Trash to treasure

🕔Mar 09, 2006

Everybody’s got it—stuff in the basement that’s too good to throw out, but just not quite what you want anymore. Most people eventually bite the bullet and haul that old sectional or out-dated dining room set out to the local landfill, but as some thrifty folk in the Northwest have discovered, the Freecycle gifting network is a new way to reduce, reuse and recycle. is an Internet network dedicated to “saving the world, one gift at a time.” Members of this group can log on and post items that they want to get rid by giving them away for free. Alternatively, they can post a notice seeking a specific article. Things posted on the Prince Rupert area Freecycle website have included couches, lamps, exercise equipment, and even a puppy.

An American by the name of Deron Beal founded Freecycle in 2003, when he hit upon the idea of circulating e-mails among friends and non-profit societies as a way of getting still-useful items from those who wanted to get rid of them to the people who needed them.

Since that first e-mail, the Freecycle network has spread to more than 50 countries around the world—nearly 2 million people subscribe to the e-mail service that allows them to give and to get, turning one person’s trash into another’s treasure.

Prince Rupertite Christa Lindenblatt first became aware of the Freecycle system in February 2005, when CBC Television’s Marketplace aired a segment on the growing popularity of the recycling network. “I’m always collecting odd pieces of furniture,” she says, “and I like getting things for free.”

The environmentally-minded young woman signed up for e-mail notification of new postings in the Prince Rupert area, and also sent everyone on her own contact list a note telling them about Freecycle.

“It irritates me when I go to the garbage dump and see people throwing away large furniture items in good condition,” says Lindenblatt. She adds that since the Salvation Army store in Prince Rupert no longer accepts donations of large pieces of furniture, Freecycle is even more important as a resource for those who prefer to see old, unwanted furnishings go to someone who will use them.

Freecycle isn’t just for individuals. Local non-profit groups are also utilizing the network as a way of gathering useful items. One of the more recent postings on the Freecycle Prince Rupert website, which also serves Port Edward and Terrace, is from the Kaien Anti-Poverty Society, or KAPS, looking for games and sports equipment for a youth drop-in program.

KAPS member Vanessa Bramhill joined Freecycle in the summer of 2005 after seeing a short article about it in the local paper. “I have a lot of useless junk,” she says, “but I would rather give it away than throw it away.”

She posted the request for games after KAPS received a grant to start a drop-in program for young people in the community, and says the organization has since been the recipient of some great items such as table-top ping pong and foosball, though nobody has specifically said they heard about the need through Freecycle.

“I like the anonymity of the system,” says Bramhill, pointing out how one can log on and check out the postings without feeling any pressure to take things. However, Bramhill also draws attention to something she feels is a flaw in the system. In order to access the Freecycle network, a person has to have the use of a computer, so she feels the community as a whole isn’t getting the benefits of what Freecycle has to offer.

Although she has given away more items than she has taken, Lindenblatt says she also keeps an eye out for things she thinks others might need or want. “I’ve found stuff for other people who aren’t signed up, like a sink for a friend who renovates houses,” she says.

Lindenblatt is enthusiastic about the Freecycle network, and hopes more people will join in her area, and also start new groups in communities that don’t have them. At the moment in the Northwest, only Prince Rupert, Terrace, and Prince George have registered Freecycle groups. Bramhill also believes it will be a good thing if more people know about Freecycle, and thinks the local network is off to a good beginning.

The mission statement on reads, “Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources [and] eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

Lindenblatt feels good about the items she’s given away because she believes people need options beyond simply buying new and relegating unwanted possessions to the dump. “I’ve given away a child’s bed, a dishwasher, and a hide-a-bed couch,” she says. “They weren’t what I wanted or needed anymore, but someone else did.”