Smart Consumer: Anyone fancy a free wing mirror?
The global non-profit recycling organisation Freecycle has 28,000 members in Ireland, says John Hearne
Nothing beats the recessionary blues like free stuff. Art student Rob O'Shea needed a printer for college but didn't have the funds to buy one. So he posted on Freecycle, asking if anyone had one lying around at home. Someone did.
"Okay, it's six or seven years old," says Rob, "but it's working perfectly. It's black and white, perfect for printing out essays and stuff." He's also picked up a set of shelves and he's used the network to offload curtains and cushions that he no longer needed.
Robert Higgins was having no luck in his search for an old Anglepoise lamp. A friend suggested he try Freecycle and he had one within a couple of days. "I also got an archaic weighing scales – for someone else – and five old-but-working CRT monitors, all in one go."
Freecycle is founded on the truism that one man's junk is another man's treasure. If you've got something that's not quite rubbish but doesn't have much second-hand value, Freecycle is where it needs to go. Conversely, if you're looking for something that someone somewhere might have lying around gathering dust, Freecycle is where you might find it.
It all began in Tuscon, Arizona nine years ago. The members of a small non-profit recycling organisation found themselves continually driving around trying to find homes for perfectly good items thrown away by householders. Wouldn't it be great, said Freecycle founder Deron Beal, if there was some way of streamlining this process.
Today, there are five-thousand Freecycle communities around the globe, with more than nine million members.
In Ireland, there are 20 separate networks with a combined membership of nearly 28,000. That's up from 6,000 five years ago. The largest and longest established is the Dublin Freecycle Network, which has 9,600 members
Wicklow-based Elana Kehoe is the person who brought Freecycle to Ireland. She says: "I had friends in the States who were talking about how they were getting things or giving away things on Freecycle. I went to the Freecycle.org website and saw that there weren't any groups in Ireland. I tried to find out why not and how do you start one. They basically said go ahead, have fun! So I just followed the steps on the site and started one up."
Getting involved is simple. You sign up with your local group online – follow the links at freecycle.org – and once the moderator approves your membership, you have access to the network.
The rules are straightforward. Everything has to be free, legal and appropriate for all ages. No alcohol, tobacco, firearms or drugs. No politics, no spam, no rudeness. No trading, no advertising. Freecycle is all about giving without conditions. If you don't find a home for your stuff, you're asked to refrain from reposting for a month.
"I had a pallet," says Elana. "I had some stuff delivered on a pallet. I said to myself, 'Nobody's going to want this thing . . .' I posted it and for a while nobody did, and then I re-posted it a little while later. Next thing I know, somebody said, 'I'm making a compost bin, I would love to use that . . .'
"You honestly sit there and go, somebody's going to take that? Wing mirrors for cars. Just the weirdest things but it's always really appreciated."
Robert Higgins says that you do have to filter through a lot of junk before you find something nice, and when the nice things do come up, there's a scramble. "Once a guy was giving away a huge pair of gorgeous hi-fi speakers. I just missed out."
You also tend to find like-minded souls, says Rob O'Shea. People are delighted to find what they need for free, but they're equally delighted to find a home for things that they keep tripping over. Speaking of which. If you've an old bike lying around, Rob would like to hear from you.