Recycling as a Matter of Give and Take
By Christina Ianzito
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page H01
These are a few things that bother me: an oversize ceramic piggy bank, a baby's sun-bleached bouncy seat, a pair of ski pants circa 1985. None worth selling, all too potentially useful to take to the dump.
But because I'm far too lazy to organize a yard sale and far too dismayed by waste to blithely trash it all, I have developed an odd habit of placing such things carefully beside the dumpster. Maybe someone passing by could use a $5 flower vase or a pretty wall calendar from 2002. If not, the thing still could end up in a garbage dump and I could go on believing it had found a happy home.
Then a few months ago I stumbled upon what seems to be the perfect solution to such quandaries: FreecycleDC, a give-and-take Internet service that delivers the castoffs of our lives to grateful new owners.
In the past nine months, the Yahoo-based message board has become a world unto itself. Members -- of which there are more than 1,500 and counting in the Washington area -- sign up to receive listserv postings from fellow "freecyclers" with subject lines that usually begin "offer" or "wanted." As in "OFFER: plastic leis" and "WANTED: bowling balls." Or "OFFER: organic wood chips for mulching" and "WANTED: Pond and pond supplies."
The No. 1 rule is that everything must be absolutely free. No money involved.
FreecycleDC, which hit the Internet last October at groups.yahoo.com/group/FreecycleDC/ is one of many offshoots of the mother site, www.freecycle.org, started a little over a year ago by Deron Beal.
Beal, 37, works for a recycling and job-training organization in Tucson that had accumulated many used but useful items that could not be recycled. So he set up the message board to find the nonprofits that might want them. Through freecycling, he says, "you can help a Third World country." For example, he has contacted World Care, a Tucson-based group that collects humanitarian supplies for Iraq, to suggest that the next time there's a calamity and people need something, "blankets or whatever," Freecycle.org could help.
There are now hundreds of spinoff groups, including 30-plus in Virginia (Arlington, Dulles Corridor, Fairfax, Warrenton) and 13 in Maryland (Columbia, Frederick, Baltimore). Beal says there are about 10 new message boards popping up around the world every day (at last check, 28 members in Bangalore, India; 23 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). All can be accessed through www.freecycle.org.
Melanie Parr Cardell, 30, a graphic designer and part-time courier in Baltimore, discovered the Washington listserv in March. She now volunteers as the lead moderator of FreecycleDC, and has become an enthusiastic proselytizer for freecycling. The concept is "win-win," she says. "I can't think of a single thing wrong with it."
She has given away an ottoman, a 30-gallon aquarium, a roll of bulk-rate stamps, a bike helmet and the three-speed bike she rode as an 8-year-old. She has acquired, among other things, a wood chipper, a clothes dryer, an out-of-tune piano, and a carburetor for her 1967 VW Beetle. She and her husband helped a woman in Silver Spring get rid of a fallen oak tree by chopping it up and hauling it away for firewood.
It's "the free version of eBay," says Angela Guzman, 27, an office administrator and volunteer moderator of the Arlington message board.
Members tend to be ardent about freecycling, citing environmental, practical and financial concerns, and a feeling of community. "Like a family passes unneeded items on to other family members," wrote one woman, "this board, in a sense, fills that void in our lives."
Moderators, all volunteers, oversee the exchange of messages and can reject misguided postings.
Founder Beal wrote in an e-mail that a good moderator is critical to the success of the listserv. "The local mod," he says, should be "super nice and establish a good local giving community where everyone gets the concept, follows the basic rules and are nice to each other. It's all about nice."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Melanie Parr Cardell of Baltimore found this piano while surfing the Web site Freecycle.org.
(Grant L. Gursky For The Washington Post)