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Freecycling takes off in Sacramento and beyond

Local freecycling moderator Rory Huber helps champion one of the Internet’s fastest-growing communities.

Local freecycling moderator Rory Huber helps champion one of the Internet’s fastest-growing communities.

Photo By Larry Dalton

All that stuff in your closet was useful once. Or maybe it used to fit. Or the party to whom it belonged is no longer present. But it’s too good to throw out. Do you drag it out to the curb and tape a “free” sign on it? Not if you’re a member of the Sacramento Valley Freecyclers.

“Freecycling” is the perfect way to move unwanted goods to where they are wanted and to locate those things your neighbors have but don’t want, without having to snoop around in their garages. There’s only one catch: You can’t pay.

That’s the one and only rule of freecycling (www.freecycling.org), the Internet giveaway/takeaway phenomenon that originated in May 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson, Ariz.

Sacramento’s freecycling club was launched last December.

Local list moderator Rory Huber, an early-rising West Sacramento Web designer who practices tae kwon do five nights a week, says the local program got off to a slow start but is catching on fast. In a recent week, 103 new members joined, bringing the total to 3,670.

The actual business of freecycling is a matter of logging on to become a member and listing what you have or searching for things you want by browsing the “Offered” list. As long as you’re giving it away, it’s wide open.

When a posting gets a response, the interested parties make their own arrangements for transportation, and the whole thing takes place without any outside interference.

In addition to Sacramento, Huber said, local lists are “popping up all over the U.S.,” including locally in Fair Oaks, Galt and Davis/Yolo County.

Huber, who owns the Davis/Yolo County list in addition to moderating the Sacramento one, said he spends approximately two hours daily on his moderating duties. “Other moderators spend easily twice that,” he added, crediting Sacramento list owner Rich Southerland and fellow moderators Linda Crews and Darryl Vincent with keeping the amount of time spent approving members and moderating messages from getting out of hand.

In just 18 months, the freecycling network has grown from zero to 570,516 members in 30 countries. The biggest groups are in cities like Portland, Ore., with more than 11,000 members; and Chicago, with 9,683. But freecycling has taken off in red states as well as blue, from Texas to New York, and 1,665 cities in between, with new lists appearing nearly every day.

Starting a group is as simple as logging on to the Web site and following some links to the “Create a New Group” area.

“There are some very active members, and then there are some you never hear from … lurkers,” said Huber, who also said some people go a step further and “actually look for and/or rescue items … just to post them to the group.”

“I hate throwing things away if they’re not broken,” said Dave Wilson, who just moved to the hills outside of Chico and said he has “decided to do everything I can to not make things any worse than they already are.”

He likes to play vintage video games. “People just shove these things into a closet and forget about them,” he said, as he controlled a bombing mission with a joystick mounted to a circa-1985 Commodore 64. “A guy in Carmichael inherited a house, and there were two of these. I just took one. All I had to do was drive down and pick it up.”

Dave’s wife, Emiko, spends her spare time sewing and loves nothing better than a big bag of mixed fabrics. “I get all I need this way,” she said as she took her scissors to the shoulder pads of an outdated blouse. “Look at these patterns. I couldn’t buy this stuff if I wanted to. But it would just end up in the landfill if I didn’t take it.”

People are often willing to deliver their old pants and shirts, Emiko said, but she doesn’t mind making a trip. So far, she has made two quilts from freecycled fabrics.

She and Dave estimate they either give or receive one item a week, but they probably don’t devote more than an hour a week to posting or searching the local Web site.

Moderators like Huber are volunteers. In fact, said Huber, “the freecycle groups are all nonprofit and run by volunteers. They are comprised of just regular people. Anyone can join.”

The Sacramento freecycling Web site advises that freecyclers refrain from “politics, religion, spam or whining.” But the local list does maintain a separate site for discussing freecycling itself, without cluttering up the business side.

Items to be parted with are “Offered,” with a short description and either an area code or zip code in the message. When the item is gone, the “Offered” is replaced by “Taken” in the message line, and everyone moves on.

To find things, the word “Wanted” is typed into the message line, and whatever is wanted is described.

The site can be used to find new homes for pets, but users are advised to “be lovingly careful as to where Spot or Fluffy should go.”

Moderators like Huber erase improperly posted and expired messages, as well as those containing inappropriate materials. The same goes for people who try to sell or trade items.

Huber credits freecycling with giving him a greater appreciation for recyclables. “Most people only think to recycle cans, bottles and paper, when actually you can find homes for just about anything, even if it’s broken,” he said. “It provides an opportunity to access people from all walks of life, including some who really need your unwanteds.”