Freecycle – saving me from landfill shame

Filed in Blog by on July 21, 2008 26 Comments
FavoriteLoadingAdd article to favourites

FreecycleFreecycle, you just have to love it, dontcha? If you’ve not heard of it, then Freecycle is the brain child of Deron Beal. Deron lives in Tucson, Arizona and one particularly inspired afternoon he was coming up with cunning solutions to the amount of landfill the company he worked for, used to generate.

He was looking at all the computers, office furniture and gadgetry that his office was dumping. He scratched his chin, cocked his head to the side and thought ‘hang on a mo; there must be SOMEBODY who could make use of this stuff’ (or something like that) and a few emails to friends, colleagues and non profit organisations later the idea of Freecycle was born.

In five years, this genius of a man has grown his idea around the world and now there are over five and a half grateful million of us worldwide, giving our things away for free and saving the landfill in the process. Gifting at its best – what a guy! He’s earning BIG karma points from Mother Nature for this one.

I set up the Gloucestershire Freecycle a few years ago after witnessing the Boscastle floods. What is the connection I hear you ask; well, this is where we need to think outside the box a bit.

When I got back from Boscastle and reflected on the state of the planet ie What on earth caused a place to flood that had never flooded before? I figured that each and every one of us takes part in actions that have consequences somewhere along the line.

Maybe, just maybe our throwing things to this mysterious place called away, is contributing to ‘freak weather’ incidences and tsunamis on the other side of the world. As the quote, ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ reminds us, ecological consciousness begins at home. We only need look at Edward Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect to realise that what we do in our homes DOES affect people thousands of miles away.

I figured that we needed to get to the root of some of the problems that are causing climate change, and what we throw into the landfill is one small part of that.

When I heard about Freecycle it seemed the perfect way for me to be able to ‘do my bit’ and it was a way to be proactive in the future.

Anyway, back to the plotette. You’ll also be aware that I have a bit of a thing about food waste and senseless consumerism. It’s the drum I like to gently tap to the rhythm of the beat from time to time.

This weekend I decided to give the kitchen a overhaul. It was time to dig beneath the superficiality of my usual ‘clean the kitchen’ routines and pull everything out of the cupboards.

We have magic Narnia cupboards in our home. They may well look like they have a back panel that is attached to the wall, but they actually feed through to Neverland. Well, food and gadgetland as I discovered to my ‘I don’t do food waste or needless consumerism’ horror.

As I pulled out the contents of one cupboard it was like one of those dreams you have where you’ve got a ball of string in your mouth – you know the ones? (or do I need a psychiatrist?) You just keep pulling and pulling, and yards and yards of stuff just keeps coming out of your mouth.

That’s what my kitchen cupboards were like. Gadgets, food, empty containers, toothbrushes (don’t ask) and all plethora of fun objects that had been lost were now found and looking at me from a dusty heap on the work surfaces.

I was shocked at how many times I had fallen for the ‘new gadget’ lark. I didn’t think I went for that one, but over the years I have collected a small collection of my very own of used-half-a-dozen-times gadgets that promised to change my life for ever.

They did change my life for ever, s’matter of fact – they turned me into a clutter Queen who used to swear every time I took a saucepan out of the cupboard because everything else would fall out in a loud and painful heap on my foot.

In addition, I found enough food to start my own convenience store – some of it shamefully out of date and some of it things that I don’t eat any more. I’m sure some of it was left over from the hazy days of pregnancy where I could eat enough for an army of all sorts of things I would never dream of eating now.

So onto Freecycle it all went on a sunny Saturday morning. This weekend I gave away a toaster, juicer, sandwich toaster, vacuum pack sealer and a sprouting jar. As new friends walked away with their goodies, and more are to be delivered this morning, I was able to catch myself from falling knee-deep in my own guilt. I also packed up a food parcel for a grateful recipient as well as sharing the love with some empty jam jars. If you grow your own food, you’ll know how useful those are (but just not too many ok?).

To top it all off, I reunited plastic containers with their lids – now, just how satisfying is that a job to finally get around to? Go on, dear readers, do that for yourselves today; it’s a fab, satisfying chore that will only take you five minutes.

It’s another win-win situation here at Chez Green. I have a tidier kitchen, new friends have new toys to play with, containers have lids and the landfill didn’t even get a look in (well, ok, there’s a fair bit of packaging that’ll you’ll be able to snigger at on Wednesday in time for our weigh in). Horrah for Deron Beal and his amazing inspiration.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (26)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. russell says:

    I just love Freecycle. One of the best things the web has given us. Well done for the clear-out!

  2. I love my freecycle. I’ve given away loads and avoided buying stuff too.

  3. Fantastic clear-out Mrs G. Freecycle is fab! I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to clear out my kitchen cupboards for ages. My problem is not gadgets, it’s all those cake tins and recipe books that hold the promise of me becoming a domestic goddess.

    Witnessing the Boscastle floods must have been frightening. I hadn’t realised that you were there at the time. I can see how it motivated you into doing something.

    Hope you get a chance to rest today after that busy sort-out ;-D

  4. A great website that covers the ordinary and the inspiring – I am sure this will encourage others to take up the challenge but we also need much better leadership from our Councils and Government.

    Here in Gloucestershire there is a consultation about what to do with our waste – basically the stuff we can’t landfill – if we are not careful we will end up with one monster incinerator that will need to be fed for many years – meaning no incentive to cut our waste. We need our County to take climate change seriously and not just go for the cheapest option that will lead to problems in the future.

    Take part in the consultation now:

  5. Mr Green says:

    Philip Booth, Thanks for stopping by our web site. We agree that getting the right balance of waste mobilisation and investment is an important key to environmental welfare. We have looked at many angles both politically and economically and realised that the best way to avoid inertia is to simply do something on a personal level. To take personal responsibility and try to inspire others to do the same. Incineration in some ways is a response to a problem rather than a solution to prevent it and we would suggest that better public awareness and recycling facilities could reduce the amount of waste and therefore possibly avoid incineration. From a grass roots level, we still see many people totally oblivious of basic waste awareness. For example we see people at the checkouts taking plastic carrier bags just to carry away one or two items. We still see tins and glass bottles in the household waste in our road and copious amounts of litter in local towns and verges. Only today on the way to Coleford we saw 2 large black bags of rubbish right in the middle of the road between Cinderford and Speech House. Cars were simply driving past. It was both a hazard and a sure conclusion that someone would eventually hit them and scatter the contents everywhere. We picked them up and took them to the local waste centre in Hopewood Colliery. We see this kind of thing a normal response, because the consequences of leaving them are worse than our minor inconvenience. The message is clear, many ordinary people don’t see managing waste as their personal responsibility. That has also been clearly demonstrated in the recent conflicts and political statements, such as suggesting that it ‘our birth right’ to have waste collected by a certain politician. This kind of thinking is astonishing and shows blatant lack of environmental awareness and the way the world is changing.
    Thanks for the link, but it appears to be ‘closed’.

  6. Consultation is still going on – I thought it was for all but it appears to be only for groups like councillors and environmental/business groups at the moment – but if interested there is no harm in seeking to show what is possible – I would strongly urge anyone to email them at: [email protected]
    And copy to the Cabinet member:
    [email protected]

    I totally agree with you that to avoid inertia we need projects like yours that show what is possible – too many say they can’t – indeed we recently learnt that in our supposedly ‘green’ Stroud over a third of folk don’t recycle at all. The rest of us who recycle will be paying to landfill their rubbish – just as we pay to landfill all that unnecessary packaging – we are long overdue laws to reduce our packaging – in Germany a tax cut it by 19%.

    Yet when a proper education and recycling is put together rates shoot up to 56% as in the local ‘Stanleys trial’…. the value of recycling here is not being fully recognised or realised. England still has one of the lowest rates of recycling in Europe, with the Netherlands recycling 64% of its waste, Germany 57% and Denmark 41%. The South West managed 27% of domestic waste while England’s average was 23%.

  7. Mr Green says:

    Thanks Philip Booth for that comment. When we started MyZeroWaste, we wanted to project an ordinary ‘Human’ face. That’s why our posts here are honest, personal and admitting out mistakes and failures. You see us in the raw, the way it really is. What we are trying to demonstrate is that it is possible to reduce waste and that a small reduction is very easy and If everyone made a small reduction, this would have a massive global effect. That is the message. Once you start to see how waste negatively effects the environment, one’s awareness grows and you soon find new ways to make purchasing choices that reduce waste and send a ripple back to manufacturers. We think that a ‘pay as you throw’ tax needs to become a reality, but we must overcome the concept that ‘it’s my right’ to have my waste collected, or else we will meet too much conflict. There needs to be a well managed process of awareness, education and incentive, before throwing the big punch.

  8. Pay as you throw schemes should be unnecessary – and are bureaucratic. Tackling the growing waste crisis requires more than punishing measures targeted at individuals. If anything those that recycle should be rewarded with money off…

    There are also many other aspects to paying as you throw – like an increase in fly tipping, bonfires burning materials that give off dangerous emissions and a backlash against efforts to tackle our waste problem.

    Locally, councils must make it as simple as possible for people to recycle their waste – with regular kerbside collections and easy access to recycling stations. All the evidence shows that if you adopt this approach there is no need for rubbish taxing. The trouble is many of our Councils and the Government are still asleep on this one.

    Where for example is the strategy to reduce waste like publicising car boots, Furniture recycling and the wonderful Glos Freecycle scheme of this blog entry?

    How can it be right that our Government rewarded Councils like the Forest of Dean that collected green waste? This led to a massive increase in collections when what was really needed was to reward those that compost locally…either in their own gardens or with Community Composting schemes.

  9. Denise says:

    Every time I have put stuff in our bin today ( and shamefully it has been many times ) I have thought about you and this wonderful site.
    I felt drawn to visit again and comment.
    We make a huge amount of rubbish each week, yes we recycle alot but it’s all still stuff that has to be dealt with isn’t it.
    Today alone our bin in the kitchen has gone from half full to full and thats with the veggie peelings from tea going in the compost.
    You are doing an amazing job ( as always ) and I am inspired to try harder, look more carefully, stop and think.
    all love darlings
    Denise xxx

  10. Mr Green says:

    In one sense we already pay for waste collection in council tax, but yes a more positive reframe is a financial incentive to reduce waste. That’s a good way to look at it and more acceptable. Regarding promoting local schemes, this is a rather a sore point with us. We contacted the Citizen newspaper five time to try and promote The Gloucestershire Freecycle group and they were just not interested. My guess is that they are attempting to reflect public interest in their news stories and once again, household waste an environmental issues were not seen as priority. This is where Local groups, politicians and ordinary people need to join forces and collectively produce some ‘weight and momentum’ to raise public awareness. Sadly, the urgent and sensational usually take precedence over important issues and pre-emptive action.

    There has been too much ‘Green washing’, both by local councils and manufacturers, in an attempt to meet figures and stay popular. Much of what we see is superficial transient and transparent. We could make some comments about this, but that is not our agenda as there is too much division and judgement already. We are simply drawing a line and saying we will take personal responsibility and lead by example. Hopefully this will inspire others and hopefully we will make friends with people who can help us carry our message further afield.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Philip,

    Great to see you here. I would have responded earlier, but was learning how to make blackcurrant syrup over on your blog 😀

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your comments and you’ve given me a lot to think about. The idea of an incinerator is concerning. I don’t know much about them, but if they take away an incentive to recycle, then they are surely a bad thing. It seems to me that an incinerator is like an elastoplast, but the problem we are dealing with is one that needs the poison removed followed by stitches. If we continue to put band aids on these things then eventually the septic wound will hold no more and the consequences will be messy at best.

    I agree that we need more leadership from the council and Government. The way I see it; if we hang around and wait for something to be done (which the British are pretty good at doing), nothing gets done. So householders like ourselves, just have to get on and do something. Hopefully, if enough of us boycott certain purchases, write to enough head offices and vote with our money, things might change.

    I remember reading something in George Monbiot’s book, ‘Heat’. Something about the fact that WE (ie. individuals) have to guide the Government. We have to show them what we want and make them enforce it. He puts it so much more eloquently and in a compelling way than I do, of course. It’s a great read………

    I am concerned that the way of life over here seems to dictate we take the cheapest option. It’s time for us to begin considering the ‘bigger picture’ cost rather than just the dent in our wallets. Today I fell for that exact thing myself. In the co-op I can buy one, loose nectarine for 59p. In Lidls I could buy 10 in a plastic, non recyclable punnet with plastic netting over it for £1.49. I’m sorry to say I bought the latter. I fought with my guilt through the checkout, even mentioned it to Mr Green at the time and now I’m left with the legacy of my purchase (and I’m still feeling bad about it).

    There is a wonderful Native American question that asks “How will what we do today impact seven generations from now?” and that, I feel, is the philosophy of life we need to adopt in the West. As you say, success with recycling comes down to education, good facilities and collections. It also comes down to understanding the true value of seeing our ‘rubbish’ as a resource. Then we need to stop anything that is NOT a resource, at source. *This* is where the Government could step in 😉

    Essentially though, *desire* is what will drive this one home. If people do not have a desire, then action will not follow. This is what one is fighting against all the time. People who do not have the desire to change will pull out many reasons for it; each one as truthful to them as the next.

    To be honest, I don’t even think recycling is the answer. It’s a first step and an improvement on what we have. In a true ‘zero waste’ world food would be home grown or locally sourced, scraps would be composted or fed to animals and returned to the land. There would be no need for plastic packaging. The trouble is, people think that after half a decade of convenience, that this a step backwards in our evolution.

    Thanks for the link to the consultation – I’ll take a read later. We are meeting with two members of the waste management team from Gloucestershire council this week. We’re very much looking forward to working with them………

  12. I adore freecycle, both for giving things away and for getting things used instead of buying them. It’s such a wonderful combination of green-ness and frugality, and I don’t know what I did without it!

  13. It is great to see a councillor taking a real interest in these issues and also participating so deeply in this blog. Cllr Booth, the country needs more people like you with the heart to push the agenda.

    I agree with Mr & Mrs Green that there is a major problem of awareness in this country, not just over why waste is such a issue but also with regard to how small changes in the home can make huge differences for the country and to the environment at large.

    With my work on The Rubbish Diet one of the major problems that I’ve discovered is also one of confusion. Even with a high scoring recycling indicators in St Edmundsbury, local people are still confused about what can and can’t be recycled. The number of times I have surprised people with the fact that Tetra Pak cartons can be recycled locally have now become unmeasurable. Yet our council has strong marketing mechanisms for promoting the message.

    But the science of marketing can be put to further use, which goes beyond promoting a simple message.

    If recycling is the product that’s being marketed, and the market is UK society, we have to recognise that our product is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

    The marketplace is not homogenous and needs to be broken down and segmented, with marketing messages being targeted to hit upon individual needs, whether by demographics or socio-economics or indeed geographical.

    For example, it can be assumed that all we need to do tell people is that they should recycle more. The problem with this is that for many families with over-burdened lifestyles, it can be considered just too much and it’s easier to bung things in the bin destined for landfill.

    But if one single campaign statement was delivered such as “Give your cartons a new home”, that seems much more manageable, allowing other recycling activities to follow suit once new habits are formed.

    Another cheap marketing trick is the power of Word Of Mouth. I firmly believe that’s what needed is for councils to work very closely with local champions, ordinary but committed people who are well connected in their communities to help spread the awareness through their circles, whether that may be through schools, work, social groups, community centres or their local estate.

    I also believe that recycling needs to be seen as a status-driver. People love commendations and recognition, yet how often are individuals recognised locally or nationally for their recycling efforts? Those that are good at it because it is just their way, just get on with it quietly, without further ado. I’d like to see some system that promotes competition in this area, where individuals and more importantly communities are rewarded\commended in the same as councils are recognised.

    Having just written all this, my head is now spinning with ideas with how government and commerce can work better with communities to improve recycling targets. I’d better leave it there before I end up in a whirlspin LOL.

    Apologies to Mr & Mrs G for temporarily hijacking this post. Normal service may now resume. ;-D

  14. I hope you enjoy syrup! Yes not buying the stuff in the first place must come first – while I support the move against plastic bags, in terms of the planet, it is far more important to tackle what goes inside them – I fear supermarkets are trying to divert attention away from the rest of their packaging…freecycle is so great because it reduces the waste by reusing – we also need more like this site to show what is possible..

    Good luck with the waste team – as part of their currant consultation they are talking to 4,000 random folk and 1,700 interested groups/individuals – hope your meeting will allow you to have some input – as I noted on my blog I fear they are looking purely at financial costs to deal with waste when what we need is a wider view – even the financial costs don’t seem to look at all the costs so for example transport costs are not included. See my previous discussions re an incinerator/waste:
    See also great waste cone at this blog entry:

  15. Hi guys, I also want to give three cheers freecycle (and the free section on craigslist where they have lovely photos). I love your reference to finding the lids for orphan containers! Sadly enough, every item you gave away was one that I thought “oh, it would be nice to have one of those” – I’m trying to hold down the consumer in me!

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Jen
    There are so many Freecycle fans across the globe; it really is a wonderful organisation. The consumer in all of us can get our attention is many ways!

    Thank you Philip for the links to your blog. I read them both and, interestingly, saw today in the Citizen about Stan Waddington wanting to talk to 4000 householders. As you might have guessed, I’ve rung and emailed him 😉

    Thanks Mrs A for your thought-provoking comment! There are lots of workable and practical ideas in your outpouring which I can see really got you thinking around the issue too. It sounds like you have opened a box of solutions from us all to choose from 🙂 Now go forth and get rid of recipe books and cake tins to people who can make use of them.

    Hi Kristen, you really are enjoying Freecycle. Mr Green pointed me to the lovely creations you have done with the furniture you managed to get hold of. It’s really beautiful; I’m so glad you gave them a loving home.

    Denise, it is always an honour and a pleasure to see you here. I know you are terribly busy, so I value it deeply when you have a moment to spend time with us. I’m glad you think of me when you put things in your bin LOL! Your taking steps and that is the main thing. You know we are here for support and encouragement should you need it.

    Sarah and Russell; I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of people saying they love Freecycle. That makes me so happy! It’s such a simple and effective idea. I was reflecting today on how many tonnes of useful stuff must have been diverted from the landfill since the birth of Freecycle. (I never reached a figure, but it must be huge)

  17. I have tried Freecycle, but have found that the moderators are so controlling and when I moved it took me 3 tries to get accepted into my new local Freecycle. The mod required a phone number and address and all sorts of information from me before they would let me join. then it took AGES to get a post approved!
    So, I started using What a difference! No waiting to join or post. when you move, you just change your zip code and poof! you get the new offers and wanteds. There are also other local groups that you can join if you want.
    I would highly recommend it.

  18. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Christy,
    Lovely to see you and thank you for leaving your comment. It seems Freecycle isn’t for everyone and it’s a shame your experience wasn’t a positive one.
    Still, it seems you have found FreeMesa which works for you – thanks for sharing it here with us. I hope it will be of use to some of our readers. I’d never heard of it, so it’s a new one to me 🙂

  19. Some good comments here – and thanks ‘Almost Mrs Average’ for comments re campaigns – I think you are right – there is too much going on for many people re recycling – what can be recycled and what can’t be – focusing on simple messages is good – and we need much more to help folk make the shift so that recycling is just part of everyday life. Sadly I fear the new labeling on recycling that is just coming out will not help much – it is better but still confusing and will take people a long while to understand unless there is good public info campaign….

  20. Councillor Booth,

    You are unique in my experience as most councillors are completely clueless in sustainable matters. As someone who has reduced home waste by 98% let me offer you some advice. First stop blaming others. Food waste collection should be used in every council area, no exceptions. This move alone transforms bin waste to a lower health risk and reduces waste volume by a huge amount. Recycling should also be standardised throughout the country to achieve as perfect a system as possible. There might have to be incentives to draw 100% householder participation. These would be temporary since once adopted people will do it as a matter of course. Talking can achieve so much but action is required. Are you up to the task?



  21. Thanks for comments – sustainability are gaining ground – it isn’t just Green party councillors who are pushing for changes – but agree sadly there are far far far too few – and lots who think they understand.

    I agree blaming can be dangerous and unhelpful but equally to effect change we need to know where the blocks are – that doesn’t necessarily mean blaming – but there are many factors working against tackling our waste in a sustainable fashion – what is great about websites like this and projects like Community Composting is that it shows what can be possible…

    Indeed I am told when a Green councillor first proposed doorstep recycling many years ago in Stroud (like Germany was developing) there was loud jeering and laughter at such a notion – things have shifted lots and Stroud is a leader in dry waste recycling but the rates are still shameful compared to Europe. There is no question they can and should be doing more – at the moment they are faltering over rolling out a successful kitchen waste trial due to cost – it has already been delayed lots yet it seems money can still be found for other projects…but it is also clear that they are constrained lots by national policies – I mentioned earlier UK failure to have a packaging tax like Germany.

    I agree re food waste and agree we could have done lots more by a more standardised system across the country – but equally there is a need for flexibility and local control – in other countries some areas have developed their own local projects for say specific plastic recycling or furniture or whatever. If local communities had more powers they, I am sure, would find the solutions for their areas…

    As for action – I couldn’t agree more – certainly here in Gloucestershire Greens have been at the forefront of the debate and I’ve had many emails and discussions with Council Officers and other councillors seeking the way forward we need. As you say there is only so much talking – but let’s be sure we get the case across right – I am not yet convinced we have managed to shift the current administration at the County to going for sustainable solutions.

    We don’t for example want them to go for the wrong action – a big incinerator like in Newhaven – indeed on my blog on Friday I added a bit about those taking direct action against that monster incinerator being built there – if more of these are built we will end up burning our waste rather than recycling – having said that I do think there is a role for some Energy from Waste plants where both heat and electricity are used – but not as a ‘solution’ for all our waste. But enough for now I’m off for a mug of tea…

  22. Mrs Green says:

    Philip, you make a great point about confusion and a need for simple messages.

    Case in point: this morning I was speaking to a friend, asking her to rise to the challenge of being a ‘case study’ for the zero waste week. I asked her about tetrapaks. Firstly she didn’t know what they were. Then when I explained that they were juice cartons she told me they were made from cardboard, so she put them in with cardboard recycling.

    Secondly; I had a vegetable oil bottle and a plastic fruit punnet – both code 1, which is the same as plastic milk bottles. A call to the council informed me that I could NOT put them in with these bottles, even though they are the same code.

    Thirdly, I had a cork from a wine bottle. I assumed this could go into garden waste – it’s part of a tree after all. Sadly, NO – a call to the council revealed that all I can put in green waste is grass and weeds.

    Fourth, I contacted pringles crisps asking about the make up of their containers – I had suspected they were the same as tetrapaks. Well, on paper they are made up of the same seven layers. A call to tetrapak, however, told me that the components were different and I could NOT put pringles tubs in with tetrapaks

    Fifth; I had a curry container – it’s plastic, code number 1 (same as the milk bottles) but it’s black. The man from the council, he say No……….

    No wonder people feel defeated before they start, eh? 😉

    I didn’t know there was a new labelling system for recycling coming out – do you have more information on that?

  23. Kris says:

    I’m supposed to be doing my banking but have sat here fascinated reading every word of this instead.

    I *must* get on now, but am looking forward to finding out about Community Composting next time I have a minute!

  24. Mrs Green says:

    😀 glad we are distracting you from your work LOL!

    You can read more about community composting on the network site and it looks like South Glos have something going on if this is up to date: recycling consortium
    There might be some info on the Recycle for Gloucestershire site too. I know they cover compost, but I’m not sure if they mention community composting.

    Happy reading!

  25. Sorry for delay in reply but I have been away. You asked about new labelling – I still don’t have final details but the WRAP website has reports on labelling proposals. As noted I am not entirely optimistic – it will help but also plenty to confuse the novice!

  26. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Philip – welcome back from your blogging holiday. I tried to write a welcome on your site but comments were only open for authors I believe. I’ll take a browse around the WRAP website and catch up with things.

Leave a Reply to Denise Cancel reply