Gwangju Freecycle – Reducing Waste through Gifting

swap
Designed by Meghyn Cox

An article I wrote about a project I initiated was recently published in the Gwangju News. You can read it there (and read other interesting articles while you’re at it!). I will add some more things below though.

Gwangju News Magazine - a high quality magazine printed here in Gwangju. Completely run by volunteers!
Gwangju News Magazine – a high quality magazine printed here in Gwangju. Completely run by volunteers!

It is no secret – Korea is a great place to live, work and study abroad. Gwangju especially attracts people from across the globe due to its vibrant international community. Some expats settle in Gwangju for decades, but most leave after a year or two. It is easy to accumulate things, but as that departure date creeps along, what is one to do with a home full of belongings?

One option is to sell using the flea market Facebook group. Some items, however, are not quite worth selling. One thousand won for some plates, a few hundred for eye contact solution; these items are in perfectly good condition, but is it worth the effort – taking and posting photos? What to do with it – throw it out?

No, Freecycle it!

Gwangju Freecycle was created in January 2014 when many of my departing friends were overwhelmed with how much they had accumulated. They gave me some things that I graciously accepted, and I wanted others to benefit from such exchanges, too. So, I created  the “Gwangju Freecycle” Facebook group. Immediately, there was a positive reception.

The aims of Gwangju Freecycle are 1) to reduce waste through reuse and recycle and 2) to promote a gifting community through generosity. While saving money is an obvious benefit, it is not a main purpose. One could easily buy some cheap mugs, but why not utilize those from someone who no longer needs theirs? The point is to avoid creating waste.

The Freecycle network is actually an international organization with local chapters. It was first started in 2003 by Deral Beal in Arizona, USA. He was looking to donate a bed, but could not find an organization willing to accept it. So, he got a group of friends together to share things they no longer needed. Since then, Freecycle.org has reached over 9 million members in 110 countries. On average, 32,000 items are gifted and reused each day – items that are being kept out of landfills.

How does it work? It is simple. A member posts a photo of something she no longer needs in the group. If somebody expresses interest, arrange to meet up for the exchange. Some noteworthy items generously exchanged so far include beds, guitars, bikes and even a netbook. Even smaller things like books, silverware and shampoos are gifted. No item is too small.

On top of receiving things for free, Freecyclers can also benefit from new friendships. Transactions seem more meaningful when something is gifted without an expectation of something in return. English teacher, Jenny, generously gave away hiking boots to Tamara. The two met and ended up chatting for an hour to discover that they both hail from neighboring hometowns in rural Canada. Instead of exchanging money, Tamara brought Jenny a homemade cake, which was even more special to her. “’I’d have to make her cake every weekend for the rest of my life to truly say thanks for these boots. They were made for me,” Tamara commented, “I feel like I have a sister in Gwangju and finally just found her.” The two have been in Gwangju for over two years.

Twice a year, Gwangju Freecycle and the Gwangju International Center (GIC) host an event called Swap, Don’t Shop!; the most recent one happened this past March. Before the event, community members donated their gently used belongings and volunteers sorted and organized. On the event day, people took home anything they needed at no cost. Rice cookers, blenders, tents, and other great items were exchanged. In addition, Adam Greenberg maintained his usual CREATEandGIFT.org booth, encouraging those of us who might say “I can’t paint” to create anyway and generously give their art away free or take another’s home. Mariya Haponenko designed an art gallery displaying works by local artists and the GIC sold souvenirs, books, and refreshments. It was an active event for the community.

People constantly were thankful and giddy for their new finds, some even wanted to thank the previous owners. After the event, Jessica S. posted on the event page thanking someone for donating toy cars, which her son took “for car rides, baths, and even nap and bed times.” Miaomaio Y., a student from China, was ecstatic and bewildered that she could have a shoe rack to furnish her home at no cost. She smiled constantly when I kept replying “yes” to her several inquiries of “really?” These pre-loved things are now re-loved.

In the future, Freecycle hopes to host swap events twice a year – September and March – when many new teachers and international students have arrived for each semester. Some changes are under consideration to ensure that everyone has a fair chance of benefiting. One long-term vision for Gwangju Freecycle is to maintain a “Give and Take” room, where people can continually drop off and pick up as they please. The community would be responsible for keeping the room organized and neat. It is just a matter of finding a space.

Organizing community events and bringing people together has always been something I enjoy doing. As I move forward toward my career goals, I will keep these side projects in mind.

In the meantime, keep gifting and continue Freecycling wherever you end up in the world. Generosity and gratitude are contagious.

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3 comments

  1. Freecycling fosters a wonderful community spirit – people giving generously, and purposefully so. I love that you brought this idea to Gwangju, Lianne!

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