Notes from a Freecycler

About six months ago, I decided to learn first hand what the Freecycle Network is all about. For those who don´t know, Freecycle is an initiative created in 2003 by a guy from Arizona, Deron Beal. Helping an NGO that recycles materials in his hometown, he noticed that objects in perfect conditions often ended up in the recycle bin or even the trash. In the beginning, they started looking for people to receive the objects, but soon he had the idea of an e-mail list were those objects could be posted for donation in a fast and easy way. Freecycle´s first list was created. 

As I was saying, about six months ago, I decided to join a group from Sao Paulo region, to test how this group in fact worked. In the beginning, there were very little messages and the thing seemed a little cold. Then it started to warm up, and after a report at Folha Newspaper (link in portuguese), the number of users doubled. With that, came bizarre requests, like cars, pianos (from a specific brand!) and much more. Along with that, came a bit of irritation from the old users and totally out of context posts by new ones. At some point, a few experienced voices started to put things into place, asking the firsts for patience and the lasts for moderation.

But that’s not what I came to talk about. Actually, I wanted to tell you about my experience at Freecycle. About three weeks ago, a person offered a metal shelf, to which I promptly showed interest. As we agreed that I would receive the object, I scheduled day and time to pick it up. But my memory betrayed me, since my sister-in-law was staying over, and I ended up forgetting the appointment. You can imagine how I felt. Anyhow, the other person was comprehensive and rearranged the pick-up, to which I was very punctual this time. The fact is that this shelf (it´s the one on the picture) is being very useful and it got me thinking about what Freecycle represents to me. After so many people asking for donation, so many people offering, I concluded that this group attends people´s need for something they won’t or can´t buy right now. Could I have bought a shelf myself? Yes, I could. But I know that this one is provisory and that, in an uncertain future, I´ll end up replacing the thing. Until then, the shelf is of great usefulness and I can save not the money itself, but natural resources. It´s kind of a conscious non-consuming. When I finally decide which shelf and where it should stay, I´ll buy it. Then this donation cycle will get back into action.

In the meantime, I ended up donating a scanner which was also left aside at my place.

The deal is I am against constantly buying objects that you won´t use further on, or which will easily brake, due to the planned obsolescence (understand what it means at the end of this post). So I avoid buying new stuff, not only to avoid over consumption, but also to practice conscious consumption. If I buy the wrong object or product, natural resources are being used in an inefficient and unnecessary way. To be honest, my entire house is basically composed by donated furniture from my own family. The old oven, the used fridge, the grandma´s table. The average age is high – Just to have an idea, the table in the living-room is almost 30 years-old, and the TV doesn´t even read NTSC (in Brazil, there´s a different format called Pal-M, which is different from the European one. New TVs read NSTC, Pal, Pal-N and everything else, though).By the way, the same table is being sold at Tok&Stok (Brazillian not-so-expensive contemporary furniture store). It´s all second-handed, and most of them, work fine.

Consciously consuming is also buying only what´s necessary. But that´s not all. It´s avoiding bargain and products from doubtful sources, because if you are paying too little, it´s because certainly someone was exposed to heavy metals, there´s illegal child work involved, the environment was drastically polluted, (for more on this issue, watch The Story of Stuff). It is what we call externality: the costs which are not included in the price of a certain product (and the society as a whole pay for the difference).

But all this is a subject to another post. The question is that Freecycle, or other change and donation networks, are interesting ways of ending with planned obsolescence, turning the R of Recycling into R of Reusing. And it makes us use the R of Rethinking too.

If you want to participate, send an e-mail to SaoPauloFreecycle-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. But use it with parsimony, ok?

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Planned Obsolescence: This term was created to distinguish the way products are created today in order to break or become obsolete in a matter of years or even months. It´s the case, specially, of cell phones and computers. Instead of creating products to last longer, and thus reducing the pressure on natural resources, companies create ways for you to feel the need of always getting a newer version, increasing profits. Think about iPod: Steve Jobs already said that you should buy the Apple MP3 player at least once a year.

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The Freecycle logo is trademarked, ok?

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