3S WP 2012-05 Groomes and Seyfang – Secondhand Spaces and Sustainable Consumption: Examining Freecycle’s Environmental Impacts and User Motivations

Sustainable consumption demands that greater attention is paid to the causes and consequences of a materialistic consumer society, in particular the issue of ever-increasing post-consumer waste. Current research suggests that secondhand disposition and acquisition are motivated by generosity, economic necessity and personal fulfilment. Despite the recent growth of online secondhand spaces, including Freecycle (an online network for distributing unwanted items, with a mission to reduce waste, and the first secondhand space with a principally environmental objective) little research has been done regarding the environmental aspect of using secondhand spaces. Therefore, this paper presents new empirical findings from a case study of a Freecycle group to explore how the network is used, why, and by whom. A case study of Norfolk Freegle (Freecycle) in the UK comprised an analysis of Freecycle email posts, an online members’ survey, and follow-up telephone interviews, as well as elite interviews with organisers. Results show that Freecycle adds an environmental dimension to the more common reuse motivations of altruism and economic necessity, and most members use Freecycle for both disposition and acquisition. The majority of items seen were white goods, furniture, or electronics: all difficult to find in other secondhand spaces. This research shows that networks such as Freecycle are an important way to tap into environmental motivations for reuse, keep waste out of landfill.

Groomes, L. Seyfang, G. (2012) Secondhand Spaces and Sustainable Consumption: Examining Freecycle’s Environmental Impacts and User Motivations. 3S Working Paper 2012-05. Norwich: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group

3S WP 2012-05 Groomes and Seyfang

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