Cape Town Freecycle turns 1500 April 2, 2008Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Cape Town, Environment, Society, South Africa.
I started a Freecycle group in Cape Town in 2004 and am quite chuffed to report that the group now has 1500 members.
If you’ve never heard of Freecycle, it’s a global grassroots network of local groups that aims to connect people who have stuff they want to get rid of with others in their community that might find it of use. The idea is to prolong the life of goods and keep them out of landfill sites. Nothing is too big or small – from a book to a washing machine or a combine harvester, it can all be “freecycled”, but it has to be 100% free. You can find out more at www.freecycle.org.
In practice Freecycle works like an online notice board or an email list. If you have something to give away, you post a message to all members. Interested members will contact you directly via email. You chose the person (or organisation) you want to give your “stuff” to and they have to come and pick it up. Members can also post “wanted” messages if they are in need of something.
The concept wouldn’t be very green if it involved shipping stuff from Cape Town to Durban, say, or elsewhere far away, so it’s based on local groups, usually centred on a town or city. There are literally thousands of these local Freecycle groups around the world. Freecycle Cape Town was the first group in South Africa and now it’s one of eleven.
If you live in these areas, why not try them out (alternatively, start your own group):
Personally, I was attracted to the concept partly because of its environmental aspect, but also because it’s outside of the conventional economy and very much in keeping with the anarchist concept of mutual aid. It represents one aspect of a “gift economy”, where things are not simply treated as commodities with financial value, but are freely exchanged by members of a local community on the basis of need.
Of course in practice, things are not quite so idealistic. Freecycle groups really only start working properly once there are a sufficient number of members (not sure how many that is, but the more, the better). In addition, many people are, of course, attracted by the idea of getting things for free and in general “Wanted” messages tend to outnumber the “Offers”.
Overall, though, it’s been a very interesting social experiment to watch unfold and I reckon it’s been a success, both in terms of its environmental aims and its social aspirations.