The internet solution to the recycling problem

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The Independent Online

Move over eBay, a new internet site is attracting the interest of tens of thousands of computer-literate trendsetters.

Like an electronic version of a car boot sale, contains all manner of unwanted birthday presents, unused electronic hardware and dusty items. The only difference is: it is all free.

Since starting in the United States three years ago, freecycling has grown into a global network with two million members and is now spreading rapidly in Britain.

The idea is simple: people who no longer want household goods can post a message on a local freecycle site. Anyone who wants the item replies and the owner decides who comes to collect it.

Anything can be "advertised" and people who wish to acquire goods can post wanted messages. The aim of the site is to find homes for products that would otherwise be jettisoned in rubbish bins or the local dump. There is only one rule: no money changes hands.

If the idea takes off, freecycling could transform waste management in the UK and slash the amount of rubbish sent to landfill. The grassroots movement fulfils the highest aim of the recycling movement: re-use is the least polluting way of dealing with waste.

The visionary behind the network is a Deron Beal, 36, a professional recycler from Arizona. Frustrated that no voluntary organisation would take some surplus office supplies, Mr Beal asked himself: "How can I get this stuff not put in a hole in the ground?" His solution was to start a not-for-profit organisation that enabled people to offload unwanted items at no cost to themselves - or anyone else.

Since then, the idea has spread by word of mouth. The organisation estimates that it keeps 200 tons of rubbish a day from going into landfills - and the figure is rising by the day.

In Britain, there are 145,000 members in 250 groups from St Austell in Cornwall to Glasgow.

With more than 8,000 members, the London branch is the biggest and is in the process of being split into smaller groups. Although the Freecycle head office in US does have a small staff, the British operation is run entirely by volunteers on the community section of the Yahoo website. Darren Wyn Rees, a spokesman for Freecycle UK - motto, "Changing the world one gift at a time" - said: "It seems so patently obvious, like so many good ideas."

Local councils facing rising landfill costs - and higher government targets for recycling - are embracing the movement. Northampton Borough Council, for instance, promotes freecycling in leaflets at roadshows.

The site forestalls the need to create a bespoke swap site.