Freegle: Don’t throw it away, give it away


A talk at TEDx Edinburgh today reminded me of how cool Freegle (formerly Freecycle, in the UK) is. Since not everyone has quite as greedy a ‘free stuff’ radar as I do, it’s possible some people haven’t heard of this concept. Basically, if you’ve ever had that guilty twinge as you threw something out — “I’m sure someone could use this, if only I could find them” — Freegle is there to help. Post an email to the list and most of the time someone will be listening, ready to take it off your hands, and usually very conveniently (they turn up and take it away, saving you effort).

I’ve given away a couple of things and received a few more through Freegle when it was Freecycle, and it’s a great system, making you feel a little bit warm and fuzzy as well as either getting free stuff or free space. Hurrah.

Of course, like any economic idyll, there are problems. One such is reflected in the shift from Freecycle to Freegle, which Wikipedia just about tells me was due to American Overlords ousting long-serving UK volunteers who refused to kowtow to rigid systems [citation needed][neutrality disputed]. (In fact, one gets the impression from the Wikipedia page that Freecycle itself is almost a nasty piece of work, getting mired in trademark disputes and corporate funds rather than focusing on its key goals. Freegle seems not to suffer from this, fortunately.)

Another is part of the unfortunate hassle in listing and giving away items; I’ve often seen comments about no-shows and the like on the Freegle lists. I’m guessing that because there’s no value associated with the transaction, people can change their minds and just not turn up — one way around this that I’ve seen is for people to hold reserve recipients in mind in case the top choice doesn’t turn up, rather than relist. A problem with listing a popular item is the ensuing flood of responses — I remember seeing a laptop of some sort going, and the lister decided to give it to the most deserving (which is fair enough), a child in hospital. Still, sorting through all those emails, even the ones that come after the item’s long gone.. I don’t envy that. If your email system is anything like mine, I’d almost recommend using a separate account just for this stuff, or it gets crazy.

Still, despite these minor bumps, Freegle is great, both from a giver’s and receiver’s perspective. So next time you wonder if you really should throw that old router away… list it, give it a few days, and get someone to come round after you’ve had your tea and take it off your hands. Hurrah!

4 Comments Freegle: Don’t throw it away, give it away

  1. James

    Hi Jennie,

    I enjoyed your article & love the spirit of reuse.

    I just wanted to point out one area of clarification that I think is open to misunderstanding. “Formerly Freecycle” may imply that the organisation made a change, quite the opposite.

    The Freecycle Network(TM) is still in the UK. Only *some* of the groups moved away from the network (in fact, only a minority), indeed most stayed. Freecycle is in the process of rebuilding the small gaps left by some of these groups, but Freecycle still operates in all areas, and there is always a group near you.

    Whether you choose Freecycle or another group, the main aim is to keep reusable items out of landfills.

    Personally (though, I am a Freecycle volunteer), I opt to stay with Freecycle as it’s bigger and has a greater membership count which means you’re more likely to find a new home for whatever you’re offering, or more likely to find someone who has what you want; which in turn means you’re environmental impact is potentially bigger.

    Thanks again for the interesting article!


  2. mark

    Our group left Freecyle as we were disturbed by the :-
    1) the abusive way some UK volunteers were treated
    2) the lack of accountability of the US based management
    3) the fact that it was running a a UK based charity – but was not under UK control
    4) the secrecy and broken promises
    5) A US based board and director that is an exclusive club keeping others out and paying themselves from advertising and sponsorship
    6) The US board claiming local membership lists of independent local groups in the UK belonged to them and transferring them to their revenue generating website

    However we continue to showed respect and support for those who like James stayed with Freecycle – however we continue to believe that supporting your local Freegle group, which is part of an entirely co-operative structure and has no sponsorship and no board paying themselves from sponsorship funds, is the more ethical choice, where that choice is available to you.

    However if Freecycle is the only choice available in your locality then that’s better than stuff going to landfill.

    Although not all groups moved over, Freegle has grown fast in the last couple of months and now has nearly 1 million members in over 200 member groups.


  3. Cat

    Hi Jennie
    Lovely piece…thought you might like to know about a show on ITV tonight at 8pm
    “Throw Away Future: Tonight”
    FREE Giving, Locally, Easily
    ITV1 Friday 27th November 2009 20:00pm

    Jonathan Maitland continues his ‘living for free’ series, and attempts to renovate a deserving family’s home with discarded furniture. Following his campaign on food waste Jonny Maitland turns his attentions to furniture.

    Every year we throw away 10 million bits of furniture and it’s mostly destined for landfill. That’s the equivalent of almost 30,000 pieces of furniture every day.

    The show was made with the help of Freegle volunteers from the south east coast in England and highlights the fantastic contribution all re-use groups make to reducing landfill. I think the biggest advantage with Freegle groups is that you know that they are definitely run by real local people from your community who are a veritable font of local resources and information and will be familiar with local nuances. With almost 1 million registered users Freegle are not short of members, but no matter what name group you can access, the best thing…. is simply reducing our landfill fodder by re-homing tonnes of useful stuff.

  4. jennie

    James and Mark,

    Thanks for making the distinction clear, I’d edit but I think you say it better than I could. I guess I was speaking more from a ‘specific user’s experience — my local Freecycle group became Freegle — and wanted to make it clear that Freegle sprang from Freecycle, rather than being a totally new thing.

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