Give Mother Earth the holiday gift of freecycle.org. I have.

Summary:Taking care of the planet seems like such a big job that sometimes, it seems like it's relatively impossible for us to really make a difference on an individual level. You hear about big issues and how, for example, if we all lowered our carbon footprint by just a little bit, the cumulative impact on the earth could be extraordinary.

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Taking care of the planet seems like such a big job that sometimes, it seems like it's relatively impossible for us to really make a difference on an individual level. You hear about big issues and how, for example, if we all lowered our carbon footprint by just a little bit, the cumulative impact on the earth could be extraordinary. But a lot of people need feedback to stay motivated. Sure, keeping all but the most necessary lights off or buying a hybrid car will help. But it's really hard to size up what other people around the world are doing along those and other lines and get a feeling for the difference your contribution is making. As humans, positive feedback really works as a motivator. Without it, it's human nature to lose interest and at that point, it takes people who simply operate on faith (that what they're doing is making a difference) to make a difference.

For example, I've often wondered why someone does't print big bold text on the side of the recycling truck that says "Thank you for doing your part to save Mother Earth." I'm a rabid recycler. It's not uncommon to find me fishing used yogurt containers and the like out of our garbage can, rinsing them out, and saying "tsk, tsk" to who ever forgot they're recyclable. I'll spend half my Sunday with a box cutter if that's what it takes to make sure that every box we've gotten in the mail gets recycled (if it doesn't get re-used first). On recycling day, it's not uncommon to see 2-3 cubic yards of recyclable material sitting outside the Berlind household. But I have no real sense of the difference I'm making. Not even a "thank you" can be seen on the side of the recycling truck (even something small like that would make me feel better about all that effort).

Enter Freecycle.org.

Freecycle.org seems to me to be the biggest of all the grassroots movements on the Web that seeks the Earth's sustainability through re-use. The idea? Instead of throwing something out (perhaps something that can't be picked up by the local recycling truck), post it on the Web to other members of your local Freecycle group as being free for the taking. Looking to get something for free? You can publish wanted ads too.

A friend of mine recently turned me on to the existence of the Freecycle group in my area. I'm not sure if all groups work the same but the one I'm a member of uses Yahoo Groups as the place to which four different types of posts get posted: OFFER, WANTED, TAKEN, RECEIVED. As a member of the group, I elect whether to have new posts forwarded to my inbox as they are posted to the Yahoo Group, or aggregated in summary form twice per day.

If one man's junk is another man's treasure, then nothing proves it more than freecycle.org. Knowing that one of my daughter's favorite things to do is play pretend make-up (and knowing that her preference would be to use real make up brushes instead of the toy ones... but not real make-up), I decided to buy her an inexpensive blush brush at the local drugstore. Its cost was $3.99. But just before going to the check-out counter, I spotted a huge make-up kit with about 10 different brushes for different sorts of applications and a boatload of real make-up (blush, eye-liner, nail polish, etc.) for $9. Just to have the brushes for $9 was a far better deal than the one brush I had in my hand. So, right there, I made an executive decision. I decided to get the kit, take the brushes out for my daughter, and give all the make-up away through Freecycle.

When I got home with the kit and explained to my wife what I'd done, she bet me I'd have no takers. Not having an ounce of femininity in me, how was I to know that make-up (even new unopened make-up) is of limited appeal to make-up buyers? But I accepted her bet because for the last couple of weeks, I had been watching as items were being offered (items that I never dreamed anybody ever wanting) and subsequently taken. I sat down at my PC and wrote my first Freecycle.org offer advertisement:

OFFER: Stocking Stuffers? A bunch of unopened make-up from CVS

A whole bunch of unopened, still-in-the-original box, brand new (purchased today) make-up (blush, mascara, eye-liner, lipstick, shimmer powder, nail polish, etc.) that came with a kit that I purchased from CVS because of the brushes that were included. I'm keeping the brushes for my daughter to play with (with her dolls) but you can have all of the make-up. Would make great stocking stuffers!

Within 4 minutes, I had my first response. I couldn't get a TAKEN post into the Yahoo Group fast enough. By the time I did, six more people responded saying they'd pick it up with in the hour if they could. My wife was astonished. To be honest, so was I. Not that the make-up is junk. But if one man's junk is another man's treasure (figuratively speaking), then Freecycle is like the Internet's junk-treasure exchange. Even better, by joining, you get some sense of the movement that you're a part of. On the home page, the Freecycle.org Web site says:

Welcome! The Freecycle Network is made up of 4,188 groups with 4,177,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on "Browse Groups" above the search box. Have fun!

And the bit about the local moderators being good people is true. The local moderator of my group just put out a note about how many members are in our group and how prolific those members have been in posting ads: everything from used wallets (yes, used wallets) to, well, make-up! It's just the sort of feedback that makes me open every e-mail I get from the group, hoping that maybe, there will be something I need, or something I have that someone else has asked for through a WANTED posting. If there are global grass roots movements on the Web that can keep stuff out of landfills -- ones that you can join in a way that your personal contribution can make a difference to the Earth as well as to someone else, then Freecycle.org is one of them. Consider joining.

Topics: PCs

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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