Fighting for freerecyling

The hidden costs of freecycyling

Some people make great claims for the tons saved from going to landfill. But at what cost? Has anyone ever collected something trivial from another freecycle member using a Hummer gas-guzzler? What is the cost to the environment of people travelling to see an item when the offerer is not actually in? Even if the item has been left outside, perhaps the collector misunderstood or simply could not find the object. Or on arrival the collector decides they do not even want the item.

What brought this to mind was a podcast hosted by EconTalk covering a range of recycling issues. This talk even alluded to how some tree huggers (as discussed on justify their continued use of new gas guzzlers of offsetting their carbon footprint by some twisted thinking around planting trees or supporting wind farms. The latter is all extremely important and laudable, but the concept of somehow offsetting carbon footrint really makes me sick.

I earn my daily crust at ParcelForce and they play this marketing game of offsetting their carbon footprint. I hate every bit of carbon offset, since it seems to me to be a justification for both companies and individuals going slow on doing real projects for reducing carbon footprints. What is important is how an organisation reduces its own footprint, and to me carbon offset is marketing speak of the worst kind.

At the pinnacle of this is TerraPass which sanitises the cost of carbon footprint of your car to the point that you can simply pay 20, 30 or 40 dollars a month, or whatever and then feel good about the car you own. TerraPass do not even seem to give any clear indication of how much of your contribution works, in that they could be siphoning off money to support handsome salaries and pensions. They only allude to the kind of projects that might be supported. This seems all such very woolly stuff that it seems like a scam and I would not want to touch them without a much significantly more credible website. Everything they seem to say and do is about people getting a re-assuring sticker on their car that helps their carbon footprint image. When I see that one of their backers is the Ford motor company I feel my case is proven.


September 24, 2007 - Posted by | freecycle | , , , ,


  1. Reduce before you offset is the montra. carbon offseting is not the wasteful people trying to justify their waste. Offsetting is done mostly by green people balancing out what they can not reduce. Terra Pass recently studied their customers and found some things out:

    86% watch their thermostat settings at home
    6% have installed solar panels (200 times the national average)
    43% bought a more fuel efficient car
    26% ride public transportation to work
    23% ride their bike to work

    they sound pretty green to me

    Comment by matt | September 25, 2007 | Reply

  2. Statistics are a funny thing. Where are your controls to put these in context? Playing with statistics can be fun so let me restate a couple.

    – more that half (100-43=57%) either maintained or increased their gas guzzling cars
    – over half (100-26-23=51%) use private transport as their primary means of transport to work

    But, fun aside, I am not saying these people and companies are not interested in green issues. Your statistics on solar panels is very impressive. What I am saying that schemes like Terra Pass provide a feel-good factor that can stop some people from facing up to the realities of climate change. Take TerraPass’s page on Weddings for example. There is nothing there about how to reduce the carbon footprint of a wedding, it is all about buying TerraPass carbon offset tokens.

    In fact anyone who successfully reduces a carbon footprint towards zero is actually a poor customer of Terra Pass since they have no reason to offset. Surely these are the greenest people on the planet!

    I would be more impressed if TerraPass had on its home page a list of the worst performers in the vehicle gas guzzling stakes. I would be more impressed if TerraPass had some links and articles on serious initiatives to reduce carbon footprints, whereas all I see is smoke (in both senses). I will change my mind when TerraPass looks very much less like a way to spend $20 or $30 per month and more like serious campaigning on behalf of reducing carbon needs, in which just one tool is carbon offset.

    Comment by andyswarbs | September 25, 2007 | Reply

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