In 2003, Deron Beal was working for a nonprofit recycling project in Tucson, Arizona. His days were spent driving around the city in his truck, collecting donated objects and taking them to new owners. The logistics of pairing up discarded objects with new homes was complicated: it involved hours of driving and resulted in a warehouse full of unplaced items. Convinced that there had to be an easier way, in May of that year, Beal founded The Freecycle Network, an online community where people could give and receive objects. Since then over 5,100 local groups worldwide have been started, through which over seven million members follow the Freecycle motto: “Changing the world, one gift at a time”.
The Barcelona group was founded in January 2007 by a British-Argentine woman, Claudia Bullion. Claudia had lived in the UK for 13 years, where she was part of the Bristol and Cambridge Freecycle groups. When Claudia and her family relocated to the UK from Barcelona, they weren’t able to move everything they needed and Freecycle proved very useful, particularly for finding things for her young son.
When Claudia moved back to Barcelona in 2006 she saw that, not only was there no place to donate unwanted objects, but that many decent things were ending up in the rubbish bins on the street. She decided to take matters into her own hands and start the Barcelona Freecycle Network. “I thought that someone else would do it eventually, but I could do it right now,” says Claudia.
Freecycling is about keeping the good stuff out of landfills. Rather than throwing away something that you don’t need any more, you let it go to someone else who does need it. It’s a very civilised way to redistribute goods, save some money and create community. As Claudia points out, different cultures embrace recycling for different reasons. “In Argentina, for economic motives, we don’t just throw things away. We try to get as much use as possible out of them and then pass them on to someone else. Whereas in Bristol and Cambridge, Freecycle is part of a wider recycling movement that encourages people to consume less.”
Many of the first members of the Barcelona group were foreigners living here. However, the last two years have seen many more locals joining. Claudia has noticed that since the beginning of the economic crisis most people think twice about throwing away something new and she feels that attittudes to secondhand goods are slowly changing. It’s a slow process however: Barcelona lacks a strong recycling culture and, for many people here, secondhand goods still carry a social stigma.
The Barcelona group follows the same format as all Freecycle groups, using Google Groups as its basis for message sharing. On an average Tuesday, members are donating a TV and a coffee machine and they are looking for a Mac charger and a skateboard. According to Claudia the most popular searches are for computers, furniture and baby items, although the scope is wide, including anything from plants and mattresses to, once, even a car.
For the site to function well, there are a few common-sense rules that members have to follow. Each member is allowed to post just one “Busco” message each month. These messages have to refer specifically to one item and ‘Christmas wish lists’ are not allowed. Claudia and another volunteer, Nic, revise the emails one-by-one on a daily basis to ensure that they fit these rules.
For Claudia, Freecycle is a perfect win-win situation. The giver gains some space, the receiver saves some money and together they reduce waste. Meeting the person that you are giving to or receiving from adds in an important feelgood factor. One of Claudia’s most prized posessions is a sewing mannequin that she once received from someone in the group. And, after passing on some of her son’s toys to another family she received a photo of their child playing with the toys. “That really brightens your week, knowing that something you didn’t need any more is making someone else happy. It’s good karma for everyone.”