Freecycle: A Web of Free, Unwanted Things The Freecycle Network began as a pretty simple idea: Folks could post lists on the Web of things they no longer want -- but don't want to merely throw away. Now the network has spread internationally. NPR's Ted Robbins introduces us to the man who knew that one person's trash was someone else's treasure.
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Freecycle: A Web of Free, Unwanted Things

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Freecycle: A Web of Free, Unwanted Things

Freecycle: A Web of Free, Unwanted Things

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Now, what may be the ultimate Internet service, one that helps you clean out the garage.

NPR's Ted Robbins explains.

TED ROBBINS: Deron Beal is really proud of his home office in Tucson. More to the point, he's proud of how he got what's in the office - a computer, two desks, bookshelves and filing cabinets.

DERON BEAL: Pretty much everything you look at - aside from the chair I'm sitting on, I had to get an extra tall chair - is re-use. And that's pretty cool in my book.

ROBBINS: The extra tall chair is for Deron Beal's lanky 6'4" body. He spends most of his day in the chair running The Web site is pretty simple, just members in local groups posting things to give away or requesting things they want.

Unlike eBay or Craigslist, on Freecycle nothing is for sale.

BEAL: Our main rule worldwide is keep it free, legal and appropriate for all ages. So legal means no drugs. Appropriate for all ages means no alcohol, tobacco or firearms, which children shouldn't have, that kind of thing. And free means free.

ROBBINS: Freecycle began three years ago when Beal e-mailed friends offering a bed that he didn't want and didn't want to send to the landfill. Today, Freecyle has about two and a half million members in more than 3,000 local groups in 70 countries, all shuffling stuff from non-use to re-use.

BEAL: After all, we're all going to pass away some day and you don't want to leave a shed full of junk to your kids. You want to get it out there where people who need it and want it can use it.

ROBBINS: Beal even has a mandate from his wife, Jennifer. No more acquiring until he gives away what he already has.

JENNIFER BEAL: Like a huge old coin collection and boxes and boxes of comics that he couldn't get rid of.

ROBBINS: But he's learning. He got an Abdominizer off Freecycle, kept it for six months without using it and finally got rid of it again on Freecycle. There's a lot of exercise equipment posted, but the biggest category of giveaway, says Beal, is not one particular thing. It's inconvenient things.

BEAL: You see a lot of heavy items that you'd otherwise have to lug to the landfill, right. And you'd rather give it away than lug it somewhere.


ROBBINS: And it doesn't get much heavier than a piano.


ROBBINS: On a warm summer evening, Shawn Kramer(ph) and his friend Jay Langdon(ph) push a battered, 100-year-old upright into a trailer hitched to Langdon's pickup truck. Sandy and Scott Lockerby(ph) watch. They're giving the piano away.

SANDY LOCKERBY: I really like the piano and would have liked to have spent the money to have it restored, but started having kids and there are just other priorities for the money and -

SCOTT LOCKERBY: I'm glad it's out of the house.

ROBBINS: And Jay Kramer can't wait to get it into his. Kramer's kids wanted to learn the piano, but he couldn't afford to keep renting. So the family will make a project out of restoring the barely playable instrument.


ROBBINS: Before he leaves, Kramer learns the piano's history - always a nice thing to know. And he figures it just became a little richer.

JAY KRAMER: Now this is going to be the piano that was on NPR. It just increased in value.

ROBBINS: Value, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. A teacher planning a class project once asked for dryer lint. Deron Beal says she got gobs of it. But for all its apparent altruism, Freecycle is not without detractors.

They criticize Beal for taking a salary from a corporate sponsor and the organization is fighting a lawsuit challenging its trademark of the name. Critics say Freecycle is a generic and widespread term. Beal says he welcomes anyone who wants to keep things out of landfills, as long as they use another name.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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