"Buy Nothing Groups" create literal "free" market that helps the environment

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Broken power tools, used cardboard boxes, and outdated furniture often find a new home in the trash. This piles up to hundreds if not thousands of years idling in a landfill.

In 2013, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller thought these items deserved a second chance. They created the Buy Nothing Project group, which has hyperlocal internet communities in 18 countries as of 2015.

The goal is to make Facebook groups as small as possible to connect neighbors in the literal sense. They can freely give and receive goods and services in a "gift economy," one in which no currency is exchanged.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we zero in on a Buy Nothing Group consisting of more than 1,700 members, serving Passyunk Square/Italian Market/Pennsport in Philadelphia.

From drawer knobs to spare wood, some locals have furnished their whole houses with gifted goods. Artists prowl the groups in search of broken tiles and paper bags to sustainably create their next masterpiece. Not-so-new mothers hand down their baby products to nearby women with newborns. It is an all-out effort to find a new home for each item in lieu of polluting the Earth with trash.

One must follow the rules and guidelines in order to join one of these private groups based on their location. As the population grows, administrators "sprout" the community, or split them into even more refined hyperlocal groups. Eventually, they will connect neighbors within such proximity that it reduces the need to drive a vehicle, reducing everyone's carbon footprint.

These online communities bring out the best in people, allowing neighbors to help each other in times of need. Earlier this week, one woman requested to have a bottle of milk dropped off. She feared that her husband had COVID-19 symptoms and did not want to put anyone in danger by visiting the supermarket. According to group administrators, around two dozen people offered to help.

As a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, several Buy Nothing Groups have temporarily suspended operations. Administrators of the Passyunk Square/Italian Market/Pennsport (North) Facebook group have proudly remained open, finding ways to limit transactions while responding to essential needs in the neighborhood.

To learn more about this project, or to find a Buy Nothing Group in your area, visit their website.

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