National Service: Changing the world, one gift at a time

The Freecycle Web site encourages people to pass on usable items rather than tossing them in a landfill.

Ido Kenan 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ido Kenan 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Name: Ido Kenan Age: 30 Profession: Internet journalist Organization: Freecycle Residence: Tel Aviv You replaced your perfectly good CRT computer screen with a flat screen and want to pass on the old one to a good cause; you urgently need a refrigerator as the old one just died; you have a pile of old Aviation Weeklies that it would be a pity to throw out. If you're a member of Freecycle, an international organization with branches in 80 countries and millions of members worldwide, all you do is post your item and wait for the replies to come rolling in. The basic idea behind Freecycle is a valiant attempt to save the environment by not throwing stuff into the garbage, which will only end up in landfills. Its slogan is "changing the world one gift at a time." It was started with one e-mail in May 2003 by Deron Beal, of Tucson, Arizona, who used to drive around offering items to nonprofits rather than throwing them away and decided there must be an easier way. According to the Freecycle Web site, the members are currently keeping more than 700 tons of garbage a day out of landfills, or seven times the height of Mount Everest in one year if stacked in garbage trucks. The site, which also has strict rules and etiquette guidelines - no porn, no politics, no money or personal attacks, no proselytizing or religion - is full of useful tips about what to do with "orphaned" socks and wire hangers. Freecycle arrived here in 2005 and has groups in several cities, the largest in Tel Aviv. The actual founder abandoned the idea once it was up and running, and the present moderators are Jay Christopherson, a diplomatic spouse with time on his hands, and Jonathan Danielowitz, who worked as a flight attendant for El Al for many years. Although many of the members are Anglos, I wanted to talk to a sabra involved in the whole idea and was introduced to Ido Kenan, an idealistic young man who strongly supports the ideology of Freecycle. "I'VE BEEN ecologically aware from a very young age," says the 30-year-old Internet journalist. "As a child growing up in Israel I always used to recycle paper and packaging and use rechargeable batteries as much as possible. Children today have it drummed into them, much as in the old days we were taught never to pick wild flowers, not to throw things out if they can be reused, and they teach their parents." When he read about Freecycle in the Hebrew press, his first instinct was to join out of curiosity, but since becoming a full-fledged member, he finds it has a lot more to offer than just a forum for acquiring and getting rid of objects. "It's almost like a community here," he says. "You find out things about the people you encounter on the site. If they give away toys, you know they're married with children. If they give away religious paraphernalia, you know they are religious - or were. I spend a lot of my waking day on the Internet, and it's good to meet and communicate with people. When an item is posted, we develop chat around it." He gives the example of a woman from Jerusalem who offered a large amount of exposed film. "Even unexposed film is almost unusable these days, so why would anyone want that? I spoke to her and she suggested that someone might use it for art work." One Freecycle member posted a request for a missing lid for his old food processor and was inundated with suggestions of where he might find one - including the Jaffa flea market, where he quickly found the missing item. AS REGARDS awareness of ecology in general, Kenan feels that it is improving day by day but would like to see Freecycle reaching many more people. "We live in a very consumer-driven society and Freecycle enables people to get what they need without spending money or going out shopping. You find something you really needed without having to move from your home." He does not think there is any danger it will be used for commercial purposes or trade. "Since there is no database, you would have to be on-line all the time to acquire things to sell," he says. Danielowitz, the joint moderator with Christopherson, keeps a sharp eye out for anything that sounds suspicious. "If we get repeated requests from one person for a specific item like furniture or bicycle parts, we look into it. We would like to believe that everything is above board but we can't be completely sure." It all sounds almost too good to be true - getting something for nothing - but all the people I spoke to about Freecycle are motivated by pure ideology, saving the environment. In a country where the supermarket cashier thinks you're crazy for not taking a handful of plastic bags we still have a way to go, but Freecycle is a step in the right direction.