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Another man’s treasure

Group gives away items for free online

Posted: July 12, 2008 11:53 p.m.
Updated: September 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Cindy James, left, of Castaic, picks up kitchenware that Trina Stopen, of Canyon Country, gave her through Santa Clarita Freecycle.

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An exercise bicycle, a kitchen table, a big-screen television set, a used wedding dress — are all items you might find for free while browsing through Santa Clarita Freecycle’s Yahoo Group on the Internet. Or, at least they are all items that have been posted on the online forum and e-mail list that turns one person’s garage clutter into another person’s dollar saved.

For Canyon Country resident Trina Stopen, posting an offer for a multi-colored ceramic bowl set and some mismatched silverware on the list was a matter of clearing out her apartment. But for Castaic resident Cindy James, responding to the post meant helping her 18-year-old daughter move into her first college apartment.

“I’m keeping an eye on Freecycle for things that we can get for her because it’s expensive to put it all together,” said James, who drove to Stopen’s apartment to retrieve the kitchenware. She said she found other things on the group’s list as well. “We picked up a piece of furniture for her that she can store some things in and set a TV on already.”

In the past few weeks, Stopen has also posted a coffee maker and a king-size comforter set that she said someone picked up for a newly-wed couple.

“It kind of makes me feel good,” said Stopen, who has been using Freecycle for the past six months. “It’s kind of like volunteering, but not as time-consuming… and it helps you clean out your house.”

The local trash-to-treasure online group has a membership of about 1,400 and has been active in Santa Clarita since July 2005. It is part the global effort by nonprofit organization Freecycle Network to lower the amount of trash filling up the world’s landfills. The network, which has groups all over the world, eliminates about 500 tons of trash a day, according to the organization’s founder Deron Beal.

Freecycle Netowrk started with a single e-mail list in Tucson in 2003 when Beal was the enterprise manager at RISE Inc., a non-profit organization that runs a recycling and job training program.

“We were doing recycling work with disadvantaged Tucsonians and in the process collected a lot of junk next to the dumpsters where we were recycling,” Beal said. “So, I filled a warehouse full of junk that wasn’t recyclable that still had some good life in it. My boss said that I needed to figure out a way to get rid of that stuff, and so, I started the Freecycle Network.”

Today Freecycle Network, which gained non-profit status in 2006, has about 5.3 million members and more than 4,500 groups in more than 85 countries, according to Beal.

“Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that it could get this large,” Beal said. “We have about 40,000 to 50,000 new members a week.”

Each group serves a particular city or province and is run by local volunteer moderators. Providing separate groups for each community allows members to share items locally.

“I don’t want to go from here to Woodland Hills to pick up a movie or something that’s free because now I’m using more energy and gas,” said Mike Motherspaw, a Canyon High School Advanced Placement environmental science teacher and Santa Clarita Freecycle member.

While a Valencia Freecycle group, with only about 690 members, gets posts every couple of days, or sometimes just once a week, the 1,400-member Santa Clarita group receives about 10 to 20 posts a day, and its members say the items go fast.

“If you’re not one of the first people to respond, you might not get it, so you kind of have to get on top of it,” Motherspaw said. “It blows me away that people get rid of like things that are truly valuable — working TVs, working refrigerators.”

Motherspaw added that he recently saw an offer for tickets to a dinner with Antonio Banderas. “There’s just amazing things that people give away,” he said.

Although getting free stuff is a major perk of using Santa Clarita Freecycle, Motherspaw said the environmental cause also plays a major role in his decision to participate in the group.

“One of the things we talk about (in class) is how to reduce, reuse, recycle and that’s the whole point of Freecycle,” Motherspaw said. “One way or another, we can reduce the amount of trash that gets made, reducing the amount of landfills, which reduces the amount of landscaping that’s destroyed to make landfills.”

Residents, businesses and institutions in the United States produced more than 251 million tons of municipal solid waste, or garbage, in 2006, which is the same as 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site.

While the number of landfills in the United States is on the decline — from 8,000 in 1988 to 1,754 in 2006 — the capacity remains consistent. Newer landfills are much larger than they were in the past, the agency’s Web site says.

According to Beal, Freecycle Network last year diverted enough waste from the landfills to equal five times the height of Mount Everest.

But besides keeping the world a cleaner place, Freecycle Network has an additional affect — it creates a connection between community members.

“What I did not anticipate was the strong sense of community-building that would evolve,” Beal said. “So, it’s not just people keeping stuff out of landfills, it’s also people helping each other in their own communities.”

Kathy Singley, a Valencia resident who recently received a set of life jackets that she used for a family vacation, said she feels the positive connection.

“Pretty much everybody that I have met through this has been pretty nice and pretty thankful that you have something that they need,” said Singley, who is a member of both the Santa Clarita and Valencia Freecycle groups. So far, she has given away a dining table, a stroller, a crock pot, a bread maker, children’s clothing, books and videos.

She and other local Freecycle users say there are even certain rules of etiquette that most members follow. A few of those include informing the group once an item is no longer available, making sure requests for items are made politely, explaining why a certain item is needed and respecting the privacy and safety of those giving items away.

“Most of the time, it’s all done over the Internet,” Singley said. “They send you an e-mail, you send them an e-mail, and you leave it out on your front porch for them so they can come by and get it when it’s convenient.”

Santa Clarita Freecycle administrators have even suggested conducting exchanges in public places to increase safety.

Singley, who has two daughters of ages 6 and 7, said that as her daughters grow, so will her number of Freecycle postings.

“They’re getting bigger, so there’s going to be more,” she said. “We’re going to have a wagon (and) some car seats that we’re going to be needing to get rid of. So, all of that will show up on Freecycle… It’s great for keeping the clutter out.”

To find Freecycle groups by city, go to www.Freecycle.org.

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