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Freecycling: Something for Nothing off the Web

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By Marshall Loeb, MarketWatch

RISMEDIA, July 5, 2007—(MarketWatch)—It may be true that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but thanks to a new practice known as “freecycling” vigilant Web surfers can get almost anything else they need for free, according to the latest issue of Consumer Reports’ Money Adviser.

Freecycling got its start in Tucson in the early 2000s when Deron Beal sent an e-mail out to 30 or 40 friends and a list of local nonprofits suggesting they start an online service that would enable people to donate used household items to local residents. Their efforts led to the founding of the Freecycling Network in 2003.

The goal of the organization is two-fold: to lend a helping hand to those in need and to minimize waste by giving lightly used items a second life with someone else in the community.

Freecycling may sound utopian to the die-hard laissez faire capitalists out there, but the idea has caught fire with civic-minded folks across the globe. There are now more than 4,000 “Freecycle communities” and an estimated 3.5 million users.

The service is simple: You just log onto Freecycle.org, search for the volunteer-run group nearest you and become a member. It’s free and takes less than five minutes. Once you’ve signed up for the service, you’ll start receiving listings describing the things on offer via e-mail. They range from used microwave ovens to old-model cell phones and children’s clothing.

If you’re interested in an item, you shoot an e-mail to the person posting it. It’s then the poster’s job to sort through the requests and decide who gets the booty. Think of it as the philanthropist’s answer to eBay.

The only rules? Play fair! Be honest about the age and condition of the thing you’d like to offload. And, as the Web site says, make sure your donation is “free, legal, and appropriate for all ages.”

Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and the Columbia Journalism Review, writes for MarketWatch.

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