By Albert Kaufman of Portland, Oregon who describes himself as "a visionary thinker, musician, and environmentalist."
I started FreecyclePortland in September of 2003. The idea is simple: a Yahoo list is used to organize peoples' offers of things they want to give away and connect people who want things with people who are offering them. Keep stuff out of the landfills, reduce, recycle, reuse - that sort of thing.
But what began as a simple idea has, over time, morphed into over a million people worldwide using Freecycle to give and take in 2,575 "official" groups. I say "official" because the birth of the Freecycle Network has spawned a number of similar efforts in addition to influencing groups like Craig's List to add a free section to their many sites. So, the number of people doing the Freecycle dance is probably many millions and the number who have heard about it through articles in People, USA Today, the New York times and through specials on the tube is many many millions.
I've been a big fan of Burning Man since my first visit in 2000. The city of 30,000 Black Rock Citizens runs strictly on a gifting economy which means that money is used hardly at all once you get to the event and there's a lot of gifting back and forth. It takes some time to get used to - and I'm still learning the ins and outs of how to give and receive gifts. Hint: always say "YES" then figure out what to do with it later. Freecycle takes the gifting economy I love and brings it into the "real world" and people seem to love it just as much.
I repeatedly hear people in line at the supermarket talking about how they recently got a new refrigerator or gave away an old couch on Freecycle. It makes me smile. Some of the people on our local list have made new friends and connected with dozens of people through their exchanges. We've had Freecycle events - giveaways at the Last Thursday on Alberta Street event where many people come, lay out blankets, and give everything away - it's fun watching people who are new to the idea come up and then their eyes light up "you mean I can just take this?"
I often wonder what the world would be like if it were run on a gifting economy. How much could be changed by switching models - no more currency traders, no more Wall Street, no more Walmarts. At the co-housing community I live in (Cascadia Commons) there is an exchange box where people put things and often it's such a joy to go and see what's there - in fact the shoes I'm wearing right now are from there. Coffee shops around Portland have started providing bookshelves where there's a book exchange going on - something I thought would be a great idea years ago. How much further can we take it? How would the world be different if the economic system were changed?
Anyway, for now I'll keep moderating the local list with my 8 co-moderators and we'll probably grow from our current 16,000 members to - well, who knows? There are also about 40 groups all over Oregon, so if you live in Gresham, you'll want to go to Freecycle.org to find the Freecycle group closest to home. It's been a fun and interesting ride so far...