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The idea behind Freecycle is sound. It is an online forum where you give away unwanted items and not dump them in a landfill site. There are local Freecycles around the world. I tried the one in Auckland, New Zealand.

In my case, I listed items I no longer need. People who want the items email their interest, arrange a meet up and deal with the item. There’s an alternative approach where people who need things can ask for them.

It sounds simple enough and I’ve used it to unclutter my garage before a house move, but I’ve run into problems with Freecycle, which make me question its value.

Freecycle problems

Problem 1: Can’t be bothered. I’ve offered a number of items on Freecycle, had them requested and the person at the other end of the deal fails to pick up the item. I guess because an item is free, it has little perceived value by the recipient. Maybe there are other reasons. Either way, my first three forays into Freecycle resulted in receivers not picking up the items they requested.

Problem 2: Slackness. This is closely related to problem 1. Receivers make appointments to pick up items, I wait at home for them, they don’t turn up. Then they make more broken appointments etc. While  rescheduling is fine, we’re talking about people who constantly shuffle appointments.

Problem 3: Greed. I’ve noticed some of the receivers turning up to pick up items ask for more. In one case the picker-up wandered into my open garage asking if he could take items than were clearly not for recycling. This makes me uneasy with the process. I also don’t like it when I offer item X, and get tons of emails asking if I’ll also be giving away a loosely related item Y.

Problem 4: Inefficiency. When someone requests an item, I post a taken message on Freecycle. The matter should end there, but emails pour in for days and weeks after, asking if the item is still available. Not taking notice of “Taken” posts is just plain rude.

Problem 5: Venality. Some of the stuff I’ve distributed via Freecycle has turned up for sale on TradeMe (if you’re outside New Zealand this is the local equivalent of eBay). On one level I don’t care when happens to the items I’ve given away. Once they’ve gone, they’ve gone. On the other hand, I suspect some Freecycle users are professional scavengers – which disturbs me. Apart from anything else this undermines the idealism of the project.

Have you run into problems with Freecycle? Or are you happy with it? I’d love to hear your opinion.

11 thoughts on “Frustrating Freecycle fails to deliver, struggles to take

  1. I like the concept, but I can see how these problems can arise. I usually put stuff on Trademe for $1 – once it finishes it’s removed from the site, you have some idea that the buyer is real, you can complain on their profile if they muck you around and there’s more perceived value.

    • Ah.. You’ve nicely pre-empted my next post. Perceived value and the lubricating effect of real money. I’ll have to get off my backside and write it now. But first there’s the day’s chores…

  2. Perceived value is part of it, but I think the “message board” format of Freecycle lends itself to abuse. If they switched to a format more like Trademe’s I think some of these problems would disappear (or at least shrink) – you’re less likely to claim a freebie then fail to collect if it shows in your history.

    • Hey that’s a good point. I also like the buyer feedback feature in TradeMe, although I suspect abusive users simply create fresh accounts.

  3. Hi. I agree with you, Bill. I use TM all the time to get rid of stuff. Good stuff which brings good money, and junk. Last week I got rid of an old, non-working fridge for $1. Would have had to pay to take it to the dump.

    But, TM has one HUGE drawback. There’s no “wanted” section. So, I’m looking for something that would likely be thrown out, but TM is useless for finding it. Then, Freecycle might be the best answer.

    • @Kath – that’s a good point. Freecycle may be the best place to look for things, but I’d be happier to see TradeMe add a wanted section.

      • I’ve just come across a website called Zoove, which is the same concept but tweaked. It’s a nice interface (searchable, not a message board) and allows you to post ‘wanted’ items. You can see a public profile for users and leave feedback, limit the number of requests you receive and a user can’t pick up more than five items a month. In theory those features should eliminate the problems you describe on Freecycle. But I’ve only just found it and signed up. Thanks for the heads up about the problems with Freecycle.

  4. Re – Problem 4: Inefficiency.

    You wrote the above article recently., Problem 4 shouldn’t exist (on aucklandfreecycle).

    Once messages are taken / received, the temporary email address is no longer valid, & you do not get further replies.

  5. @Gordon

    Thanks for that. I was getting response to my offer of an old laptop more than one year after I’d posted it as taken so this is a big step forward.

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