activism New York Reviews

Your trash, my treasure: The Buy Nothing project

I am so very excited to share with you all a Facebook group, neighborhood community, circular economy initiative called The Buy Nothing Project. The Buy Nothing Project was created in 2013 by two friends, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, in the state of Washington, USA, as an experimental hyper-local gift economy. The project’s tagline says: Buy Nothing. Give Freely. Share Creatively. The mantra: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Refuse (buying new things). Rethink (consumption). Do you remember Vera’s last post about users vs. consumers

Buy Nothing Project groups are set up by people in their own neighborhoods. Individuals set up groups in their communities and serve as leaders. No funding involved. Fully grass-roots. The rules of the group 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”.  The Buy Nothing Project has approximately 1.5 million participants and it is present in over 30 countries.

Some join looking for a space to easily get rid of things that are cluttering their lives; others to get things for free; others because they are in a path to buying less and reusing more, even if this means reusing and repurposing what others no longer want. For many, this group ends up being a beautiful way to connect with neighbors, to develop trust in the community and to engage with those closest to us in real life. In all cases, it helps our planet by giving a longer life to what would otherwise end up in a landfill or in the sea.

So now to my group, the Buy Nothing Williamsburg/Greenpoint group, which has, today, 1,826 members from these two neighborhoods in the north of Brooklyn. The group was created on January 2017 and I joined a couple of years ago, right after I moved to East Williamsburg. I was at the time determined to declutter my home and my life at large. Also, I have never been a fan of online shopping or online selling. I like seeing and touching the things, and I also like the human connection required to buy something in a store, or to give, receive or share something in person. The free, hyper-local and environmental principles of the Buy Nothing Project were just the perfect plus. 

I see neighbors giving and looking for clothes, kitchenware, furniture, books, music. I have seen people sharing a nearly unopened bag of dog food that their dog didn’t like. Thanksgiving leftovers. Plants cuttings/clippings/propagates. Fabric scraps to do masks during COVID-19. I have seen neighbors borrowing air mattresses and extra dining chairs during the family holiday season.

I have received from the group a few things. A set of reusable plastic glasses that I took to the office for those celebrations where too many single use plastic glasses, plates and cutlery go to waste. A Dutch oven that I have used to make bread right after the quarantine. And a great bike tire pump!  

I have given a few things. Many. I have nice memories of some of the encounters I have had. I remember well that vintage photo I bought in a street market in the West Village, which I framed and moved with love and care from one apartment to another in the city. It even travelled with me across continents. The person who claimed it, 9 years after I bought it, had just moved to a new apartment with her partner and two babies. She looked tired and it seemed as it that effortless way of acquiring something that cool (it was real cool) made her feel triumphant.

I also remember well that denim jacket I bought in Lima, Peru in 2007, which I loved but was just too small and had not been worn in a while. I had such an emotional attachment to it. It was hard to gift. The woman who got it messaged me to let me know it fitted her perfectly and how much she loved it. It made me happy to know it went to someone who was going to enjoy and care for it as much as I did.

Perhaps the most beautiful story I have is that of a poster of ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev. I used to dance as a child and I got this poster from the store where I bought my first pointe shoes when I was 13. I carried that poster with me, mainly rolled, across countries. The poster was old. The frame I ended up buying (once I realized I was going to stay in NY for a while) was cheap. When I was ready to gift it, I found the perfect person for it in my Buy Nothing group. A woman I had met before, who dances and who has an adorable daughter who also dances. She had seen Nureyev in person as a child, and I was moved that this poster found her. Her message asking for it said: “I would love the Nureyev poster! I was a little girl when I saw him on stage at the very end of his career. He wasn’t really dancing anymore, but his presence was still very striking”. 

I have shared this project with friends. In Booklyn, many neighborhoods have their own group. I am marveled by my friend Melissa, who joined her neighborhood group after learning about mine. Every time I tell her I need something, she asks me: “Did you ask in your Buy Nothing group?” I just love how this has become her first to-go resource when she needs something.

Do you want to learn more about the project? Do you want to see if there is a group in your neighborhood? If not, would you consider starting a group? Check out their Website. And tell us what you find! 


JUNCAL// New York

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