Allured by the sight of an array of office supplies and kitchenware, students, faculty, staff, and community members flocked to this academic year’s first “FAS Freecycle” on the Science Center lawn last Tuesday. To their astonishment, everything seen was free to take.

The event, co-sponsored and organized by the Office of Sustainability’s FAS Green Program and Harvard FMO Recycling, highlighted the sensible and attractive principle of reusing rather than wasting. The variety of goods--everything from printer cartridges to a magnificent mound of paper clips—was collected from offices across Harvard eager to rid themselves of their no-longer-wanted supplies. Rather than tossing the gently used and brand new items, previous owners brought them to the Harvard community to be used again. For those walking by, it was too good to be true.

In the first hour of the Freecycle, students and residents were drawn to the table and hampers of goods. When they were told that all was free to take, the frenzy began. “Right around eleven there was just a sudden rush” said Dara Olmsted, Office Coordinator for the FAS Green Program and onsite organizer. Indeed, within the first hour of the Freecycle most goods were quickly picked over, and if it had not been for the occasional drop offs during the event’s three hours, all stock would have soon been exhausted. At first students and residents were baffled and perhaps felt a little bit guilty at simply picking something up and taking it. Though signs were posted, many were prompted to ask “How much is this?” or “Is this really free?” Others were simply grateful and excited at being offered so much free stuff. “Similar to our December Freecycle, my favorite story from the event was a grad student who just moved here from California and found a few things she had really needed for her apartment,” said Olmsted.

Setting Up Your Own

The idea of a Freecycle is a simple one: collect any surplus or unwanted items and place them in an area for others to take.  It aims at reducing waste by circulating goods in a community.  Organizing a Freecycle is straightforward and can be as big or as small as one wants.  It can take the form of a campus-wide distribution event, like last Tuesday’s event, or a regular installation in a department office.  For the larger variety, you need a space to display and distribute the goods and a few cheery volunteers to advertise, set up the display, and remind everyone that, yes, it’s all free.  A Freecycle can also be an area set aside in an office, a department, or even a community, where anything from office supplies to clothes can be left for others to browse and take at their leisure. 

Why Freecycles are Great

The benefits of a Freecycle are many: waste is reduced, money is saved, and a community becomes aware of just how much it consumes.  In the case of FAS’s Freecycle, the success and enthusiastic response of students and community members has even prompted the idea of having a regular, campus-wide event throughout the year.  For, with those old items piling up in the corner of your room, and those nameless friends looking for just those goods, the sensible solution is a no-brainer: Freecycle it.

More Information

For further tips and help in setting up a Freecycle in your community or office there are plenty of resources. The website, www.freecycle.org, offers a wealth of advice and training for organizers as well as a network of Freecycling organizations nationwide.  At Harvard University, you can contact Rob Gogan of Harvard’s FMO Recycling to set-up a Freecycle station in your office or department.   He’ll even donate some “seed stock” and display racks to get things rolling.

A Big Thanks

The FAS Green Program would not have had such a successful program if it weren’t for the many who helped make it possible. Gilmore Tamny who started Freecycling at HMS and made some amazing drawings that we use on our Freecycle posters. Sarah Gordon who organized the first FAS Freecycle and continues to help organize these events. Harvard Recycling who provides the manpower and storage space behind these events. Lila Strominger, Tim Lehmann, & Dave Boudreau- the FAS Reps who helped get the word out and pick up donations. Isaure Mignotte, an FAS Eco-Citizen, who helped staff the event.