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How the Freecycle Network Works

        Money | Money & Ethics

Freecycle Basics

The Freecycle Network has a lofty goal: to establish a "worldwide gift economy" that cuts down on waste, decreases consumerism and connects people through giving. Freecycle members post e-mail offers for stuff they don't want anymore to a listserv for their local group. If another member is interested in the stuff, he replies to the poster. The poster then lets the interested party know when and where he can pick up the stuff. If more than one member is interested, the giver has to pick someone from all of the interested members. Many local charities join Freecycle groups, and most groups ask that you give a nonprofit first dibs. That way, your local thrift store doesn't lose out through the success of Freecycle.

If you're thinking, "Sweet, presents!", think again -- according to the official Web site, your local Freecycle group is not a place to just grab up "free stuff for nothing." A gift economy is a two-way street. Don't take it if you don't need it, and remember that it's a gift, not a freebie. If you're looking to get something for nothing, you should probably just check out the "Free" section of your local Craig's list or newspaper.

Freecycle is an idealistic endeavor, to be sure, but it's working. The network was born in 2003 in Arizona, the brainchild of Deron Beal. Beal worked for an environmentalist group in Tucson, trying to keep usable goods out of landfills through education. The nonprofit he worked for had a bunch of office supplies it didn't need, and Beal spent hours locating other nonprofit groups that needed what his group was trying to give away. He realized he could easily set up a listserv where people could see what was available and what was needed and save everyone a lot of time in the process. Thus began Freecycle.

In December 2005, there are more than 1.8 million members in 3,200 Freecycle communities in 50 countries around the world. The Freecycle Network reports that its members are keeping 55 tons of goods out of landfills each day. Let's find out how it works.