Bloomberg Green: Climate-friendly shopping

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“Ethical Markets congratulates Jess Shankleman and Bloomberg Green for highlighting Freecycle!  We have covered all these and other electronic barter exchanges and local currencies we have documented for over 30 years ….whenever macroeconomic indicators and price-system based policies have failed to steer markets away from cliffs of unsustainability and destructive consumption patterns.  Read o!

~Hazel Henderson, Editor”



Living next door to one of London’s biggest shopping malls, I used to frequently pop into H&M or Flying Tiger and buy something cheap. It was retail therapy that used up unnecessary planetary resources.

During the pandemic, I moved closer to family and realized just how much useless junk I’d accumulated. Now I’ve joined a global network of more than 9.5 million people with a new consumer obsession that’s far more climate friendly.

The Freecycle website works a bit like any online auction, except no money changes hands. People gift unwanted items — anything from furniture to electronics, clothes, plants and even musical instruments — to neighbors in the same community. The winning bidder is usually the person who was the fastest to respond or had the best reason for wanting it. Unlike sites such as eBay, groups are formed locally, so most items are exchanged within a few kilometers of each other.

About 1,000 tons of items change hands via Freecycle globally every day, said Executive Director Deron Beal, who founded the network in 2003 in Arizona. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount of trash that ends up daily in a mid-sized landfill, he said. The impact is minuscule compared with the 2 billion tons of waste the World Bank estimates is generated around the world every year, but it is one way individuals can make a difference.

READ MORE: Why You Should Give Away Free Stuff to Your Neighbors

In just one year, I’ve received a television for my parents, a new iPhone 13 case, some fancy yoga equipment, two matching armchairs and a shelving unit. I’ve given away an old Dyson vacuum cleaner, a blender and even an old piece of carpet (a community group needed it to line a pond).

Paul Markham, a fellow user, is in the process of starting a business selling upcycled furniture from his own website.

Chest of drawers upcycled by Paul Markham.
Source: Paul Markham

After a heart attack, the 48-year-old quit his job in compliance and now spends his day cycling around London collecting donations and doing them up. The trained graphic designer said he first got started with a printer and 30-inch monitor that a couple gave him via Freecycle. He estimates they’re worth about 2,000 pounds ($2,700) combined.

“Some people around here are so wealthy, they just don’t know what they’re giving away,” said Markham, who lives in London’s Islington neighborhood.

Postings on Freecycle doubled to about 30,000 a day last summer as people were stuck at home due to Covid-19 lockdowns. Still, there were spells when interest waned, such as during winter when groups shifted to discussions about vaccination and testing sites, as well as posts about homemade masks. Beal admits it’s a struggle to keep up with competitors such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay. Freecycle’s advertising revenue sank at the start of the pandemic, even as exchanges were booming.

Part of the reason for Freecycle’s popularity is the endorphin boost that comes from shopping, but without the environmental guilt. For many, the bigger joy is giving stuff away to people who need it. Beal says he recently donated all his camping gear to a local traveler and felt great about it for days.

Beal now is trying to expand Freecycle so that people can loan items instead of giving them away. For example, the average drill is used only for 15 minutes of its lifetime, so it makes sense for households to share instead of having one each, he said.

“You can lend out your whole house on Airbnb, you can lend out your car — all for a fee — but no one has cracked the nut on how to lend out small items.”

Jess Shankleman writes the Climate Report newsletter about the impact of global warming.

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