November 12, 2003

Giving the Gift of Give

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Another international organization has come to Ithaca to do business — but this one is offering its products for free. Freecycle.org, an online movement with over 50 chapters worldwide, opened a chapter in Ithaca on Oct. 28. Its purpose is to provide a network for people to give, rather than throw away, items that work but which they no longer need.

Freecycle chapters are Yahoo! Groups, e-mail lists that Yahoo! members can create and join for free. Each participating city has its own chapter and group — all of which can be accessed from www.freecycle.org — so that members get only those offers which are in their area. There are only a few rules: most importantly, anything offered on the Freecycle network must be free.

Ithaca’s Freecycle was founded by Angele McQuade, who read about the movement in an article in the Christian Science Monitor. The group has grown to 60 members since its inception less than two weeks ago — McQuade said that she’s not surprised that at least three transactions were made the first week.

“I created the Yahoo! Group list because I think Ithacans will appreciate and take advantage of the freecycle concept,” she said.

She was unsure at first if she wanted to take on a new project in founding a Freecycle chapter in Ithaca, but her hesitation “lasted only an hour.” She said that she hopes Ithacans, many of whom she said are “both generous and concerned about environmental issues such as waste management,” will welcome a new way to avoid simply discarding their unneeded but still useful items.

Jessica Brown, a Freecycle member, said that she had been considering starting a similar program herself when she read about Freecycle in the Ithaca Community Journal. She has already received a food processor through the network.

“The best thing about this list is that is reflects the great wealth of resources we have as a community, and it can bring people together,” she said.

The Freecycle.org Network was founded by “Downtown Don’t Waste It,” a nonprofit RISE recycling organization based in Tucson, Ariz. Freecycle’s more than 53 chapters can be found across the world, from Honolulu to Delhi, India. According to its website, “nearly 800 people have joined the list since its inception in mid-March 2003.”

Deron Beal, a RISE employee, came up with the idea for Freecycle when he kept receiving working items to recycle from various sources. He decided to set up an e-mail list for the transactions instead of having to spend much of his time calling various non-profits to take the items.

“[I thought that] if I [gave] this a nifty name and opened it to everyone, maybe it would work,” Beal said.

It worked so well, in fact, that Beal put up instructions on how to start local Freecycle chapters on his website.

“My dream, really, is to set up a … really cool web page where everyone can have [a website for] their group right on the webpage,” Beal said. This new site would also host the [e-mail lists], making it possible to become independent of Yahoo!.

McQuade said that most of Ithaca Freecycle’s publicity so far has been through word of mouth, although she has prepared fliers and handouts which members can download and post. She expects membership to grow steadily as word gets out — the group will become more useful as more members join. McQuade also mentioned that college students would particularly benefit from Freecycle.

“‘Freecycling’ is perfect for college students, both those who need a particular item but can’t afford it as well as those who have useful things they no longer want and who would like to see go to a new home instead of into the trash,” she said.


Archived article by Yuval Shavit