The ‘freecycling’ revolution

Local NGO promotes community, recycling

Reduce, reuse, recycle. The three-word slogan is omnipresent enough to be a cliché, but a group of expats have reprocessed it into something snappier: ReReRe.

The name applies to a “freecycling” event-planning organization and a website launched in Oct. 2010 by a group of European Union-funded volunteers working for NGOs in Prague: Jane Harding from the United Kingdom, Cigdem Cevrim from Turkey, Daria Samokhvalova from Russia and Csilla Barkász from Romania. After a strong first year, ReReRe is confronted with a dualism many volunteer organizations face.

“We’re going through a funny stage at the moment, trying to get publicity but also trying to get new volunteers to join the project,” Harding tells The Prague Post.

For those who haven’t heard of it, freecycling is part action, part mindset. The former is an extension of the oft-prescribed habit of spring-cleaning and culminates in groups of people giving and taking things for free – whether at a book or clothing swap, through the Internet or at a physical freecycling store (none yet exists in the Czech Republic).

“For me, it’s quite liberating to give away things, because I like to have less. I feel clean when I only have the items I really need,” Harding says.

The mindset part can be harder to grasp, and Harding is careful not to overdo the credo.

“We don’t push the message hugely, because I do think people are put off by radical activists,” she says.

Harding believes environmental problems too often go unaddressed simply because people don’t know how to address them.

“This is a project which is very accessible, and the concept is clear,” Harding said. “We want people to basically think about the environmental impacts of buying things, throwing them away. It’s anti-consumerism, in a way. Especially in Europe and the Western world, we have a throw-away society, and if we can support a different alternative idea, I think that’s a great thing.”

ReReRe was originally funded through a 6,000 euro grant from the European Union’s Youth in Action program. When the group started, freecycling was nonexistent in Prague. Harding’s boyfriend, Jakub Smolík, has contributed to the project from the outset.

“I had been doing DIY bike workshops already, so one of the first things on my mind was to get ReReRe involved,” Smolík says.

Smolík’s initiative began ReReRe’s longest-standing event series, “MIX and FIX,” which now runs every second month at Žižkov’s Bicykl (Bořivojova 108, Prague 3). At this event, bike specialists show people how to repair their bike, and there is also a bookshelf where people can swap books. The next event will take place May 9.

Though events were initially the focus, ReReRe’s website has started to accumulate a steady group of users. Posts on the site are split into three categories: Give Away, Wanted, Exchange. Most are in both English and Czech, and there is no need to register for an account. Participants merely go to the site, fill out a free-form post, include an e-mail address or phone number, and leave it up to other users to contact them and facilitate the exchange of goods or skills, like language partnering or music lessons. Harding, who just gave away a snowboard through the site, mentions some particularly memorable donated items, including a retro toaster brought to a book swap and a knitted ferret, but says that designer clothes also pop up on the site from time to time.

Though the grant’s yearlong funding has run out, ReReRe’s current issue is not money. The problem is staffing.

“Three of the four founding members are not much involved anymore,” Smolík said. “Last year was quite hectic. … And since all of us are just volunteers and we have our own jobs and lives, I think we got tired of organizing too many events and devoting too much of our free time to the project.”

So, in either an ironic turn or a completely natural one, ReReRe may soon have to freecycle itself. A couple of Czech-run freecycling organizations arose around the same time as ReReRe, including Vše ZA ODVOZ, and Harding sees opportunity for a merger, or at least collaboration.

“We don’t see it as competition,” she said. “It’s more, ‘Let’s collaborate with others.’ “

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