V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Freecycling recyclables

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, August, 2008.

Jenny Rachel Harvey's student apartment is furnished almost entirely with big ticket items she got off the net for free.

Among her finds were a futon frame, dishes, a kitchen table, bookshelves and a working washer and dryer. "I would say I've saved at least five grand," she says proudly.

Harvey is a Montreal freecycler, part of a growing grassroots movement that began modestly in Tucson, Ariz., and has since spread virally to 80 countries in five years by a single man and a few dozen e-mails.

Deron Beal first launched The Freecycle Network in 2003 by sending about 40 e-mails to friends and non-profit organizations asking them to post items destined for the landfills on a web board and give them away for free.

What ensued was a following that has become an Internet phenomenon. Last year, Freecycle celebrated its four millionth member, and is growing at a rate of 25,000 new members every week. The organization estimates that freecyclers keep 400 tonnes of trash out of the landfill daily.

"It goes with my hippie upbringing so the idea appeals to me," Harvey, a 25-year-old Concordia University student said. "It's bartering something that doesn't include money. It's a different kind of economy."

Freecycling is a tradeoff: Members post unwanted items on the site and can also go online "shopping" for items they could use. It's the virtual flea market, where one man's trash really is another man's treasure.

And sometimes, people's notions of trash is another person's notion of a jackpot.

Jan from Winnipeg, for instance, hit a high note when she got her hands on an organ (Note: Not the anatomical kind, but the instrumental kind).

"I myself got a beautiful Baldwin organ. It's got a beautiful sound. I just need to learn how to play it," laughed the Winnipeg group moderator who asked not to be identified.

While she doesn't play, her grandchildren do. "I am very into keeping things out of landfills if at all possible," Jan says. "It's good for everyone."

But why post things for free when sites like Craigslist allow people to sell items for money?

"It's not worth the time," Harvey says. "More people are willing to come pick items up if they're free."

And when you're done with an item, you put it back on Freecycle.

Harvey herself is a frequent contributor, having posted items like radios, clothes, kids toys, a couch and a bike for other freecyclers.

"It's one of the most positive experiences I find," she said.

The rules are simple: "Keep it free, legal, and appropriate for all ages." That means no alcohol, tobacco, firearms and drugs, "legal or otherwise," advises a welcome message from Freecycle organizers.

Nor is Freecycle about "getting as much free stuff as we can," getting rid of garbage, or posting a wish list of expensive items "expecting a fairy godmother to fulfil it."

In the three years she's been moderating the Winnipeg site, Jan said there've been a few instances of greedy, gluttonous freeloaders who try to resell the items and make a profit -- that's a "big no-no."

"Usually people will find out and we've been known to remove them from the site."

For the most part, though, Freecyclers operate in good faith, she said.

What Freecycle is about is keeping things out of the landfill, giving something away to someone who can breathe new life into the article and extend its life, while building an environmentally aware community, organizers say.

But further down the Toronto Freecycle rules guideline is perhaps the best little nugget of advice, owing presumably from past experiences. The following is rule number 13, verbatim:

"NO POSTING YOURSELF OR YOUR CHILDREN."

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WASTE DIVERSION

·  Nationally, the amount of materials diverted from disposal for recycling or composting increased 9% in 2006.

·  Organic materials destined for composting, such as food wastes and leaf and yard wastes, showed the largest gain, 32%. This was largely the result of expanded organic waste composting initiatives in Ontario and the increase in composting of organic materials from industrial, commercial and institutional sources in Quebec.

·  The amount of plastic materials prepared for recycling rose 21%, the second largest gain.

·  About 22% of wastes were diverted from disposal in 2006, unchanged from 2004. Nova Scotia had the highest diversion rate at 41%, followed by Prince Edward Island at 38%.

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SOME OF THE ITEMS OFFERED ON FREECYCLE SITES IN CANADA:

Loveseat

Wall mirror

iPod

Pool table

Clothes

Sealed food items

Sail from a sail boat

Reclining rocker

Shelves

Rain barrel

Bath sink

Printer

Lamps

Dryer

 

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