Local Web site allows users to exchange unwanted goods

By Kyle Moncelle

There are two words that are among the most powerful in the English language: free stuff. One Web site harnesses the power of these two words to provide a service to the Champaign-Urbana area.

Freecycle.org, a network of individual groups from all over the world, is a forum for anyone from a particular location looking to get rid of something that they no longer need.

Freecycle works a lot like a bulletin board site, said Brock Angelo, owner and moderator of the Champaign-Urbana Freecycle group. People who have something to give away post a description of the object. Members of the site then browse the message board to look at postings. If they’re interested, they send an e-mail to the person doing the giving.

“It’s a great way to reduce waste but still get rid of things you don’t need,” Angelo said.

The Champaign-Urbana Freecycle group has been active since December 2003, said Angelo, a Champaign resident. “I saw a dog crate on the side of the road and thought that it’d be great if someone could get rid of it without throwing it away,” he said. “I came across the national Freecycle Web site and decided to start one for this area.”

The group boasts a membership of more than 1,300, many of whom are looking for a way to get rid of something without selling it or throwing it away.

“It’s a very easy way to give still-usable items to someone else who might need them and couldn’t get them otherwise,” said Michael Hunt, Champaign resident and a Freecycle patron.

The process can work in the opposite way as well. If someone is looking for something in particular, such as ski goggles to use for the weekend in Angelo’s case, they can make a posting on the site describing what they need and people can reply to them.

“You can also set up your membership so that the posts are delivered right to your e-mail, into a particular folder, and reply directly to the person who’s giving it away,” Angelo said.

The interested parties then set up an exchange, in person or otherwise. Freecycle realizes the threat revealing personal information poses to people and advises them to instead leave the object somewhere and have the person pick it up. Angelo said that safety is the site’s number-one priority and that phone numbers and home addresses aren’t allowed in posts.

This site might also seem like a spammer’s paradise, but precautions are taken to avoid spam clogging up the site. All posts from first-time posters are moderated, meaning they have to be approved before they’ll go up on the message board. Any suspicious messages are subject to a security check. If it turns out to be a spam message, the person is stricken from the mailing list.

The fact still stands, however, that people use the Freecycle site every day to give away the things they no longer need. And the diversity of items posted is one of the triumphs of the site. On any given day one can find things like pets, computer equipment, clothes, furniture and appliances – things that may seem like clutter to some people but that others have a use for.

“I’ve seen some unusual items posted,” Hunt said. “Anything that you can think of that you have and don’t want, or that you want and don’t have, odds are that it has already been posted on Freecycle by someone before.”