COURTESY CINDY CHUNG
This rabbit named Bunny found a good home with Cindy Chung and Brent Wong thanks to freecycle.org.
Free for all
A Web site helps people find stuff they need and give away things that they don’t need
Sue Miller wasn't sure how to deal with the overgrown bamboo garden in her back yard. So the Wahiawa resident posted a listing on freecycle.org. Problem solved.
Cindy Chung responded immediately -- she needed bamboo for floral arrangements. She planted Miller's plants in terra cotta pots and plans to use them at a wedding next year.
"My fiance and I showed up at her house with a pickax and garbage bag. We took what we wanted, went to Home Depot and bought a pot and planted it. So we did Sue a favor by digging up the bamboo, and we got a houseplant in return. And the bamboo was kept out of the landfills."
That old mantra about one man's trash being another man's treasure is perfect for freecycle.org, a Web site that offers items from plants and pets to moving boxes and cars. The best part: Everything is free. "The site helps people find homes for their junk," said Chung.
Miller started using Freecycle when she lived in Austin, Texas, where 10,000 people are members. She found that amazing things could be accomplished using the site.
Freecycle helped her furnish a new home for a family she had adopted through a charity Christmas program. "It was a single mom with two small children. They were living in a roach-infested apartment, so we helped them move into another Section 8-approved home. We were able to furnish the entire house." The family even ended up with a tufted leather sofa and chair.
Deron Beal of Tucson, Ariz. started the grass-roots recycling program in 2003, in an effort to save landfill-bound items that were still usable. Freecycle.org is now used in 3,000 cities and has more than 1.5 million subscribers.
Madhu Lundquist introduced the program locally a few years ago after moving to Honolulu from Eugene, Ore. "I was surprised at how little recycling was going on in the islands. There is so much stuff being left on the curbside for bulky-trash pickup," he said.
As a moderator for the Web site, he is responsible for ensuring that rules are followed, keeping out spam and illegitimate messages.
The program continues to grow, and he receives 15 to 20 postings a day. There are 1,416 members on Oahu, 548 on the Big Island, 117 on Kauai and 94 on Maui.
"The only rule is that all items posted must be free and legal," said Lundquist.
Recent offers include a dishwasher, baby clothes, toys and a color printer. Wanted items included large potted plants, a baby booster seat and infant furniture. Sixty percent of the postings are from those seeking items; 40 percent are offers.
"I prefer that people post an offer before they ask for something," he added. Lundquist personally posted a love seat, bookshelf stereo, office chair and packing material. "The success rate of things posted and taken is pretty high."
Now that the city's curbside recycling program has been axed, Freecycle will serve an even greater need, he said. "It hasn't picked up here like it has in other metropolitan areas, but every little bit helps."
People might think they have nothing to offer, but they'd be wrong, Miller said. Broken-down cars are often listed and find homes. "People use the parts to bring their cars up to speed."
Teachers post for wanted items from paper towel holders to box tops to redeem through General Mills' Boxtops for Education program. "A Honolulu schoolteacher was recently looking for cardboard paper towel and toilet paper rolls and paper bags for a class project," she said.
After remodeling projects, many homeowners post offers of clean fill dirt, landscape rocks, excess foliage, old doors or cupboards, windows and appliances. All that's required of the takers is that they come and haul it away.
Chung found her pet rabbit "Bunny" on the site. Ellie, a fellow Freecycle member, had offered the rabbit because she was caring for too many animals.
"Another member, Frank, was looking for old, worn-out black shoes for an art project. I don't know the status of his project, but I have donated three pair," said Chung.
One of the strangest items Miller has seen listed was dog hair, for knitting projects. School supplies for kids are another hot item. Or prom dresses that couldn't be afforded otherwise.
"The site definitely helps people find homes for their junk," said Chung.
Miller hopes the recycling effort catches on locally. "We live on an island, and there is no place to build a new dump."