Article by C.P. Chay

It is reported that Bay City alone generates over 16,000 tons of waste annually that is dumped into the White Feather Landfill, where trash is packed down and stored underground to "hopefully" decompose. And, if the landfill becomes too ful,l it could start to "leak" contaminants that can get into our water supply as well as pollute our lakes and rivers. To make matters worse, only 30% of us recycle our trash.

Meanwhile, our basements and garages are bulging with unused clothing we know we will fit into again someday; with Beanie Babies we are sure will re-sell for ten times the price we paid; craft supplies we no longer know "how" to use; car and computer parts; from wedding dresses to baby supplies; TVs to Grandma’s cast-iron stove—all our sentimental "stuff." Let’s face it: We’re running out of space! Maybe it’s time to become a minimalist and give up on making a fortune off these "things" we’ve been hoarding.

But since packrats and minimalists are such an extraordinary oxymoron, becoming clutter free by philanthropy might be an intelligent alternative. Once again American ingenuity has come to our rescue to provide us with a new tool to help save the earth and benefit those who are in need. It’s called Freecycle, a free online service that allows the general public to "offer" or "request" an item they need or have to give away. One of the requirements for any transaction is that all items be "free," and each party must arrange for free pickup or delivery, which can take a matter of hours to complete instead of days waiting for responses to a garage sale. It also requires that no services or tickets be offered and that people respond directly to posters as there is no online staff that oversees transactions.

Operating since 2003, Freecycle is a grassroots network that has grown to 3,508 groups around the world with over 2,000 members in Bay City at the date of this writing. Groups exist in Flint, Midland, and Saginaw as well. Interested parties can search by state for members in the network. The nonprofit group challenges users to "change the world one gift at a time."

This smart new alternative to garage sales was taken literally by a Saginaw resident who wanted to demolish his unattached garage to build a new attached garage to his home. Through Freecycle he was able to find someone who dismantled the garage and rebuilt it on his own property in Midland. Not only did this fulfill the needs of two families at very little cost, it saved the whole project from getting into the landfill. Of course, this is not the norm at Freecycle but a great indication of what is possible.

Unlike eBay where it is required to register with too much of your personal information, joining Freecycle at is easy and quick and does not require much more than just your street and email address; there is no need to put in your bank account numbers or join Paypal because each transaction is free.

Donating your unused overflow to someone who can put it to good use can be just as satisfying as giving to your favorite charity and maybe even better. Given the new regulations on charitable contributions, the IRS now requires receipts for contributions up to the minimum of $250.

Freecycle is a great new concept in global generosity. Not only do we have the chance to fulfill someone’s need within our own community, but we can make a lesser impact on our favorite place to live—Earth.

© C.P. Chay, 2011