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A sofa dumped on the pavement was put on Freecycle and taken within hours!

The unsung heroes and heroines of recycling

While many of us loudly celebrated Preservation Sunday on 19 February, over 5,000 residents of Hastings & St Leonards quietly marked the seventh anniversary of their remarkable group, Hastings Freecycle. Using simple email messages they recycle stuff among their members, for free, saving many truckloads of waste or trips to the tip. These unsung heroes and heroines of recycling redistribute anything from egg-cups to wardrobes and with over 10,000 transactions per year they are keeping significant volumes of material going to landfill or the processing companies. To find out more about the group Richard Hull spoke to seven of its members and its two hard-working and unpaid administrators Sara Lee and Gayle Valentine.

The grace of giving

The idea behind Freecycle is that there are many people who, rather than throw something away or give it to a charity shop, would prefer to give it directly to someone who needs it or can find a use for it, if they can collect it. Many of the members stressed this personal aspect of handing an item directly to someone, with several members recalling how pleased and sometimes overwhelmed were those who came to collect – “It made my day to see how happy they were” said one member. A few even said they had made new friends through Freecycle.

Of course the system would not work if there were not also people who either prefer to acquire recycled goods as a matter of principle, or who just cannot afford them. So there are three principal types of email – Offers, Wanted and Taken (where the person who had offered something says it has now gone). Hastings being the friendly place it is there is also a fourth category – a ‘thank you’ after collecting an item.

The Hastings group is part of the global Freecycle Network whose official slogan is “changing the world one gift at a time”, claiming nearly nine million members (2.5 million in the UK) in 5,000 groups. The network is not without its controversies and there are many similar groups with different names, such as Freegle which started in Brighton.

The stuff that goes

“One person’s rubbish is another’s treasure,” quoted one member, and indeed the founder of the Hastings group said that in 2005 the local tip was staffed by licensed ‘totters’ who helped direct traffic at the tip in return for having first dibs; they would pick out items they could sell on, perhaps after fixing. Currently, one member of Hastings Freecycle spends their spare time fixing bicycles and also assembling working bikes from old spare parts, many acquired through freecycling.

Some surprising items pass through Freecycle: a large heap of astro-turf; a greenhouse; a substantial patch of raspberry canes still in the ground (“and I got my garden dug for free,” they said); and a sofa that had been dumped on the pavement by persons unknown was put on Lambeth Freecycle and taken within hours. One of the most delightful emails appeared very recently on the Hastings list, “offered, happiness, West Hill”, which turned out to be a book about happiness – it was quickly collected.

Efficient, friendly redistribution

Many members have also experienced similar groups elsewhere in the country and all stressed how efficient and friendly is the Hastings group, with a substantially higher turnover of items than most, other than those in large conurbations. Another distinguishing feature of the Hastings group is the high proportion of basic household necessities both offered and wanted, and several members suggested that Freecycle performs a valuable social function by redistributing goods from those who have to those who need.

If you feel inspired to join Hastings Freecycle please visit their website.

 

Posted 20:10 Sunday, Feb 19, 2012 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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