
“A little worn,” “A little rust,” “Cracked lid,” “Collecting dust”
“Missing dial,” “Good for scrap,” “Still in box,” “The rest intact”
“Outgrown,” “Like new,” “Have an extra,” Lucky you!

To become a Freecycle member, go to www.freecycle.org. Membership is free, rhyming not required.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.