Kate Calvert signed up to the Freecycle network four years ago and offers her top tips

Freecycle started in 2003 in Tucson Arizona as a project to keep items out of landfill. Today it operates in 85 countries with at least 2 million members, maybe even 9 million. To join you simply sign up to a local group where you can offer or request any legal items (no pets or people). Some users keep an eye on a wide range of groups, but because these are geographically based, you are generally dealing with locals who can call round quickly.

London seems to have taken to it allwith some enthusiasm:the original FreecycleIslington branch got so big it divided into four. And after irritation with acontrolling head office there’sa breakaway group called Freegle.The London Freecycle page is at www.freecycle.org/group/UK/london. Camden/Kentish Town has 14,000 members, Islington North 16,000. Freegle operates through Yahoo groups with London groups listed at www.ilovefreegle.org/groups/london. The Islington North group has 8,000 members, and Kentish Town around 7,000.

So far all I have obtained are a couple of free CDs for kids but I have managed to shift large amounts of stuff we no longer needed, from a completely pristine but obscure piece of chain and spring, to all kinds of unwanted building material.

1. It can be helpful to post on both Freecycle and Freegle so as to reach a wider audience.
2. Make your description as accurate as you can. That way the item will go to someone who won’tjunk it. Give dimensions to save follow-up queries, note any flaws, and ideally explain why you no longer want it.
3. Turnover can be swift with collection sometimes same or next day, so only post when you are ready for that.
4. Some items result in a flurry of requests so take more time to handle, as do arrangements for bigger items when transport has to be arranged. Working electrical equipment always seems to attract enthusiasm. Also quite popular are items for babies and children, and large household pieces like sofas and futons. Boxes for movingalways go.
5. Where there are several expressions of interest my rule of thumb is to ignore anyone whose email lacks effort. ‘I would like this very much thank you,’ probably indicates someone who can’t get it together to turn up. On the other hand I will favour someone who explains why they want the item and especially, when they are able to collect it. However much I enjoy the storytelling, I treat with a pinch of salt long tales of hardship.
6. Even with polite responses, to avoid time wasters, before giving the collection address to a potential recipient, send an email asking when they can collect. You can do this to more than one respondent at a time.
7. Some then won’t reply, or tell you they can manage a week on Thursday. These will fizzle out so move swiftly on to someone who responds clearly and can collect in the immediate future. Then give your address with clear directions.
8. Some respondents request a photograph. If they are that fussy, they aren’t that keen, so they too I generally bin. However, other Freecyclers suggest inviting the respondent come round to view. That way you can tell whether they are genuinely interested.
9. Small items can be left on your front doorstep in a plastic bag which resolves the ‘will you be in’ ballet.
10. There is someone somewhere who will want the most obscure item – but they won’t always be reading Freecycle/Freegle when you make your post, so sometimes you need to post things a second time, say a month later. However, if the item doesn’t go after that, the recycling centre beckons. Islington for example actively sorts through all old electrical gear and runs an apprentice scheme to refurbish it.
11. Some Freecyclers are in it for the money and if in doubt you can ask what they want the item for. I failed to do that with my old radiators, which the builder tells me went into the back of a scrap metal dealer’s truck. At that point I could have sold the things myself.
12. Sometimes you do find just the right recipient – one resourceful Freecycler with a cement basement floor and no car caught the bus home with a whole wall-to-wall Axminster carpet taped into a roll and draped over his shoulder. It was a fine old thing we had inherited in the ‘80s and never used so I was glad to see it go to a good home.
13. Finally, sometimes you don’t need to Freecycle. The old route of asking people if they know of a suitable recipient is the easiest way of finding it a good new home.
14. And some items will find a better home via eBay. We ended up with some obscure electrified Lego train track. We didn’t have matching parts but it attracted a number of eBay bids.