Don't trash it, rehash it

Instead of adding to landfill sites, thousands of people are swapping their unwanted goods online. Jini Reddy reports
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The Independent Online

Some of us wanting to get rid of junk that's gathering dust will fill up a charity collection bag, and leave it outside the front door. But usually we don't give much thought to the fate of our clutter once it has been carted off. We're simply relieved to see the back of it.

We should know better. Charity donations aside, most of our rubbish gets buried in landfill, great holes filled with smelly, often toxic waste. Britons produce mind-boggling quantities of rubbish - around 434 million tons each year - and nearly 75 per cent of that goes to landfill. That's biodegradable waste as well as mountains of batteries, fridges, mobile phones, cans, plastic bottles and three billion disposable nappies.

But it's not all gloom and doom. Freecycle is a sort of virtual skip, to which you contribute your unwanted possessions in the hope of finding a loving home for them. You sign up - all you're asked for is your name - and post your wares. The fun bit is waiting for your e-mail in-tray to fill up with potential takers, and deciding who will receive your "gift". You can also reply to ads yourself, or place a message asking for something you hanker after. Don't even think about discussing money. Freecycle, as the name suggests, is a cash-free zone for caring, sharing types.

With branches springing up in places as far afield as Nigeria and Japan, the concept is introducing recycling - once the preserve of "greenies" - to the masses. And in Europe, Freecycle is proving increasingly popular in Germany and the UK.

Apart from diverting rubbish from tips, Freecycle is changing our attitude to waste, so that instead of "old junk", we think "desirable commodity". And you can't beat the warm, fuzzy feeling that chipping in generates. "I feel a lot of satisfaction at seeing members gifting things to each other," says London moderator Ashley Hooper. "It's a hugely positive experience."

So what's up for grabs? Just about everything from a five-foot toy killer whale - "a first prize at Thorpe Park", to computer parts, to the contents of an entire house in Fulham, and even someone's too-single sister. "Bodywork OK, in need of TLC," the ad read. (Malcolm wasted no time in replying, and six weeks on he is still with his "gift", Siobhan.)

People aren't shy of asking for stuff either - and what a galaxy of delights we're after! There's Mrs Rudolf, who'd be grateful for some spare flamenco costumes, and Kelly who covets a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes ("don't care what colour or style as long as they're wearable").

Things get snapped up at an astonishing rate. I offered some old English-language teaching manuals, and within half an hour received a dozen e-mails, the gist of which read "me, me, please". I was won over by the sincerity of Laura Austin, from Camberwell. And her obvious delight when I contacted her had me feeling like I'd won the lottery.

"I once got an Ikea bedframe," she tells me as we swap messages. "I couldn't quite do the gift exchange without giving something in return, so I gave the guy who was giving the bed frame away a bottle of red wine."

With tree-huggers and ordinary folk alike - more than a million so far - breathing life into Freecycle's mission to change the world "one gift at a time", who says there's no hope for the planet?