So why would a business where you can make money selling your own stuff have anything to worry about from a non-business, grassroots organization that helps you give your stuff away for nothing?

Good Question. One answer may be, “It might not. In fact it may be happier with such recycling going on because it’s getting some of the benefit” How? Because Ebay and other auction sites may do more business as some folks abuse the free cycled nature of goods by collecting them from others, then using auction sites such as eBay to sell the same stuff. In this way, free recycling sites really just become free trash collection services.

Alternatively, Ebay may actually suffer a bit, (possibly just a little bit, but a bit just the same), with the proliferation of freecycling networks. (It should be noted that the term “freecycle” may be a trademark of the not-for-profit organization The Freecycle Network. [the site :: the wiki entry].)

Anyway, there’s plenty of folks who were happy to trade in the garage sale ritual for the more perfect market of eBay when the site came along. But the main impetus for many of these folks wasn’t likely to make a lot of money. It was just to not waste/toss stuff out. “Back in the day” as it were, this wasn’t to be sustainable/green. It was just because waste is usually seen as… well… wasteful. The cost/benefit of garage sale vs. just tossing stuff out was pretty much, “Have I built up enough crap over the years to make it worth my time to post flyers on telephone poles around town.”

Why Give for Nothing when you can Sell?

There’s a lot of reasons folks might prefer giving away things over selling them. For starters, it may make sense to just take a moment to ask, “Why use eBay at all?” The core answer is that eBay provides a worldwide garage sale marketplace. It may just simply be an easier way to dispose of things then the hassle of a traditional garage sale. There are other obvious traits that add value to an aggregated marketplace such as being a sensible place to find and trade collectibles. As to other values; those may be more in question. As eBay has grown, in many ways it’s essentially another department store. Things are for sale and a great deal of those things are from established merchants or professional eBay sellers.  (There’s ancillary benefits, (which are arguable), such as buyer/seller reputation systems, but those are not at issue here.) The purer real person-to-real person nature of early eBay may still exist, but is alongside a great deal more serious commerce. But the company is smart enough to understand its buyer’s and at least has sorting tabs to allow selection of pure auction items only. (As opposed to including the BuyItNow merchandise.)

The point is, for those who’s motivation for selling on the auction site was simply to not be wasteful, there’s several new secondhand economy marketplaces in existence or development that are easy to access. And if at least some sellers aren’t selling, at least some buyers aren’t buying. And some portion of both those groups may use the site less in general.

Then, of course, there’s the giving back principle. Cynical thoughts above notwithstanding, plenty of people actually want to do the right thing in the world. There’s plenty of stories of how freecycling and such has helped everyone from young adults starting out, to house fire victims or battered women starting over and building new households, things getting sent to deployed troops, and so on.

So Are you REALLY Recycling?

Probably. When you use these freely recycled gift economy sites, chances are the person coming to collect your stuff is the person who’s going to use them. Probably. But maybe not. Maybe it’s a second hand business. If so, maybe you don’t care anyway. At least you expend little effort to discard your stuff.

There’s always been a “secondhand economy” of sorts. Vintage clothing stores, pawn shops, etc. etc. have been around for decades. With today’s new frugality, there’s as much or more demand as ever for deeply discounted merchandise. And today, these trading posts are showing up in a variety of forms in the real world. Even a lot of traditional merchants are adding various forms of refurbished or used goods to their inventory. Why not? They have physical presence in a local marketplace. Even with high gas prices, sometimes buying/selling/trading local can be more cost and time effective then online. And, as mentioned, some folks may be just functioning as eBay auction listers. They’re just not cutting you in.

So it’s quite conceivable some take advantage of the good intentions of others recycled items. In fact, the practical cynic in most rationale folks should probably find it likely at least some folks have. And actually, there’s some debate as to the ethics of re-selling goods put up for free recycling. Some say the intent is to help others who could really use the free stuff; where others say it doesn’t matter what happens to the goods if they’re kept in some form of use somehow and out of landfills. In the end though, it’s up to donors to decide on their intent.

Bottom line? If you just want to get rid of stuff easily and have someone pick it up, you probably don’t care about who or how it goes. If you want to have some sense of giving to the deserving… well… that just becomes a matter of personal judgment and trust in your recipient.

Recycling Your Stuff

Want to try it? Have you got old stuff that’s still useful, but you don’t want to deal with the hassle of auctioning or shipping? Try these…

Freecycle
FreeSharing.org
FreeActivate
FreeUse.org
SharingIsGiving
Recycling Group Finder

And yes, of course, there’s always Craigslist.org.