On Tuesday and Friday mornings as the sun peeks above the horizon, Jacquie Mann rummages through the free-standing items left at curbside for trash pickup in her Palm Harbor community. She's looking for anything usable. "I'm an avid recycler," said Mann, who is active with Phreecycle Clearwater, an online recycling group run by volunteers dedicated to keeping as much trash as possible out of landfills. The problem with a landfill, she said, is that the amount of trash picked up exceeds the amount of land to put it in.
"You do something for the planet and for other people," Mann said of recycling, "rather than just for yourself."
Phreecycle Clearwater is a year-old offshoot of the larger online group called the Freecycle Network. Freecycle, which began in 2003, now has its network in more than 85 countries.
Phreecycle Clearwater, as with the larger organization, is available to all through a cost-free Yahoo website. Site users may post items wanted and items to be given away, often matching one person's trash with another one's wish.
Mann's finds have run the gamut — the lid of a toilet tank, egg cartons, flower pots, an old copier machine, a portable weather station. Most items find a home.
Six people wanted the toilet tank lid, Mann said. A large round ceiling light turned out to be exactly what a Clearwater resident had been seeking for years.
Resembling a flying saucer, the lighting fixture now hangs over the dining room table in the home of Matt Fulk, a Clearwater project manager for a large telecommunications company.
"I am interested in midcentury modern decor," Fulk said, "and I've been looking for this particular lamp for several years."
Referred to the Phreecycle website by a cousin, Fulk was ecstatic to find the piece, a George Nelson bubble lamp that originated in the late 1940s.
"From the description, I knew it was just what I wanted," he said. "I couldn't be happier."
Dunedin resident Lynda Mink, volunteer owner/manager of the local website, said Phreecycle is a wonderful shopping list — with a caveat.
"We need to strike a balance," she said. "People need to give something as well as take something." A first-time member of the website must begin by donating an item before taking one.
Mink's connection to Phreecycle has changed her whole approach to shopping.
"I don't do retail anymore," she said. "Everything besides groceries and medications I find on the site, and I give away everything that way." A cement planter and an outdoor fountain are among her recent finds.
Both Mann and Mink said the Phreecycle group offers a viable alternative to other types of charitable giving.
"The difference is that this is a person-to-person exchange," Mann said of Phreecycle. "You also get rid of things you might not be able to donate elsewhere that are damaged or undesirable."
Unusual items are more apt to find a home through Phreecycle as well.
"We just had a mobile home posted and given away this year," Mink said. "We also rehome pets and plants."
Not every item is accepted. Three volunteers, called "moderators," must approve each potential posting before it goes on the site.
"We don't let any spam or phishing go on," said Mink, referring to fraudulent efforts to obtain confidential information online. Adding moderators has eliminated that problem.
One moderator, Linda Hinton, joined the Phreecycle Clearwater group at the urging of a friend and said she was amazed at the range of stuff on the site that finds its way to the perfect recipient. For instance, pieces from a vintage camera landed in an artist's shadow box.
"I was given an antique steamer trunk," Hinton said, "and just last month a very nice upright piano was given away."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at email@example.com.