Turning Trash into Treasure

Turning Trash into Treasure

Freecycling uses e-mail to connect people who have things they want to throw away with others who want those things.

The queen-sized box spring had been sitting in Donna Andrews' living room for so long, her friends were beginning to regard it as a permanent fixture. Her efforts to give it away to charity hadn't worked. She couldn't sell it. And somehow it didn't seem right to just throw it away.

So Andrews, a mystery novelist living in Reston, joined the Dulles Corridor Freecycle Network, an online community that connects people who have unwanted items — anything from wedding dresses to kitchen appliances — with other people who are looking for those items.

Within a week of joining, Andrews' box spring found a happy home with a woman who responded almost immediately to her offer.

"It's reusing things rather than just dumping stuff," Andrews said. "If someone else wants it, it's easier to get rid of things."

Frequently referred to as "FreeBay," freecycling involves giving things away for free rather than throwing the things in the garbage. It was started in Tucson in May 2003 and has since spread across the nation, serving 1,149 cities and towns with almost 326,000 members.

Originally intended to be an alternative to dumping trash into landfills, freecycling has become a network of local, online marketplaces where everything is free. On any given day, members can find furniture, exercise machines, computer equipment and an endless assortment of eclectic bric-a-brac.

The Dulles freecycling group was founded in February by Susan Reynolds, a Loudoun County artist who became intrigued with the idea after reading an article about the freecycling movement in Mental Floss magazine.

"I thought, this is a fabulous idea," Reynolds said. "I've got so much stuff lying around that I don't want but that I don't want to just throw away."

Serving residents living along the Dulles Corridor, stretching from McLean to Sterling, the Dulles group's membership has increased dramatically over the past month, bringing its total number of active members to more than 800.

EACH DAY, members of the Dulles group post their offers on their Yahoo! e-mail listing, and interested members reply. Some members give their item to the first respondent, but others will give it to the person with the best reason for wanting it.

"Some people want to give it away fast, just to get rid of it," said Rebecca Roberts, a Manassas resident who helps moderate the group. "Other people want to give it to the right person."

Roberts, who goes by the online nickname "ms_foxy_roxy," said the beauty of the system is that everyone wins with freecycling. The giver is getting rid of something they no longer want. The receiver is finding something they want or need. And the junk is kept out of the landfill.

"Do you really need two toasters? No. Toasters are cheap. You can't sell it. You don't want to throw it out. What do you do? You freecycle it," said Roberts, who has given away a piano and just found a slightly used set of golf clubs for her boyfriend.

Part of the allure of freecycling, Reynolds said, is peering into people's lives through the lens of their possessions. The things people want and no longer want give a certain insight into their personalities and lives, she said.

Reynolds herself picks up quite a few things she turns into art. Recently a Herndon resident gave her a swirling turquoise bowling ball, which she intends to transform into a piece of garden object d'art. Last weekend, she also acquired a ceramic duck, which will be used in another art project. Incidentally, she does all of her artwork atop a freecycled table.

"If you have something that nobody wants, that's exactly what I'm looking for," she said.

VANNESSA ROOKSBY, a mother of three living in Reston, found out about freecycling from an item in People Magazine. She joined the Dulles group shortly thereafter, giving away her children's old toddler beds and a crib.

"You don't want to throw away a crib," she said. "It's nice to see it go to some that can use it."

Rooksby, an office manager for a construction company, sees freecycling as a good way to clean house, rather than bringing in things others are giving away.

"If I bring anything more into this house, my family will kill me," she said. "With three kids, we've got a lot of stuff."

Some freecycling groups permit Wanted postings, for members seeking a particular item. The Dulles group allows a limited number of Wanteds, but try to emphasize giving and receiving.

Ultimately, freecycling should bring people with similar interests together, Reynolds said. Freecycling parties or barbecues may down the road for the Dulles group members, she said.

"You're building communities," she said. "Somebody in Herndon freecycles with somebody in Reston and you have people coming together."