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‘Free sharing’ sites expand on Internet

One person’s trash is truly another’s treasure – even chunks of broken concrete.

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Darci Cheyneis (l.) received her wedding dress from Alexandra Mcqueen (r.) in Toronto through the online community Freecycle.org. Rules state that no money can change hands.

Newscom/FILE

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A few years back, Deron Beal worked for a recycling organization in Tucson, Ariz. He’d drive an old pickup truck around to other nonprofit groups, and say, “I found this old desk or this computer. Can you guys use it? I spent [most of my] time calling or driving around,” he says.

That changed on May 1, 2003, when he sent off an e-mail to about 30 friends and a handful of nonprofit groups. Those who needed something should just e-mail everyone else. Those who had something to give away could tell the others about it, too. Freecycle.org was born.

Today the free online give-and-take organization has more than 5 million members in 4,500 local groups in 85 countries. It’s by far the largest, but far from the only, organization dedicated to using the Internet to match up people who need something with people who are happy to part with it.

While the rules governing how swaps are made and what kinds of things may be offered may vary from group to group, one thing is constant: Everything is free. No money changes hands. On Free­cycle.org, direct “I’ll swap you this for that” exchanges are not allowed. Goods must be freely offered, no strings attached.

What can be posted on these free give-and-take websites? Nothing illegal, of course, and items must be “family friendly” – no pornography, no alcohol, no tobacco, no weapons, and no drugs, including medicines and vitamins. Those who abuse the policy get one warning. A second offense results in banishment.

Beyond those practical limitations, the variety of items can be astounding: clothes, furniture, toys, computers and other electronics, and baby items are popular. But so are more unusual items from hair dye to manure to pieces of broken concrete (euphemistically referred to as “urbanite”).

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