My expanding the “free trade” marketplace | KEYE Austin - Green Right Now Austin News, Weather, Traffic KEYE-TV Austin - HOME
Mar 022009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Stuff. It’s piling up in our garage. Stealing space in our bathroom closet. Lurking in the attic. We modern homo sapiens gather gadgets, what-nots, mementos and widgets like our forebears gathered nuts.

Except that the ancestors ate the nuts. We’re just nuts about our stuff.

Now it’s time to get crazy about sharing that stuff, spreading the wealth, so our burnished treasures can enjoy a second life – just not in our living room!

America’s Freecycle is one way to give it away, it’s been hooking up people with junk to jettison with those who are tickled to get it for six years now, growing from a cottage industry in Tucson to 6.5 million members worldwide — despite the near certainty that your 1989 La-z-boy, your fake ficus and definitely your plaque with the fish singing the Macarena all have limited appeal (even with a price tag of zero).

Overseas, there’s yet another comer in this wasteland market. It’s called “My” and it bills itself as the “world’s most secure, easy-to-use and free website dedicated to promoting the reuse of unwanted goods [oxymoron unintended].” This week it hopes to raise its profile, and advocate for recycling used goods, with a 24-hour “Celebrity Throwaway” in which items donated by celebrities such as Sheryl Crow, Ricky Gervais, Shilpa Shetty and Sir David Attenborough will be available for free at My Skip. The online event starts at 9 a.m. GMT on Tuesday.

More than 100 celebs are taking part (see the impressive list), with their hand-me-downs being offered one at a time for free every hour somewhere on the site, but anonymously, so you’ll have to search for them.
This is the awareness-raising part, showing newcomers the stuff available for free, and hopefully causing them to conclude that reused items can be a viable part of their daily life.

My Skip is a product of the United Kingdom, and therefore it deals in “rubbish” instead of “trash”, or rather near-rubbish. Like Freecycle, it is an online meeting place for people offering up their once cherished gee-gaws for free. It shares Freecycle’s mission: to reduce the refuse, or rubbish, heading to the landfill by slowing down the human consumption cycle and extending the life of things.

The difference is that My is a for-profit concern, whereas Freecycle is a non-profit, which gets funding from corporate sponsors like Waste Management and from on-site advertising. Freecycle’s motto is “Think Globally, Recycle Locally” and it puts that into action by working through hundreds of local member groups. Expenses for the entire operation are low, under $150,000., which launched in March 2008, works a bit differently, engaging the public directly through its newly designed central site where customers select the action they want to take “Rummage” or “Dump”.

Hoping to become the ultimate “free trade” business, it will generate income by offering premium services and has just launched new technology that will help people find what they’re seeking through alerts when those items become available online. Hopeful on-loaders will pay a small fee to get “SMS alerts” when compatible off-loads are posted. This eHarmony of junk approach could bring more people into the business of free-trading.

“We want to bring reuse into the mainstream. How we do this is by appealing to people’s needs such as ease-of-use, security and convenience while trying to make the whole online reuse process cool,” says CEO Gary Cope.

“People will embrace reuse if they see benefits, whether personal or by contributing to a good cause, in this case, the charitable act of helping someone out, Cope said.

“I also believe that promoting the reuse of unwanted goods will bring social, environmental and economic benefits. It is why MySkip is committed to working with businesses, non-profit organizations, governments – at local and national levels – to raise awareness of reuse as a sustainable alternative to recycling,” he said.

“No one person or company or government can solve our environmental problems – we need to work together but the first step is to build awareness around the issue.” Aside from reducing landfill waste, My Skip wants to address poverty issues and to that end, has set up the My Skip Charitable Trust, to address poverty issues.

About that celebrity auction, the reason the items are being kept anonymous — you won’t actually know if the glove you bought belonged to Boy George — is so they don’t become tomorrow’s fast buck on eBay.

And that name, My Skip. For Americans who don’t know, a “skip” is a term for a dumpster. Happy diving.

(Photo credit: My Skip’s CEO Gary Cope and May Al-Karooni, director of operations, with some of the donated items for the celebrity auction.)

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