The Freecycle Network is an online system of groups around the world consisting of givers and takers. The catch? Everything they give or take is absolutely free; no money, no trades and no favours can be used to get the goods, whatever they may be. The only other stipulation is that no drugs, alcohol or weapons are allowed. Besides that, the Freecycle.org hosts anything from tickets to televisions, and much more in between.
Cape Town group founder Andreas Spath said, “It’s basically a way of making sure that everyday things are prevented from going into a landfill. It’s a form of recycling, by sharing with a person who doesn’t need them anymore with a person who (does) need (them) .”
Spath, a freelance journalist, established the Cape Town group in 2004 after reading a story about Freecycling online. “I’m very interested in sustainability and reducing waste, but from a political perspective I do come from a place where I’m looking for communities that are outside the normal commercialised standard way of dealing with each other, which involves exchanges of money or that sort of thing. A lot of it to me is about this idea of sharing things free(ly) without really asking a question like, ‘What are you going to do with it?’,” said Spath.
The Freecycle Network consists of online messaging groups from each city around the world that has started a group. The network currently has over eight million members. South Africa has 11 Freecycle groups, with Cape Town’s consisting of over 3,000 members. It works like an online forum; people post “offers,” “wants,” “takens” and “founds”.
The motivation in joining the network comes from the idea of getting and giving for free. This appeals to many, and is also used by environmentalists as a way to make sure that reusable “waste” goes into the hands of those who can still use it, instead of going into landfills. Items range from leftover tiles and building materials to old computers or electronic equipment – items that could harm the environment if destined for landfills.
Though the idea is based on sustainability, Spath suspects there is more going on. “In a more philosophical way, it’s a social experiment in a gifting economy. Generally, everything has a price, whereas with Freecycle, everything is free. It’s a different way or relating to objects and things that you need,” said Spath.
Freecycle exists solely online through message boards and its membership database. However, for those uncomfortable exchanging with strangers online, there are other types of platforms that are rooted in reality, like The Really, Really Free Market. RRFM which has similar ideals to Freecycling, was originally started by an anarchist group called Crime Think from the United States 10 years ago, and has resulted in a huge movement across the country.
Co-organizer of the Cape Town version of the RRFM, Aragorn Eloff says, “The point of the Really, Really Free Market is to challenge the idea that if people want things or want to give away things, that there always has to be an exchange involved…What we want is a society based on gifting, on mutual aid and on solidarity. We think society can work that way. People can just provide for each other’s needs. Things could work a lot better that way.”
Eloff is hoping to hold a monthly market at the Bolo’bolo Café in Muizenberg, to bring together not only the free market but also a friendly, social environment. Eloff hopes that people will be “inspired (enough) by the concept to think about other ways in which they can extend it.”
South Africans are starting to buy into the notion of a sharing economy. Just imagine a South Africa where people help their fellow countrymen by giving freely. It seems almost too good to be true, if not priceless.
Image 1: Aragorn Eloff stands at the Really, Really Free Market.
Image 2: A painted rock sends an inspiring message.
Image 3: Free massages and acupuncture were given at the market.