I cannot tell you how many times I wished that Styrofoam food containers would disappear. Call it a pet peeve but it goes beyond that. They leach harmful (albeit slow-acting and invisible) endocrine disruptors in the food stored in them, they are non-recyclable and indestructible, and one too many can be seen lying around parks or washing on river shores once the humans that emptied them have long left the scene.
(Initially published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 7, 2013.)
The email from Freecycle Kamloops read ‘WANTED: Pure wool sweaters.’ The explanation: someone wanted sweaters to make crafty things out of them.
Right. My old ivory-hue lambswool sweater, with almost see-through elbows, fit the description. The next day I parted with my old, well-used sweater and got acquainted with a new way of creating a sturdy warm, water resistant material out of old wool knits. You shrink them, intentionally.
Shrinking is something I did unintentionally with a few nice wool sweaters (a.k.a. the untold story of how the boys have inherited some nice solid wool sweaters from us adults.) Compact wear, you could say, perfect for Kamloops winters.
The Freecycle concept is aptly described by its name. You save items from the dump by giving them away or taking them off someone’s hands.
It appeals to the free-spirited who believe in recycling and reusing things or even bits of things (think odds and ends left over after a big move, or renovating, or after an occasional purge.)
It is also the ideal place to find things when your budget is close to nil but the needs are not.
Many of today’s short-lived items are a good, but sad, match to our fast-paced lifestyles. A quick browse through the items brought to the dump on any given day paints a rather scary perspective of today’s understanding of our relationship to our environment.
We rely on finite resources as if they were infinite, while making only short-term use of many things that could be given a second and third life.
Freecycling is an obvious, necessary activity for people who live in more isolated communities where self-sufficiency has nothing to do with following trends but with surviving.
Think of an island or a remote community where people cherish every square metre of their land and rely heavily on the old ‘someone’s garbage is another man’s treasure.’
If you visit many of the smaller Gulf Islands you’ll see signs urging you to take your garbage with you when you leave and recycle or compost everything you buy or produce during your stay.
Many of the houses and their attached amenities are patched and fixed in a creative, use-everything-you-can island style.
Some of the more remote islands have free stores, the epitome of self-sufficiency. They are exactly that. Free.
All those bags of clothes your kids have outgrown, all the books you don’t need anymore, all the clutter that makes your life so much easier if only someone could take it off your hands — there is a place for that.
Also, think low budget, but still trying to have the minimum amount of household stuff, clothing and toys — there’s a place for that, too.
It’s a brilliant concept that goes against Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the don’t-you-dare-miss sales we are sucked into. It may be just the thing to save us from being overrun by garbage in the future.
With a bit of necessary extrapolation for a bigger community, the concept of consignment stores and also thrift stores that act as fundraisers for worthy causes are a nice complement to a freecycling program every community should have.
Imagine buying only the things you really need when you need them; choosing products that can be reused for many years because the landfill is not an option; avoiding non-recyclable and unnecessary packaging because what would you do with it all once you dig out the goods?
Imagine finding that little, simple-design engine you’ve always wanted for your sturdy homemade lawnmower?
Or, why not a good, old wool sweater you can shrink to your heart’s content and make into gaiters or a warm vest?
Switching your collection of well-read books for a new batch just in time for long winter nights?
Now, wouldn’t that be great?