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  • Anna Paddock

Sharing is Caring: Supporting Your Community Through a Circular Economy

Anna Paddock, Climate Action Planning Fellow, discusses the environmental and community benefits of "buy nothing" groups.


Like most of the United States, Maine has been hit hard with inflation this year. With essentials continuing to rise in cost and becoming less affordable, communities must look for solutions that can make life more affordable. One way to tackle this issue is with the resources and people that already make up your community.


A “buy nothing” group is a physical or virtual meeting space where community members share items that they no longer need or make inquiries about items they're looking for. No money is exchanged, which allows these spaces to be more accessible. “Buy nothing” groups encourage participants to both contribute items for exchange and to collect items from other participants. In this day and age, “buy nothing” groups are most commonly virtual through a social media page or website forum. There are a lot of benefits to an online platform, as it allows users to search for specific categories of items and interact with a larger number of other community members. In a traditional exchange, an event is hosted, usually with a restriction on the type of items to be shared at that specific event. This approach allows for more community building and can be more convenient for exchanging a lot of items at once.


Community exchange groups also have drawbacks, as it is less likely you will find a highly specific item and certain items cannot be shared once they’ve been used. “Buy nothing” groups cannot completely replace the need to purchase goods, but they can alleviate some expenses. Additionally, not everything can be redistributed to the community. Broken, stained, or ripped items are not something you would want to receive as a gift, and therefore they aren’t something to give away to a neighbor in need. However, before those items go in the garbage, there are textile recycling initiatives that will transform unwearable textiles into usable materials. Many transfer stations accept items for textile recycling, and some donation centers do as well.


There are many other beneficial services that can easily be integrated into community exchange groups, if there are motivated members. Other possible uses include tool libraries for sharing equipment or tools, community classes for mending or budgeting skills, and even supporting vulnerable members of the community by performing helpful tasks.

One of the obvious benefits of “buying nothing” is the money participants save by taking part in an exchange group by contributing items that would have been thrown out or donated, and gaining quality, usable items that they would have otherwise purchased new or gone without. One group that can particularly benefit from community exchange groups is parents. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 6% of the total annual expenses for a child go towards clothing. Children grow through clothes quickly, and it is a considerable expense to frequently purchase new clothes as they grow. In a Buy Nothing group, you can receive used clothes as your child grows into them and pass clothes along once your child has grown out of them. There are many other categories of items that function well in the space of a buy nothing group including jackets, snow suits, blankets, prom dresses, suits, puzzles and games, cooking supplies, and books.


The environmental impacts of exchanging items within the community, rather than buying new, are also significantly less. Creating new goods creates waste and greenhouse gas emissions from harvesting materials, processing materials into goods, and transporting and storing goods. In 2018, 11.3 million tons of textiles were landfilled in the U.S., which was equivalent to over 66% of the textiles generated that year. Textile recycling makes a moderate contribution to reducing the waste that ends up in landfills, but it is most ideal to find new uses for textile goods, without creating more emissions by processing or transporting new items. When we are ready to give up our belongings, most people will think first of throwing items out or donating them to a thrift or reuse store. Donating to thrift stores is a great way to reduce textile waste and provide lower cost items to the community and choosing to shop at thrift/reuse stores also reduces demand for new products to be made. “Buy nothing” exchanges have the same effects, with additional benefits. Resale shops are often limited to accepting certain types of items. With chain thrift stores, it is also common for items to be shipped to other locations, therefore decreasing the direct benefit to your community. Community exchange groups cut out the middleman and allow your neighbors to benefit directly from your contributions.


A “buy nothing” group cannot be successful unless those participating believe that strengthening their community improves their own life. It may be easier to throw things away or drop them off at a thrift store, but there is significant value in giving directly to the community. Free exchange groups strengthen familiar ties between neighbors, uplift vulnerable social groups, and build a spirit of generosity for the locality. It can seem countercultural or not personally beneficial to give your belongings away for free. For that reason, I encourage everyone to reflect on the intrinsic value of giving. An item that is sitting in the back of your closet, unused, may make a difference to someone else’s quality of life. By building a community on the foundation of sharing and uplifting all community members, we create a more sustainable community that believes in supporting neighbors and creating a shared resilience.


About Anna

Anna is originally from New Hampshire, but grew up in Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, and around the United States. For her undergrad, Anna attended the University of South Florida for biochemistry and environmental science & policy. Through research and volunteer projects there, Anna became very interested in environmental resilience and community planning. She loves spending time outdoors, whether it be biking, walking, or painting. Anna loves cooking and is always looking for new foods to try! She is excited to learn about the Portland community and improve sustainable practices locally.

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