From trash to treasure

The Jerusalem freecycle organization gives unwanted goods a new home.

A new Internet-based organization is revolutionizing the way Jerusalem residents get rid of old items and get new ones. The program, called Freecycle, allows anyone living in or near Jerusalem to post items they no longer want on an e-mail newsletter that goes to people "interested in getting free stuff." Since it was founded one year ago, the Jerusalem Freecycle network has grown to include over 500 members. Freecycle members have given away away pets, furniture, appliances, a sukkah, an old door and even a proverbial kitchen sink - and everything in between. As long as "it's free, legal, and appropriate for all ages," says the Web site, users can send e-mails offering and asking for whatever their hearts desire. "Freecycle is a sort of lowest form of charity, it makes use of your garbage," Ruth Almon, a user of Freecycle, says. She especially likes using Freecycle because it makes it so easy to find people interested in someone else's extra items. One couple who discovered they were allergic to their pet cat even found a person wanting to adopt it, while other people have found willing takers of ducklings and a hamster. Shmuel Meyer, the founder of Jerusalem Freecycle, says he started the service "as something [he] could do to help the community at large." The Jerusalem Freecycle network is part of a larger movement started two years ago in Tucson, Arizona, to protect the city's desert landscape by reducing waste and, in turn, cut down on the growing number of landfills. Since then, Freecycling has spread internationally to include over 1.7 million members in over 3,000 cities. This is an alternative to "filling the garbage dumps with things that can be used," says Ellen Rosen, a Jerusalem Freecycle user and avid fan of the service. "Most people in Israel say we're at war and we don't have time for these things [environmental causes], but it's essential for our survival." For Rosen, finding fellow environmentalists living in the vicinity of Jerusalem is yet another benefit to using Freecycling. While Freecycling cuts down on waste, many Jerusalem residents also like using the service to help those in need. Michael Olberg, a Freecycle user, says he enjoyed the "good feeling" of giving away extra items. When he donated an old TV to a soldier serving in an area without any TV sets, the soldier "was delighted to take the TV" to watch during the hours he wasn't on duty. On a different occasion, Olberg was happy to give a personal disk player to a music teacher who needed on badly. Freecycle also helped one Jerusalem couple experiencing financial hardships move into a new house. After the couple sent out an e-mail explaining their situation, they were so overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to donate household items that they sent out another e-mail thanking everyone for their generosity. "So many wonderful people wanted to help, we actually had to turn some [people] away. I can't believe the response. Only in Israel," the couple said in the e-mail.