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WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: Don’t

Debra Betz (who's also on the school committee) has run the Plymouth chapter of FreeCycle.org since 2006. The site is a "Free-bay", if you will, where people can post offers and requests for free items -- anything from kids clothes to food processors to furniture. She shows a beautiful hutch she got through the site. Photo by Gary Higgins

just dump your stuff - Freecycle it

When Debra Betz wanted to get rid of the outdoor play set her children had outgrown, she turned to Freecycle.org - an online swap site where people exchange items for free.

Betz, 42, of Plymouth and a school committee member, posted the items on the site and didn’t wait long. “Within two hours, everything was gone,” she said.

Freecycle, a give-it-away, take-it-away Web site, started in Arizona in May 2003 to promote waste reduction. It currently has more than 4.5 million members worldwide. Massachusetts has 79 groups, including chapters in Canton, Carver, Hingham, Holbrook, Kingston, Quincy, Rockland, Weymouth and Whitman. The Plymouth chapter has about 1,300 members, Betz said.

“If you need something, it’s kind of like asking all of your neighbors,” Betz said.

The Web site states that its members have helped keep 400 tons of trash a day out of landfills. It claims the items gifted this past year, when stacked in garbage trucks, would be more than four times the height of Mt. Everest.

Culturally, Freecycle is more than a give-and-take group. It’s a grassroots movement that works to instill a sense of generosity, strengthen community ties and promote environmental awareness. Each local group is run by a local volunteer moderator, and membership is free.

Betz started the Plymouth group two years ago. She said the most popular items listed are furniture, toys, baby gear and clothes.

As a volunteer moderator she has to ensure that items are being swapped properly and participants are honoring the spirit of Freecycle - no porn, no cost and no whining.

Giving stuff is better than getting stuff, said Heidi Graf, 46 of Milton, a member of the Quincy group.

“I enjoy seeing what people have to offer, but rarely see anything that I want to grab,” Graf said. “In fact, I don’t think I have ever responded to an offer. I am much more interested in things leaving my house, as opposed to arriving.”

Jessie Chandler, who moderates the Quincy group, has been Freecycling for a year-and-a-half. “I had heard about it through a natural family living community I belonged to and I decided to give it a try,” Chandler said. “I’ve always recycled and have tried to be very conscious in my waste and material use. Freecycling goods that I no longer needed was a natural step along that path.”

Betz, went through a monthlong training program before she could become a group moderator. And, like any other online community - eBay or MySpace - Freecycle has its own rules of etiquette.

First, don’t just give an item to the first person who responds, but rather choose the best recipient.

For privacy reasons, only give your home address to the person you’re exchanging with. There’s also a strict policy on “wanted” posts.

“There’s no sob stories allowed,” Betz warned, advising members to keep their requests simple and to the point. She said people can mention their personal situation once they’ve received the item.

A recent scan of the Hingham group included offers for a Polly Pocket doll, weight bench and baby clothes.

Items quickly taken were books, movies and an oversized-chair.

Since there is always something in the house to get rid of, Graf said joining Freecycle has been worthwhile.

“The greatest benefits to Freecycle.com are getting rid of stuff you are not using, finding a new home for it that is not a landfill, and finding the person who actually wants and needs your stuff,” Graf said. “I have offered much more than I have wanted.”

By Kyle Sutton. Ruth Baltopoulos contributed to this report.