Get rid of your junk and save the world - without leaving home

Forget trying to sell your old stuff on eBay. Just join the Freecycle Network and give it away, says Ciar Byrne

EBay is so yesterday. For the environmentally minded consumer wishing to part with unwanted goods, freecycling is the next big thing.

EBay is so yesterday. For the environmentally minded consumer wishing to part with unwanted goods, freecycling is the next big thing.

Nearly a million people worldwide have already joined the grassroots online movement, whose members recycle objects they no longer have a use for - from fax machines to beanbags - by giving them away for free via online message boards.

The not-for-profit Freecycle Network was started in 2003 in Tucson, Arizona, to help reduce waste and prevent the surrounding desert landscape being taken over by landfills. It is now both a global and a local movement - because people usually have to meet to exchange goods, groups have grown up in 2,400 towns and cities across the world.

The scheme is most popular in America, but there 78 freecycle "communities" in Germany, 52 in the UK and 37 in Australia. Nepal has seven freecyclers, Lithuania three and Azerbaijan six.

Each group has its own message board on Yahoo!, where members are asked to follow guidelines set out on the network's website, www.freecycle.org. These include only exchanging items that are free, legal and appropriate for all ages, avoiding politics or dating ads and using the same format for the subject line of messages, for example: OFFER: Edwardian sideboard; WANTED: bass guitar; TAKEN: double bed.

Recent offers on the London message board include a yellow toaster, a pub-style dartboard, a Victorian fireplace and some yukka plants. There are requests for fairy lights, pots and pans, a banjo and small bits of Perspex.

Georgina Bloomfield, a waste campaigner for Friends of the Earth and a Freecycle member, says: "It's a really good idea. There are lots of networks in different areas so the distance people have to go to collect things is quite short. There is no cost for posting messages, and if people come and collect something from your door, it is much easier than throwing it away. It prevents people from having to buy new goods. A lot of the items that are on there are electrical, which have quite a big environmental impact when they are produced and also in the waste they create."

Thanks to the auction site eBay, people are now accustomed to the idea of exchanging items over the internet. Unlike eBay, though, Freecycle does not charge a fee to advertise, so users can offer a weird and wonderful range of objects without worrying about whether anyone will want them. Brian Viziondanz, an artist and musician from Brighton, has been freecycling for just three weeks. He says: "I have found a rotating ironing machine for ironing curtains, and I've picked up some LPs, some lampshades and a nice little washstand. It's kind of like Christmas - you never know what you're going to open. It seems to attract very friendly, very open people who care enough about the planet to make the effort."

Helena Quartey, who works for a London PR company, is another new member. In her first week she has given away two invitations to private viewings in galleries that she was unable to attend. She says: "There are a couple of things I really need - a bread-maker and a pestle and mortar. Freecycle has obscure items that you would normally have to rummage around for. You get the benefit of knowing you can put any old junk on there and it will be useful to someone. I am a bit of an obsessive purger, so I can do it without thinking: 'Oh god, where's it going to go?'"

But increased awareness of the network has its downsides. Barbara Weidman, an American IT consultant living in London, found out about Freecycle from a friend when she was getting rid of her wedding dress. Since then she has acquired photographic equipment and shower curtain rails. But she says a recent item about Freecycle on Radio 4's You and Yours has led to an increase in the number of "poor postings", with new members forgetting to include information, such as object type and location, in the header.

"There's more flakiness. It's like anything where a whole lot of new people join at once - they don't get integrated into the community," she says. "If you had a church and one or two people joined, they would quickly pick up the customs. But if 15 people came in, they wouldn't have as many people to follow."

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