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Give and Take

A free online exchange turns one person's trash into another's treasure.


Certa explains how it works: "I have something that I no longer need, want or use. I post to the Richmond Freecycle group. Offer: Six tubes of burnt umber paint. Voila! Jane, who dabbles in art, sees the offer and replies. It works the other way, too. I really needed a stroller, so I posted an e-mail that read, 'Wanted: stroller.' I received three replies!" Certa responded to those e-mails and got one of the baby carriers. It's up to the giver to set a pickup time to pass on the treasure, she says.

A kind of eBay for freebies, the Freecycle Network is a project of RISE Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Ariz., whose mission includes reducing waste, employment training, and facilitating cooperation between nonprofits and the public. RISE started the network in May 2003 to promote waste reduction in Tucson's downtown and help save desert landscape from being taken over by landfills.

The number of cities that freecycle has grown to 1,102, and the people using local list-serves is 266,710, according to Freecycle Network's Web site,

Richmonder Charlie Comly, 33, hopes freecylcing will cut down on his trips to local dumps. On Feb. 6, Comly started a local list-serve through Yahoo called Richmond Freecycle. He had first read about freecyling in Utne Reader, but it wasn't until he spent time at a Henrico County dump that he realized freecycling's local potential. A self-professed "Dumpster diver," Comly says he'd "just watch the stream of stuff that was too good to throw away come in and be amazed at the waste."

Six months later, Richmond Freecycle boasts nearly 1,400 members and users. "Some things in Richmond take a while to catch on," Certa says, "but this has just exploded."

Comly and Certa maintain the list-serve as volunteer co-moderators. Certa stresses three rules for stuff that's posted: It must be free, legal and appropriate for all ages. "Our philosophy is, keep it simple," she says. "No chitchat. No advertising."

People who freecycle become acquainted with one another by their e-mail names, or "handles," before meeting in person when an exchange takes place. They're a diverse group, Certa says, of people who range in age from college students to grandparents.

On a recent afternoon, Certa sifts through her most recent acquisition, a box of stained glass. In the last month a Pinto and a Chevette have been offered up and snatched away. "This is one of the best uses of the Web I've seen in a long, long time," she says. "It's efficient and easy on the Earth."

Richmond Freecycle hopes to expand its freebies to include services and items on loan. Say, for example, you want to learn how to paint or need a power washer for a weekend. Maybe someone in cyberspace can help.

"It's a great community-building experience, Certa says. "People come to freecycle to see what they can get, but the gist is, it's a giving movement." And in the spirit of the group, new members are asked to make their first post an offer.

Certa says some of Richmond Freecycle's current postings include a '92 Dodge Caravan and sheets for a king-size bed, but one in particular strikes her fancy. "This lovely woman named Wanda has a farm and is offering squash and snap beans," she says. "But you have to go and pick them." S

How to sign up:

1. Go to
2. Click "Join This Group."
3. Sign up for a Yahoo name and password.
4. Complete the online freecycling form.
5. Follow instructions to begin.

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