Case Study:

Freegle

Saving 1000 tons of waste a month from going to landfill

  • Founded: 2009
  • Location: UK wide
  • Products: Managed Cloud Hosting

At Bytemark we are actively looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact, which includes helping to support organisations which have a clear environmental mission!

On average, every person in the UK throws away their own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks. Reusing household items is a simple way of extending their lifespan and reducing this amount of waste going landfill. Buying re-used items, like sofas and TVs, also saves UK households around £1 billion a year when compared with buying brand new goods.

Whilst it is clear that recycling has a massive impact on waste reduction, the big question is - how do you connect perfectly useable second hand items with new owners. This is where Freegle comes in!

Freegle was formed to create a unique, friendly and proactive UK network for online groups facilitating the gifting (“freegling”!) of unwanted goods from one individual to another.

The Freegle network helps to organise autonomous local groups across the country. On a very modest budget of around £7000 a year, these groups are able to collectively save around over a million pounds worth of second hand goods from going to landfill or incinerators. At present the organisation is supported and maintained by around 1000 volunteers from across the country, all of whom contribute to Freegle in various ways: moderation, helping with questions, promotion, and its technological infrastructure

Led by Board member and Lead Developer Edward Hibbert, over the past year Freegle has been able to move away from its previous reliance on Yahoo groups through the development of its own platform. This in-house approach has helped contribute to the increasing success of the site, which now has over 2.6 million members in groups across the UK.

However popularity can present its own problems, especially when you receive nationwide TV coverage. We managed to catch Edward on a rare bit of downtime to talk about how Freegle is planning to further expand and what Bytemark has put in place to ensure the platform can handle unpredictable and heavy traffic.

Edward and Bethan chatting

What does the future have in store for Freegle?

We’ve revamped our site a lot this year - that was long overdue, and it’s always a challenge for a low-budget charity to compete for people’s attention when they could be looking at pictures of kittens who look like Donald Trump.

Right now, Freegle is still basically like a noticeboard plus chat/email, you advertise that you have something you don’t need, or want something you don’t have, people respond, and you sort out collection. That’s brilliant, but ideally we’d like to help with the whole process, to make it work more smoothly. We would love to add features like:

  • Sorting out a date/time/location that works for people - a bit like built-in Doodle polls
  • Remembering your address and collection instructions so that you don’t have to tell people for the umpteenth time that it’ll be in the greenhouse.
  • Reminding people when they’re due to collect something, so they don’t forget through SMS or app notifications
  • Producing a nice “reuse report” for councils that show what’s happening in their area - so that they can more easily support us. Edward working on his laptop

    How does Bytemark support Freegle’s infrastructure?

One of our volunteers had used you for hosting, and rather cheekily contacted you to see if you’d help us out. The lesson of Freegle is that if you don’t ask, you don’t get, and that certainly paid off for us this time!

Until we shifted to Bytemark, we were colocating everything onto a couple of servers. Being able to spread ourselves out a bit meant that we could use a Percona cluster for our database (rather than our older master/slave replication model), and split out the bulk operations of sending a million or so emails a day our so that they didn’t affect the end-user operations. That’s improved our resilience and performance a lot.

Bytemark also introduced SSD disks pretty early, which made a big difference to our database servers.

Edward talking over a coffee

How does press exposure affect traffic and server requirements?

A mention on national TV is both the best and the worst thing that can happen. When we get TV coverage our load can spike up to 50 or 100 times its normal level - so the ability to scale servers up and down is critical if we’re to capitalise on the benefits of publicity. That’s a big benefit of the cloud platform for us, because we couldn’t afford to over-specify our servers to that extent.

  • Bytemark worked closely with the small but dedicated Freegle geek team to design a fast, scalable database cluster that could weather both planned and unexpected TV coverage.

  • Freegle run a Percona XtraDB cluster powered by Bytemark Cloud Servers. Making use of our SSD storage, Freegle can be sure the database runs as quickly as possible and also maintains a live backup.

  • Bytemark also provide a firewall to protect against malicious attacks

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