young couple sitting on the floor in an empty room that's being rennovated

What do you do when you have an old board game that you no longer play or a coffee pot you don’t like? Depending on who you ask, the answer is usually “drop it off at a consignment shop” or simply “throw it away.” But there’s a great eco-friendly and community-based solution to your spring cleaning woes — the Buy Nothing Project.

Supported by social media groups (and the soon-to-be-released BuyNothing app), more than 12,000 volunteers facilitate local gift economies across the world that benefit millions of participants. Group members can give any gift that follows national and local laws, whether it’s a physical item or a gift of service to others (think gardening or repair work). Members can also freely ask for these gifts from others.

How the Buy Nothing Project Started

The Buy Nothing Project was started in 2013 by Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clarkin on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The two friends got their inspiration from villagers in the Himalayas who rely on their own form of a gift economy to care for one another.

They launched an experimental hyper-local gift economy in the form of a Facebook group called “Buy Nothing” in their own community. In two months, Buy Nothing became a social movement that grew to more than 4,000 members in 16 groups throughout the U.S. By the end of that year, there were 80 groups.

By February 2021, the Buy Nothing Project had at least 3 million participants in 44 countries across the world, and its founders only expect more growth.

How It Works

Participating in the Buy Nothing Project is simple, especially if there’s already a group set up in your area. If that’s the case, request to join the group on the Buy Nothing website or Facebook page. Then, you can post anything you’d like to give, lend, receive, or borrow and watch those messages from neighbors come rolling in.

Say you have some leftover paints and art supplies after a DIY project and you’d like to get rid of them. Try posting a “give” on your local Buy Nothing group and see who responds. It’s likely that a neighbor can take them for their own project. Sometimes local teachers or daycare owners will reach out as well, asking to add the supplies to their collection.

You can also ask for things on Buy Nothing groups. If you’re in need of moving boxes, for example, post a request. It’s likely that a few people will have extra boxes at the ready and all you’ll need to do is pick them up.

Buy Nothing Project rules are simple: Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. No hate speech. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re strictly a gift economy.” —Buy Nothing Project

The Buy Nothing Project Is Great for the Environment

Not only does the Buy Nothing Project allow participants to save money and a trip to the store, but it also diverts materials from the landfill and sharply reduces waste.

The project allows neighbors to share unneeded or unwanted belongings with each other, creating a gift economy that benefits everyone — including the environment. Neighbors can give away items that they may otherwise throw in the trash and the recipients can reuse or repurpose them to fit their own needs.

For example, one neighbor may be remodeling their house, tearing out carpet, and painting it a new color. Rather than throwing out the old materials, which can be harmful to the environment when sent to the landfill, they can snap a photo of the leftovers and post it to their local Buy Nothing group. From there, neighbors can claim and reuse these items for their own projects.

The group also reduces food waste. When participants get their hands on an extra loaf of bread or find that their family doesn’t care for the brand of canned goods they just purchased, they can post those items to their Buy Nothing group. Neighbors who claim the food will save it from going to waste. Because food waste accounts for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, these gifts are great for the environment.

“Asks” are another eco-friendly Buy Nothing feature. Asking for things like a yoga mat or an extra curtain rod saves you money and a trip to the store. Plus, reusing a neighbor’s item saves it from the landfill and saves the resources needed to manufacture a new product.

How to Participate in the Buy Nothing Project

Head to the Buy Nothing website to learn more about how it works and to find a group near you. If a local group exists, all it takes is a simple request and the volunteer administrators will let you in. From there, you can post your offers and requests. Just follow the rules laid out in each group’s description.

If a local group doesn’t exist, you can start one. Read the instructions and fill out the form to get started. Then get ready to start enjoying the benefits of your local gift economy.

By Lauren Murphy

Lauren has a B.S. in environmental science, a crafting addiction, and a love for all things Pacific Northwest. She writes from her cozy downtown apartment tucked in the very northwestern corner of the continental U.S. Lauren spends her time writing and focusing on a healthy, simple and sustainable lifestyle.