August 2, 2008

A Green Way to Get Rid of Clutter: Mid-Valley’s Freecycle Group Keeps Perfectly Good Items From Going to the Dump

By Michael Hatamiya, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif.

Aug. 2--Need to get rid of the bed that your son outgrew but don't want to haul it to the dump? Want to give away that perfectly good pair of galoshes that you never used? How about that electric fan that's sitting there unused and unwanted and cluttering up your garage?

Freecycle may be the solution.

The Freecycle Network is a grassroots movement of people connected by the Internet to give away items they don't need nor want, with the main objective of reducing the flow into landfills. The network has grown exponentially since its founding five years ago to nearly 4,600 local chapters consisting of some 5.5 million members around the world.

Stephanie Thomas took advantage of the Yuba City Freecycle group, which serves the Mid-Valley. She recently gave away a spare mattress via Freecycle.

"I'd rather give people an opportunity to have it," she said last week.

Thomas heard about Freecycle by word of mouth and has been a member for a couple of years. The Yuba City resident said she mostly offers items rather than receives things on Freecyle.

"I've given a lot away," she said, including the mattress, a treadmill, books, even an old motorcycle that her husband didn't want. The motorcycle's carburetor was missing, but someone wanted it and it was picked up within a day.

"Usually things that are in decent shape and can be used get pretty quick responses," Thomas said. "So many people are calling within hours."

Her mattress was picked up within four hours of the offer being posted on the Yuba City Freecycle Web site.

Freecycle works like this: You go to your local group's Web site, which you can find by performing a search at, and sign up. After signing up, you have access to the message board, where you can post messages of things offered, things wanted, items taken and received. The moderator of the local Web site must approve the message, then put it up on the Web site. How you make the exchange is up to you and the other party after contact by e-mail. The only stipulation is that no money be exchanged.

That's the point of Freecycle -- free recycling. It's not about selling things for money like on eBay or a yard sale or even bartering.

The Yuba City chapter says on its homepage: "This group is part of The Freecycle Network, a nonprofit organization interested in keeping good stuff out of landfills. The main rule is very simple: Everything posted must be 100 percent free, with no strings attached."

The Yuba City group was started on Aug. 10, 2006, and had 576 members as of last week. Chapters in nearby areas include those in Oroville, Chico, Paradise, Grass Valley, Lincoln, Roseville, Sacramento and Davis. Some Freecyclers belong to more than one Freecycle chapter.

A perusal of the Yuba City message board shows that almost any conceivable item can be reappropriated via Freecycle: furniture and clothing of all kinds, computers, paint, moving boxes, dogs and cats, microwave ovens, old magazines, even a sack of onions.

Perhaps one man's trash is indeed another man's treasure.

Cathe Doble of Colusa has been a Freecycle member for a couple of months and found her treasure. She came across Freecycle on the Internet and signed up with the chapter in Fremont, where she's from, and in Yuba City.

Doble is disabled and needed a reclining chair on which to sleep. In June, she put up a "NEEDED: RECLINER" message.

To her great fortune, someone responded to her request within two days. A Freecycler in Marysville offered her a reclining chair. Doble said that the giver had redecorated and didn't need the chair anymore and waited to find someone to give it to.

"I feel so lucky I got what I did," Doble said. "The chair is in good shape -- the leather looks new."

Doble isn't stopping there. "I'd like to give something away, too," she said.

Not only does Doble appreciate the economic aspect of Freecycle -- it's free -- she's also motivated by the green benefit. She said both these aspects are why she uses Freecycle.

"I do recycle everything I can -- cans, bottles -- and I donate clothes to the thrift shop," she said. "I try to do my part for the environment because I want things to be around for my kids."

Besides being green, other benefits -- and stated goals -- of Freecyle are that it helps people who really need things and builds community.

The main Freecycle Web site states: "Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources ... while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community."

The Freecycle Network was established by Deron Beal in 2003. At the time, Beal was working for a nonprofit organization in Tucson, Ariz., called RISE, which provided recycling services to downtown businesses and transitional employment for people down on their luck. According to Freecycle, as the RISE team recycled, "rather than watching perfectly good items being thrown away, they found themselves calling or driving around to see if various local nonprofit organizations could use them. Thinking there had to be an easier way," on May 1 of that year, Beal sent out the first e-mail announcing The Freecycle Network to friends and nonprofit groups in Tucson. Freecycle was born.

However, Freecycle is not the only organization of its kind. Other free recycling networks include FreeShare, Sharing is Giving, Freesources and local independent groups. Some local chapters of these networks split off from Freecycle due to philosophical and bureaucratic differences.

FreeShare has a Marysville-Yuba City chapter that is roughly the same size as the Freecycle group.

Louis Anderson is new to the Yuba-Sutter area, having moved to Live Oak from Northern Ireland with his American wife, Deborah, at the end of May.

He used Freecycle when they left Portstewart, Northern Ireland, and upon arrival here he put up a message on the Yuba City Freecycle site to help furnish his home.

"A friend of ours mentioned Freecycle when we were moving house. We had stuff to get rid of ... a futon, sofa," said Anderson in an Ulster accent. "It was snapped up in two days."

He, too, said he uses Free-cycle for both economic and conservation reasons.

"Initially it was a discovery. A friend knew about Freecycle -- she would be quite environmentally conscious -- and coincidentally we didn't want to take (our stuff) to the dump," said Anderson, who works in the medical equipment and supply field.

Anderson embodies the spirit of Freecycle, which states: "It is not a place to just go get free stuff for nothing. It is a place to give or receive what you have and don't need or what you need and don't have -- a free cycle of giving which keeps stuff out of landfills."

Doble echoed that.

"Freecycling is something good that everybody should do, not just to get free stuff," she said.

"I've really been telling all my friends about it," said mattress-giver Thomas. "We need more people to know about it."

How to be a freecycler

--To participate in Freecycle, you must sign up with a local group. The Yuba City chapter covers the Mid-Valley.

--There are two ways to get to the Freecycle Yuba City chapter Web site. One way is to go to Freecycle's main Web site,

Once you have the Web site on your screen, type "Yuba City" in the search box; you will then be directed to the Yuba City chapter site.

--The second way is to go directly to the chapter Web site (which requires more typing):

--Upon reaching the Yuba City chapter Web site, you can sign up with the group, which is free.

--After you are signed up, and have entered the chapter Web site as a member, click "Messages" to read the members' messages offering goods, requesting goods, acknowledging items received or items taken.

--You can create messages by clicking "Post." You correspond with another member via e-mail by clicking the envelope near their name. You then exchange information such as phone number and location and how one can pick up the goods.

--Be sure to read etiquette notes, FAQs and other notices provided by Freecycle.

--The Marysville-Yuba City FreeShare group operates along similar lines. Its Web address:

Contact Appeal reporter Mike Hatamiya at 741-2400 or mhata [email protected]


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