‘Freecycling’ explored as alternative to dumping

Princeton Environmental Commission weighing participation in Web-based recycling.

By: David Campbell
   As the March 1 closure of Princeton Township’s recycling shed at the Princeton Shopping Center draws near, the Princeton Environmental Commission is taking a first look at an alternative method of online recycling that is proving that one person’s trash indeed can be another’s treasure.
   Call it the frugal person’s eBay. Or a virtual Dumpster dive. Or a trash pickup in cyberspace.
   The concept behind the Freecycle Network, a free online junk swap via e-mail lists and Internet postings, is a simple one:
   "It connects people who have things they need to discard with people who might be in need of those things," said commission member Wendy Kaczerski, who has asked the commission to consider the feasibility of a Freecycle forum for the Princeton-Trenton area.
   Unlike eBay, the online auction in which people sell to the highest bidder those odds and ends taking up space in their basements, garages and attics, Freecycle eschews the capitalistic for the altruistic and eco-friendly. The stuff you’ll find there is being given away for free, thereby kept from ending up at the curb on garbage day, or worse, in a landfill — a dirty word to freecyclers.
   The network was started in May by a nonprofit recycling group called RISE Inc. to help reduce waste in downtown Tucson, Ariz., and help protect the surrounding desert landscape from the proliferation of dumping, according to the freecycle.org Web site.
   Since then, the network has grown in leaps and bounds. At freecycle.org, you’ll find hyperlinks to groups from around the world, from Adelaide, Australia, to Bangalore, India, to Wichita, Kan. There’s a Central Jersey Freecycle group that has about 59 active members.
   Each local chapter is run through a Yahoo! Groups e-mail list by a local volunteer moderator. Some groups have Web pages with the latest postings. Currently there are Freecycle groups operating in about 197 towns and cities worldwide, according to freecycle.org.
   There are a few points of etiquette that participants should follow, the first being that everything posted must be free, legal and appropriate for all ages. Politics, Spam and money are verboten — two strikes and you’re out.
   Postings this week at the Central Jersey group’s site include a request by a first-time homebuyer in need of "a lot of furniture," including a dining room table with chairs, a refrigerator, curtains or full-length blinds, rugs, lamps "and anything else that you think I might be interested in."
   One person giving stuff away offered "a big ol’ console color TV that works fine." Someone else wanted to give away some medical equipment used in connection with knee surgery — "Some was used, some was never opened; all in great shape." Offerings included some crutches, a shower chair, a walker and a tub rail ("sturdy plastic; clamps on and off").
   Ms. Kaczerski, who brought the network to the environmental commission’s attention last week, said she learned of it on a visit this fall to Ithaca, N.Y., where there’s also a local online forum.
   She said she has contacted the moderator of the Central Jersey group, who moved to Oregon from Lawrence, to see if a more narrowly focused group for the Princeton-Trenton area is possible.
   The benefits locally would be threefold, Ms. Kaczerski told the commission: It would keep unwanted castoffs out of landfills, champion a social cause by serving people in need, and also would help build a sense of community, she said.
   Environmental commission Chairman David Breithaupt said he was favorable to Freecycle — which he said the commission could eventually decide to endorse and possibly promote — being explored further, especially in light of the commission’s successful computer-recycling day held last September.
   "It sounded to me like it’s a heck of a good alternative for not-for-profits, churches and senior-resource centers to get free equipment," Mr. Breithaupt said. "I would want to check it out further to make sure there were controls in place."
   Ms. Kaczerski will be conducting research into the Freecycle Network and reporting back to the commission in the coming months.
   "I think it would be great if this were to become a community service taken on by a high school or college environmental group," she said. "I think the real trick is getting the word out and letting people know it’s there and it’s free."