The Freecycle Network Comes to China
    2009-07-17 16:11:12      Web Editor: Xu Fei

A garbage truck backs up at one of Beijing's many waste treatment sites in this photo taken Friday, July 3, 2009. [Photo:]

By Dominic Swire

Ever found yourself throwing things away that could be of use to somebody else? Now one organization attempting to keep useful items out of the landfill is making inroads into China. And it's not a moment too soon.

China's capital Beijing is facing a mounting crisis. Each day the city produces a staggering 17,000 tons of rubbish a day, amounting to over 6 million tons per year -- and its 13 landfill sites are filling up fast. Experts predict they could all be full within as little as four years.

If Beijing is to address such problems it needs not only action from the authorities but also a change in the mind set of a society that has grown attached to this new disposable lifestyle in which it's easier to throw away old and buy new than reuse and recycle.

The Freecycle Network is one organization that is attempting to do just this, and it is beginning to take off in China.

The main concept of the Freecycle Network is to match people that have things they want to give away, with others who are prepared to come and collect them. The worldwide group is divided into local hubs, usually centered around towns and cities. Members post messages to an email group advertising either the items that they have up for grabs, or put in a request for something they are looking for. The concept is an ideal way to get rid of those things that are otherwise difficult to dispose of such as household furniture or old bikes. The idea has been described as a kind of Ebay without the money.

"I think it's a great idea because it ensures things that are still usable get used," enthuses arts management worker Alison Friedman, a member of the local Freecycle group in Beijing, which boasts a membership of over 600.

Alison recently used the Freecycle group in Beijing to get rid of a child's bicycle helmet, which was snapped up almost immediately, and a three-foot artificial Christmas tree, which went equally fast despite the fact it was the middle of summer.

"It's a pity when you have something perfectly worthwhile, perfectly usable in your house but you know you're not going to use it, you can't really sell it; [with the Freecycle Network] you can find someone who wants exactly that, it's really kind of satisfying," she says.

The Freecycle Network originated in 2003 in Tuscon, Arizona of the United States when charity worker Deron Beal wanted to get rid of a bed.

"My wife and I were getting married and here in the US the Salvation Army and other charities don't accept beds because they're worried about fleas and things," Deron told CRI over the phone from Arizona. "And I just thought that was ridiculous. It was a perfectly good bed and none of our friends needed a bed. So I said I'm going to found a group where people give things away and I'll start by giving away this bed."

Since that initial email the Freecycle Network has spread to 85 countries and now has over 7 million members. And some of them give away the strangest things. Two of the most unusual Deron remembers include an engagement ring from an unhappy fiance, and a house.

"It was a 100 year old house, the only thing was you had to move the house off the property. Nevertheless, this entire house has been gifted."

Deron says collectively the Freecycle Network is keeping over 700 tons a day out of landfill sites across the world. And this figure is set to increase as the organization is currently developing a Chinese language version of the website.

"We're designing a new website now that enables the language to be in Chinese directly. I think once it's in Chinese there will be increased potential for Chinese citizens to gift items to each other in their own cities in China," says Deron.

While they won't solve Beijing's growing problem of waste on their own, grass roots movements such as the Freecycle Network are going to play an important role in helping to change the mindset of local people from that of use and throw away to one of use and give away and in the process, hopefully, reduce the amount of rubbish that goes into landfill.

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