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Freecycling: out with the old and in with the 'new'

One person is looking for a rocking chair for a newborn baby. Another, a tote bag to carry a pet guinea pig. One person offers up a nearly new yoga mat; another, a "large-ish cardboard box" that is "not sturdy enough for shipping but great for summer fun with kids."

Welcome to Freecycle, a grassroots "cyber curbside" where people can drop off unused items and others can pick them up -- for free.

As an environmentally motivated, volunteer-based nonprofit, Freecycle sets itself apart from other similar websites, such as Craigslist, said the organization's founder, Deron Beal.

"Some people view Freecycle as a cyber curbside, and other people view it as a Craigslist with a heart," he said. "It's the volunteers that keep that heart part. They throw out spam and make it as easy as possible to give items away in a local community. That's part of our mission -- to make it easier to give something away than throw it away."

Ten years ago, Beal was working for a recycling nonprofit in Tucson, Ariz. He said he had a warehouse full of non-recyclable stuff to give away and that his boss told him he needed to figure out a quick way to do it. He set up a Yahoo group, called it Freecycle and "off it went," he said.

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"I sent out that first email on May 1, 2003, to 30 friends and a handful of nonprofits. In a year, we had 100,000 members. It grew really fast," Beal said.

Within a couple months, Beal traded the Yahoo group for Freecycle.org and started taking on volunteer moderators to monitor groups in communities beyond Tucson, such as Palo Alto. Freecycle has evolved into a massive re-use network that prides itself on saving space in landfills, making it easier to turn one man's trash into another's treasure and creating community.

Freecycle is not the only such group in Palo Alto. There's also PAFree, also known as Palo Alto Free, an older online exchange that operates through Yahoo groups. But they both distinguish themselves from more general sites like Craigslist.

One Palo Alto freecycler said he prefers Freecycle to Craigslist because the moderators vet users and regulate posts, if necessary. This means a safer network and less spam.

"You get so much spam after you post something" on Craigslist, said Daniel Ross-Jones, associate pastor at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto. "Whereas this, I didn't receive anything."

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Ross-Jones recently purchased a new couch and didn't want to deal with moving the old one, so he posted an "offer" on Freecycle. The next day, a fellow freecycler said he would take it off his hands.

"I'm certainly thinking of other ways I can freecycle," Ross-Jones said, using what now seems to be a well-established verb in Palo Alto. "There are things in our (church) building that we're no longer using that might be useful to somebody else."

One of those somebodies is Sadie Struss, a teacher at AchieveKids, a nonprofit school in Palo Alto that serves children aged 5 to 22 with emotional and/or developmental disabilities. Struss said she relies on Freecycle to get clothes and supplies for her students.

On Wednesday, she posted a "wanted" note in the Palo Alto group titled "old pots/pans for mud pie kitchen."

"I am trying to create a mudpie kitchen in my student's back yard," her post reads. "I would love any old metal bowls, measuring cups, muffin tins etc. I really appreciate it!" She said another user replied and promised to drop off metal muffin tins the same day.

Struss has used Freecycle to pick up clothes, rain boots, a bookshelf, books, craft supplies, scooters, bike helmets, balls, a soccer goal and volleyball net. Clothes, books or toys that a 6-year-old has outgrown and has no use for can easily be put in constant use at AchieveKids, she said. The same goes for discarded household items that Struss can reimagine a purpose for in her classroom.

"Because we're a nonprofit, there's not a lot of funding for things," Struss said. "I've really relied on Freecycle a lot to stretch the budget that we do have to give these kids what they need."

Struss said that many of her students exhibit extreme behavior and come from difficult backgrounds, dealing with issues such as homelessness and hunger. She said that providing basic things for them, such as rain boots or a crafts project, makes a difference.

"I go crazy when I see rain boots for cheap at Goodwill. You want them to be able to play in the rain. You want them to be able to be kids."

Freecycle founder Beal has a go-to analogy to explain just how much gets recycled through the network: The amount of items posted on Freecycle in the past year is more than 14 times the height of Mount Everest, Earth's tallest mountain. He said that is approximately the equivalent of one less landfill on the planet.

Freecycle hosts groups in more than 110 countries. There are separate groups -- which all require membership approval by the group moderator -- for Palo Alto, Mountain View and Menlo Park.

Meanwhile, PAFree, the Yahoo group started in 2003, also serves as a digital drop-off and pick-up point for unused stuff in the area.

PAFree operates under a similar set of basic rules -- everything must be free, no offers of money are allowed; no solicitations or spam, be courteous and considerate to other members.

Jeanie Smith, one of PAFree's four moderators, said that the main difference between Freecycle and PAFree is that -- as a smaller community group rather than an international organization -- PAFree can be more flexible about posts.

"Freecyle.org has very strict rules about what can be posted and what can't. It has rules that are applied nationwide and all the moderators observe those rules very strictly," Smith said.

Smith and the other three moderators take postings "more on a case-by-case basis," she said. They have allowed posts that Freecycle would not, such as a litter of kittens.

But she said that the two groups coexist "pretty peacefully" -- despite a kerfuffle over rights to the word "freecycle" some years ago. Many of PAFree's 3,785 members also belong to Freecycle's Palo Alto group. Smith said members often cross-post items in both groups to "maximize the possibility of either getting something that they need or getting rid of something they want to get rid of."

One Palo Alto Freecycle moderator, Pauline Morrison, has volunteered for five years and has lived in Palo Alto since she was 10 years old. She said she checks the website about three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes to take out addresses or phone numbers and edit posts if needed.

Morrison said she doesn't freecycle much herself anymore, but "you never know" what kind of offer might call your name.

Similarly, Struss said she recently saw a post for old wine corks and wondered what someone could use them for. Then she saw a Pinterest post for a craft project that turns corks into stamps.

"We end up doing a lot more than education here, and Freecycle can help with that." Struss said.

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Freecycling: out with the old and in with the 'new'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Jun 16, 2013, 2:04 pm

One person is looking for a rocking chair for a newborn baby. Another, a tote bag to carry a pet guinea pig. One person offers up a nearly new yoga mat; another, a "large-ish cardboard box" that is "not sturdy enough for shipping but great for summer fun with kids."

Welcome to Freecycle, a grassroots "cyber curbside" where people can drop off unused items and others can pick them up -- for free.

As an environmentally motivated, volunteer-based nonprofit, Freecycle sets itself apart from other similar websites, such as Craigslist, said the organization's founder, Deron Beal.

"Some people view Freecycle as a cyber curbside, and other people view it as a Craigslist with a heart," he said. "It's the volunteers that keep that heart part. They throw out spam and make it as easy as possible to give items away in a local community. That's part of our mission -- to make it easier to give something away than throw it away."

Ten years ago, Beal was working for a recycling nonprofit in Tucson, Ariz. He said he had a warehouse full of non-recyclable stuff to give away and that his boss told him he needed to figure out a quick way to do it. He set up a Yahoo group, called it Freecycle and "off it went," he said.

"I sent out that first email on May 1, 2003, to 30 friends and a handful of nonprofits. In a year, we had 100,000 members. It grew really fast," Beal said.

Within a couple months, Beal traded the Yahoo group for Freecycle.org and started taking on volunteer moderators to monitor groups in communities beyond Tucson, such as Palo Alto. Freecycle has evolved into a massive re-use network that prides itself on saving space in landfills, making it easier to turn one man's trash into another's treasure and creating community.

Freecycle is not the only such group in Palo Alto. There's also PAFree, also known as Palo Alto Free, an older online exchange that operates through Yahoo groups. But they both distinguish themselves from more general sites like Craigslist.

One Palo Alto freecycler said he prefers Freecycle to Craigslist because the moderators vet users and regulate posts, if necessary. This means a safer network and less spam.

"You get so much spam after you post something" on Craigslist, said Daniel Ross-Jones, associate pastor at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto. "Whereas this, I didn't receive anything."

Ross-Jones recently purchased a new couch and didn't want to deal with moving the old one, so he posted an "offer" on Freecycle. The next day, a fellow freecycler said he would take it off his hands.

"I'm certainly thinking of other ways I can freecycle," Ross-Jones said, using what now seems to be a well-established verb in Palo Alto. "There are things in our (church) building that we're no longer using that might be useful to somebody else."

One of those somebodies is Sadie Struss, a teacher at AchieveKids, a nonprofit school in Palo Alto that serves children aged 5 to 22 with emotional and/or developmental disabilities. Struss said she relies on Freecycle to get clothes and supplies for her students.

On Wednesday, she posted a "wanted" note in the Palo Alto group titled "old pots/pans for mud pie kitchen."

"I am trying to create a mudpie kitchen in my student's back yard," her post reads. "I would love any old metal bowls, measuring cups, muffin tins etc. I really appreciate it!" She said another user replied and promised to drop off metal muffin tins the same day.

Struss has used Freecycle to pick up clothes, rain boots, a bookshelf, books, craft supplies, scooters, bike helmets, balls, a soccer goal and volleyball net. Clothes, books or toys that a 6-year-old has outgrown and has no use for can easily be put in constant use at AchieveKids, she said. The same goes for discarded household items that Struss can reimagine a purpose for in her classroom.

"Because we're a nonprofit, there's not a lot of funding for things," Struss said. "I've really relied on Freecycle a lot to stretch the budget that we do have to give these kids what they need."

Struss said that many of her students exhibit extreme behavior and come from difficult backgrounds, dealing with issues such as homelessness and hunger. She said that providing basic things for them, such as rain boots or a crafts project, makes a difference.

"I go crazy when I see rain boots for cheap at Goodwill. You want them to be able to play in the rain. You want them to be able to be kids."

Freecycle founder Beal has a go-to analogy to explain just how much gets recycled through the network: The amount of items posted on Freecycle in the past year is more than 14 times the height of Mount Everest, Earth's tallest mountain. He said that is approximately the equivalent of one less landfill on the planet.

Freecycle hosts groups in more than 110 countries. There are separate groups -- which all require membership approval by the group moderator -- for Palo Alto, Mountain View and Menlo Park.

Meanwhile, PAFree, the Yahoo group started in 2003, also serves as a digital drop-off and pick-up point for unused stuff in the area.

PAFree operates under a similar set of basic rules -- everything must be free, no offers of money are allowed; no solicitations or spam, be courteous and considerate to other members.

Jeanie Smith, one of PAFree's four moderators, said that the main difference between Freecycle and PAFree is that -- as a smaller community group rather than an international organization -- PAFree can be more flexible about posts.

"Freecyle.org has very strict rules about what can be posted and what can't. It has rules that are applied nationwide and all the moderators observe those rules very strictly," Smith said.

Smith and the other three moderators take postings "more on a case-by-case basis," she said. They have allowed posts that Freecycle would not, such as a litter of kittens.

But she said that the two groups coexist "pretty peacefully" -- despite a kerfuffle over rights to the word "freecycle" some years ago. Many of PAFree's 3,785 members also belong to Freecycle's Palo Alto group. Smith said members often cross-post items in both groups to "maximize the possibility of either getting something that they need or getting rid of something they want to get rid of."

One Palo Alto Freecycle moderator, Pauline Morrison, has volunteered for five years and has lived in Palo Alto since she was 10 years old. She said she checks the website about three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes to take out addresses or phone numbers and edit posts if needed.

Morrison said she doesn't freecycle much herself anymore, but "you never know" what kind of offer might call your name.

Similarly, Struss said she recently saw a post for old wine corks and wondered what someone could use them for. Then she saw a Pinterest post for a craft project that turns corks into stamps.

"We end up doing a lot more than education here, and Freecycle can help with that." Struss said.

Comments

mj clauss
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:27 am
mj clauss, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:27 am

I have only praise for Freecycle. Eight years ago, when we downsized before moving to a senior community, we were able to find users for all types of household goods--with one exception. No one in sophisticated San Francisco wanted my collection of stuff for preparing and serving snails!


Jeanie Smith
Evergreen Park
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:34 am
Jeanie Smith, Evergreen Park
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:34 am

I'm surprised you didn't also mention PAFree, which has been in existence since 2003 and is extremely active, with close to 4000 members. It's also locally moderated and its rules are slightly different from those of the Freecycle group, but the idea is the same-- to keep useable items out of the landfill, and to encourage neighborly recycling. The link for the group is: Web Link


cid4houses
another community
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:48 am
cid4houses, another community
on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

Used wine corks can also be used as plant markers in the garden. The only other items you'll need is one Sharpie to writewith, and a thin bambooo skewer for the stake ...or I often recycle my wooden coffee stirrers from Starbucks, to use as the stick to hold the Plant ID tag = cork-turned-garden-marker.


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

PAFree is better, IME, than the most local FreeCycle. I have been able to rehome so much using both! Posting freebies on Craigslist if nice, too, but I quit doing so after an obnoxious woman corraled my neighbors into helping her load the stuff I gave her, after I repeatedly told her not to - it was very weird. PAFree folks are generous & thoughtful, helpful & friendly.


Kate
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2013 at 12:12 am
Kate, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 18, 2013 at 12:12 am

Please tell me how I can contact the organizations mentioned above. Thank you.


Hmmm
East Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2013 at 11:45 am
Hmmm, East Palo Alto
on Jun 18, 2013 at 11:45 am

Kate - here is the link to PA Free: Web Link />
Here is the link to the Menlo Park one: Web Link />
There is also one in Mt. View. These are the closest ones.


Name hidden
Old Palo Alto

on Jun 5, 2017 at 4:06 am
Name hidden, Old Palo Alto

on Jun 5, 2017 at 4:06 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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