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What do you do with the items you don't have a need for, and could you make use of some items others don't have a need for. If so then FreeCycle may be a solution worth looking at, there are FreeCycle groups locally throughout the UK and worldwide.

The operation is simple, you can list, locally, items 'Offered' on a special internet site, or 'wanted', and other members then respond to let you know if they want your item or have the item you are looking for. When items have gone 'taken' and 'received'  notices are put up.  The person receiving the item normally picks it up.

There is no cost to join, all items are completely free. Local moderators check entries before they go up and make sure that everyone keeps to the rules, some groups being more tightly moderated than others. The driving passion behind many involved is stopping as much as possible going to landfill, but a lot of users are passing on or recycling quite valuable items, within the last few days my local group has had beds, TV's, computers, ovens, dishwashers, dinner sets, cycles, pushchairs, as well as empty packing boxes, boxes of children's clothes, boxes of books, and far more.

You can belong to more than one group, and the guidance is to put up an entry on your nearest group first then if no solution appears in two days, on the next nearest and so on. Some groups are large, with many members and a very large number of entries each day, especially at weekends, while some are small with far less happening.

The level of response varies, some items put up get a lot of requests and the person offering it has to then make a choice as to who to give it to, or to give it to the first person to request it, while some other offers and requests get repeated or move on to other groups.

It's not against the rules of all groups to ask for items and then sell them and some car boot and eBay traders find it a source of supply, the objective of avoiding unsecured items getting thrown away and going to landfill having been met, however some groups specifically don't allow it and some people offering items do so on the basis that they are giving items not for resale.

Some groups also have secondary groups that allow items for sale or have exchange and loan boards, but these, as far as I have seen, have far fewer members and a much smaller number of transactions appearing.

Group sizes vary Cheltenham, the town I live, has a very active group with 12,203 members, nearby the larger city of Gloucester has 6,585 members and Swindon which is many times larger has 9,275 members, the city of Bristol has 31,487 members while many cities are broken up now into a number of more local areas with a lot of groups. The amount of activity in groups is roughly proportional to its membership.

So how does this compare with eBay and car boot sales

I sell and buy some items on eBay, but eBay is not ideal for many things, especially where the cost of postage is high compared to the value of the item. Other items just don't sell, and by using the advance search and looking at completed sales you can often see that nothing like what you have to offer is actually selling or that the price being reached does not cover the cost of eBay fees, Paypal fees and postage. eBay now also only allow listings in a wide rage of categories with free postage, so video games for example you see being sold for 99p where the seller has paid to list it, paid a fee on the sale, paid Paypal to collect the money and spent more than the 99p posting it out, so the more they sell the more they are out of pocket, when you put games up at a cost that returns you just a 1 on each after all the costs, they just do not sell. Having recently sold two old mannequins for around 30 the pair and then spent approaching half a day taping together cardboard boxes and packing the parts,  the work involved is often disproportionate to the reward. Out of my 30 I also had to cover listing fees, end of sales fees, Paypal fees to transfer the cash paid and buy the packaging and several rolls of tape used. Although in this case the buyer arranged a transport company to pick up the boxes.

eBay also requires effort to sell items you need good photos, details and to decide the start price, having sold it you have the packing task.  Sell a car or a digital camera and you may have problems with buyers failing to complete and the like but its still worth using, as you get a higher price than you would be likely to get elsewhere. All this also takes time, selling the mannequins for example needed photographing writing up, waiting a week for the auction to run and then a further week in the packing, collecting etc. While on Freecycle some items are advertised as available for collection today and going to the tip tomorrow if no one wants it, allowing people to get on faster.

eBay is a good source for items at a discount, if you use 'buy it now' you can make purchases, without having to bid in the auction, and know you have the item coming, while looking out for items appearing on FeeCycle and being selected when you ask is likely to take longer.

A lot of items are just not suitable for eBay, take children's toys worth say 15 or video games, even if in really good condition the price reached is not likely to justify the costs and effort involved. So I had collected up half a garage of items aiming to do some car boot sales. Although very popular many require you to get up very early on a Sunday morning, and while I m happy to get up at 5am to go and take photos, seeing people setting up car boot stalls as they set up, somehow I can't get the enthusiasm to go out  early in the morning to set up a car boot stall. There are some that are either later in the day or not as popular so such an early arrival is not necessary, but then there are far fewer potential buyers. Car boot sales are ideal for relatively cheap, easily transported items, its difficult to take along a fridge, freezer, or  furniture, and few buyers would be able to get it home anyway.

Selecting your local group

Looking at the number of people and activity occurring across a number of  FreeCycle groups, there are far more valuable items and a far higher number of items in areas that generally have people earning a little more than average. So perhaps its a case of having put in the hours to get good things that they don't want to spend time in getting involved in eBay or car boot sales.

Start by joining one local group, watch for a day or two to see how it works and then maybe also join a couple more nearby. Within the joining a group page you can select to see only the items by visiting the web page rather than getting a vast number of email messages.

If you are looking out for something specific and decide at some point to have all the messages sent to you and you have Microsoft Outlook, you can set it up so that all messages from a source end up in a specified directory and setting directories up under Inbox organises this. You can also set MS Outlook to check for email every so many minutes.  However look at the message numbers first, if you live in Bristol for example one month you would have received over 7,000 emails.

You can see the number of members and the number of messages posted by month for each group, giving an idea as to how active they are,  by going from the UK FreeCycle network page, through the next page on the group and clicking on the 'Visit the place name yahoo group' page.

Give and take

If everyone looked for free items and no-one put anything up FreeCycle would not work, however there are, in most areas, far more offered items than wanted entries. Perhaps in better off areas there are more people who just want to save having to take items to the tip or thinks its too good to throw away although they don't have room for it any more. While in some other areas they are stricter on the rules limiting the number of wanted adverts that you can put up and not allowing any until you have offered some items first.

Store or recycle

In every town now there are several storage places where you can rent a storage container of various sizes for items you don't have room for in your home, over the years these have, like many things become more expensive to use. In many cases they just contain items that are too good to throw away but no longer used. It makes far more sense for many people to save this cost and recycle these items now, spending what they would have spent on the storage to buy the odd item they actually turn out to need, or of course getting one on Freecycle. The ideal situation would be for you to get items you need occasionally on fFreecycle and as soon as you don't need them any more to Freecycle them on for someone else to use.

Space is something that few of us think of as a valuable commodity but perhaps we should.

I have recently decided to both get rid of the storage container I have been spending hundreds of pounds a year renting and also to empty at least half the items I have in my garage, as well as some of the loft, most of these will be FreeCycled. The space is more valuable to me than the items taking up the space, and although I may do one car boot sale, I am not going to do many. I will still trade a small number of items on eBay, and use it for some purchases.

Finding out more

You can identify the local FreeCycle groups near you from UK FreeCycle network page, you will find most, but not all UK groups use Yahoo Groups, so you have to first sign up (free) to Yahoo before you can get into the group. Joining the group requires you to apply to join and usually within a day this is approved and they send you then several emails including the rules and how it all works in far more detail. Only one group sent me an email asking some additional questions before approving my membership.

There is no cost at any point to you to register, be a part of a group to put up items, or for items that you receive, and any asking or expecting of any rewards is against the rules.

The UK groups are run by local volunteers, but are all a part of an international FreeCycle organisation based in the USA. There was a falling out at one time of the UK organisers with the American side, and this resulted in most of the UK groups moving to Yahoo groups software and maintaining their own independent control of their groups. However as they are indexed from the international site, I would assume they have patched up most of their differences.

We also have two articles covering eBay:-

As well as an article on Stuff2Send - matching up items to send with those who can deliver, more applicable for larger items perhaps being taken further.

This article and the others above are all a part of the Controlling Costs sub section within the Reference section.


By: Keith Park   Section:  Reference Key:
Page Ref: freecycle Topic:  Controlling Costs Last Updated: 11/2009

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