Cadge-IT: Putting old gadgets to use can be easy, fun and environmentally friendly

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The Independent Online

Arm wrestling, cold beers and loud music sound like the perfect recipe for a lads' night out, and the lads in question certainly look happy. Gathered in a room in central London, they are swigging lager and chatting about upcoming holidays, plans for the weekend and discussing whether trading a first-generation BlackBerry for a mini-trampoline is a fair exchange. You see, these boys aren't down the pub chewing the fat; they're helping to save the planet, one mobile phone handset at a time, by attending a Cadge-IT swapping party.

Swapping is big news at the moment. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware that their lust for new products is having a detrimental effect on the environment – throwaway fashion and a mountain of must-have gadgets are the antithesis of "green" buys – that the idea of exchanging unwanted goods is becoming a fashionable way to acquire new spoils. Until now, clothes have been the focus for frenzied swapping parties across London, Sydney and New York, where women of all ages gather together their unwanted garments and exchange them for something "new". But men haven't had their own swap-shop equivalent – until now.

The idea behind Cadge-IT is to get a group of guys to gather their unwanted gadgets together and meet up to exchange them. Throw in some alcohol and a "guess the mystery gadget" competition and you have the makings of a top night out. Dave Willans, a consultant at eco-communications agency Futerra, says it's time for men to get in on the action. "It's two-pronged, really, we wanted to find something that guys could do – swapping clothes isn't something that that many men would be interested in, it's hard enough to get us to shop for clothes – and to do something with the huge amounts of stuff we all waste." According to figures released by YouGov, the typical home has £460 worth of forgotten products buried in the loft or the garage – a nationwide total of £9bn. More than 20 million homes in Britain have lofts stuffed with children's clothes and toys (47 per cent), books and magazines (46 per cent), dumped electrical goods (40 per cent) and old records or photographs (28 per cent). It's these forgotten items that Cadge-IT is trying to make us remember.

At the inaugural Cadge-IT party, the guests are starting to arrive. Around the room are tables on which to deposit our gadgets while we wait for kick-off. James Shaw, 34, a management consultant, makes the first donation. "I've brought an Xda along. My company has just upgraded our phones and we all have to switch to BlackBerries." Roland Ellison, 30, has brought along a mobile phone and a personal radio but admits, "eBay got most of the good stuff." Chris Smith, 39, a green auditor, has come armed, too. "I brought a CD Discman with me. That was £70 new," he says, sadly. "I think everything you buy now is designed to break." Student Ned Lewis, 26, agrees. "It's like every gadget has built-in obsolescence." Tony Marsden, 22, a recruitment consultant, admits that "coming to a green-themed night is a bit off the beaten track for me." Not everyone has come prepared. Phil Baer, 28, only has the clothes he stands up in but he's still game for a swap. "I only heard about tonight at the last minute so all I've got to trade are my trousers. I'll happily swap them – they're very nice and they're handmade." As the goodies start to pile up, he looks a little crestfallen. "Now I've seen what's here, it's all become a lot more serious."

Also on offer are a number of mobile phones, a brand new – but pink – portable home phone, video games, computer mice, sports equipment, a drill, tons of tools, a wind-up radio and countless other once-loved bits and pieces.

As the room fills, we're told that we're allowed to check out the goods but no one can start cadging until we hear the battle cry "Cadge-IT". Grabbing what you want as quickly as possible seems to be the order of the day, with only the one rule: if two people want the same item, they have to decide between themselves how to resolve who gets it. "No violence, please," says Willans, our adjudicator, but "paper, scissors, stone or an arm wrestle are fine." As we wait for our chance to acquire some new kit, a mini-trampoline and a barbecue are deposited, causing something of a stir, though that's nothing compared with when Willans tells us the fridge – and the beer inside – is also up for grabs.

Tonight's event is well timed. The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive, which came into force in the UK at the start of this month, aims to reduce the quantity of waste from electrical and electronic equipment and increase its re-use, recovery and recycling. WEEE requires member nations to collect and recycle the equivalent of four kilograms of "e-waste" per capita, and estimates suggest the UK produces around 900,000 tons of WEEE per year from domestic sources alone. Retailers must either offer a free in-store "take-back" service on a like-for-like basis – for example, take a customer's old television when they buy a new one – or help fund improvements to local councils' recycling facilities. Households will be "discouraged" from throwing away items that contain potentially harmful substances. Instead, they will be encouraged to use the recycling facilities being offered to them through the various schemes.

Back at the party, the "Cadge-IT" cry goes up and the room erupts. The MP3 players are gone in a flash, someone is wielding a cricket bat, Chris is testing the trampoline while Dave makes a grab for the pink phone, "for my boss", apparently. One chap gets so carried away that he tries to take the prize for the mystery gadget competition and has to be told to calm down. Things get tense when James makes a grab for the barbecue at the same time as someone else. They arm-wrestle for it and James comes out victorious, with a barely subdued whoop of satisfaction. Once the dust settles, it's time to see who swapped what. Ned looks pleased with his spoils. "I'm about to go off on a cycling trip so I'm really pleased with my haul – I've cadged a head torch, a picnic mat, a cycle-repair kit, a frisbee and a trowel. I'm not sure that I'll take all of them on my trip but I'm very pleased." Tony shows me his riches but confesses, "I feel guilty taking anything that's worth more than what I brought – and that was only a nodding Jesus. I'm delighted with my new cricket bat, though."

Tejas Ewing, 27, a student, looks slightly miffed. "I brought an office mate – a gadget that's a staple, hole punch, torch and screwdriver set in one – but no one's taken it. Maybe I'll take it back." I spot him later and he's cheered up – not only has someone offered his gadget a good home, he's found what he was after. "I got an MP3 player. I'm thrilled." There's one envious cry of "Oooh, did you cadge that?" but on the whole, everyone seems to have had a great night. Chris is smiling beatifically. "I'm very happy – I got a multi-plug adapter, a mini-trampoline, a wireless mouse, some games... I even got the fridge! I'm kitting out my office at the moment so this will all be really useful." Once the beer is drunk and the room starts to clear, he looks at what's left – a television aerial, a squash racket and an electronic version of 20 Questions. "It does make you realise that people buy a lot of crap," he says, wisely.

There's life in the old thing yet...

If you can't recycle it (check what your options are at www. direct.gov.uk), why not try a different way of breathing new life into unwanted electronics.

* Freecycle it at www.freecycle.org. Either check what people are already looking for or list your item and wait for them to get in touch.

* eBay it and make some cash, but you'll need to be proactive. "It takes effort to take pictures, upload them, check for bids and take items to the post office," says David.

* Throw a Cadge-IT party. The Cadge-IT website goes live soon with a downloadable guide to show people how to arrange their own such event. Until then, get your gadget-mad pals round.

* Donate to Computer Aid International (www.computeraid. org), an organisation that refurbishes computers for re-use in developing countries. Computer Aid also takes mobile phones and printer cartridges.

* Find out if any of the schools in your area are looking for electronic goods. Computers and printers are usually welcome – just check with your local council to see which schools to donate to.

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