company, so it was almost free."

In fact, the county's original contract with the programmer was for only $1,300, and maintenance costs now run only the amount of time it takes Beach to monitor the system -- generally about 3 hours each week.

"And it should stay that way," Beach said. "I can't really see why it would go up at all."

The site is specifically geared toward inexpensive items that might otherwise be thrown onto the county's growing refuse heap. "It wouldn't serve our purpose to list a $5,000 car, because that car isn't going to end up in a landfill," Beach explained.

For items worth more than $99, the site provides links to local newspaper classified ads. "We don't want to conflict with the newspapers," he said.

Still there are those who attempt to use the free service to sell expensive items. Some have typed $99 in the price box only to include a substantially higher price in the item description.

But Beach said the number of site abusers is minimal, and regular visitors to the exchange who get angry over such antics often alert Beach to offending ads. "Then I can go to it and just pull their entry or call them and say, 'Hey knock it off,' or just blacklist them," he said.

An objectionable word filter further helps Beach monitor the site, which is otherwise largely self-regulated. Messages containing certain words such as "wanted" are flagged for inspection and deletion if necessary. "We don't want want-ads," Beach said.

But for the most part, such actions are unnecessary, with most users simply interested in finding new homes for a decidedly eclectic assortment of no-longer-needed items.

Quick Results

Shelly Hollowell of Renton, Wash., didn't want to lug a band-sized wooden stage to her new home, so she offered it for free on the exchange.

"It was easy," Hollowell said. "I was surprised to get three callers in the first few days." The stage was picked up a few days later, and Hollowell said she would definitely use the exchange in the future.

Despite the many happy exchanges and exchangers -- the site now has nearly 270 registered users and has listed about 700 items -- there are still some who are not completely satisfied with the system.

Larry Strong, who advertised a set of eight 5-inch carved statues of "Chinese immortals" on the site called his experience frustrating. "There were bugs in the system," he said without elaborating.

Unable to sell his unusual set after two weeks, Strong said he would keep his listing posted for a while then try on bulletin boards at local supermarkets and other free local online ads. "If it doesn't sell, it will go to St. Vincent's," he said.

Despite the fact that his first experience with the system was not perfect, Strong said he would probably use the exchange again.

Because it has been in use for only a few months, Beach said it is difficult to determine if the exchange is helping ease landfill overflow. "It's hard to quantify something like that. You can't really say how many pounds were kept out of the landfill," he said. "But it's on the upswing."

Whether or not the exchange actually reduces the amount of household rubbish clogging already congested landfills, Beach said he knows the Web site is a hit with King County residents.

"Oh, they love it," he said. "It's really cool."

Kris Middaugh  |  Staff Writer