In which I ‘Buy Nothing’ and cause a bit of a ruckus


I have many, many lists in my zero waste journal consisting of items I want to research: environmental groups, low waste makeup, kitty litter, dishwasher and laundry detergents, toothpaste and floss. Add to that TerraCycle, Buy Nothing and FreeCycle, and it’s no wonder I’m overwhelmed.

Because I like the idea of researching, I just don’t like to actually do it. Well, it’s boring. It’s a lot of trying to sort through information and discerning what is real and what is not, what is the best option and what is just a waste of time.

I don't really have art for this post, so here's a fun graphic I found on that zero waste Facebook group I follow.

I don’t really have art for this post, so here’s a fun graphic I found on that zero waste Facebook group I follow. Click to enlarge.

But that’s kind of what I assigned myself in this third cycle of the project — figuring out sustainable options so I can keep this party going when my year is through.

So. This weekend, I tackled TerraCycle, Buy Nothing and FreeCycle because … well, it seemed like a very concrete step. I imagined these things already in place just waiting to be discovered. I mean, I can’t be the only one over here thinking about ways to reduce my waste stream, right?

Here’s what I found: No Freecycle in town (I could administer a group, but I feel like I’d be stretching myself pretty thin), and TerraCycle is not exactly what I thought it was.

Actually, I’m not even sure what I thought it was. Just places strategically located where you could drop off certain items. And that does exist, like for binders, if you happen to live near an Office Depot, for example (I do not), but for some of this stuff, you have to buy a box and set up your own collection point ($68 for a small plastic bag box, etc.).


So, new goal: Finding the different recycling programs already in place in my town, and making a donation if it’s a private person or small business who in turn has to pay for being a collection point. I’ve already learned that our hobby shop collects any kind of battery for recycling excluding car batteries (works for me), and our grocery store takes plastic bags. There’s got to be others.

Great, another research item.

But! I did find a local Buy Nothing group — with a whole 11 members — on Facebook. I found that quite exciting, maybe because I finally had a hit after two strikes. I sent in my request that morning and was accepted by that evening, and the administrator asked me to please add friends.

So I did the logical thing and posted about it on Facebook. I got a couple of quick requests for adds, and then … silence. Well, that was disappointing, but maybe not everyone is into this kind of recycling.

Or that’s what I thought. Turns out some people just didn’t know what I was talking about. When my mother sent me a text asking if I was going off grid just in time for Christmas, I was like, wait, what? After explaining it, she felt much better. And I felt kind of awesome knowing she thinks I could survive off the land. (Fun fact: I could not. I like hot water too much.)

ANYWAY. Sorry, the words are kind of rambley today. When another friend asked if it was a joke or some kind of political group aiming to take down capitalism, I figured it was time to explain what was going on. So I took to Facebook again:

So apparently I need to explain this “Buy Nothing” thing, just based on some comments I’ve been getting in real life (uh, no, I am not going off grid). It’s a group where people post items they no longer need so others can use them, or request items they need from someone who might have an extra. (I’m in it to get rid of my crap, basically.) It’s a way to trade within the community. You don’t have to give up buying things. It’s just seeing if maybe you can use something already out there in the waste stream first. NOW who’s interested?

Which isn’t as good of an explanation as the one I found minutes later on the Buy Nothing site:

Our Buy Nothing Project Mission: We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

I mean, doesn’t that sound nice? I’ve since been able to add a few more friends, which I think is great — the group is up to 26 members now! and the more the merrier, ’cause otherwise it won’t work very well. I’m excited to have a place where I can offer usable items to people in my community.

Since this is literally something I’ve just started, I have nothing else to report. Just that I actually sat down and did my research and came up with a solution that I believe will work. There hasn’t been a lot of activity on the site yet, but I figure that will come. I’ll keep you posted.

Did I mention how excited I am?

UPDATE: I received a message from reader Lisa today (12/6), who gave me a better idea of what TerraCycle is and what sorts of programs they provide:

Having been a volunteer team leader/coordinator for TerraCycle in our rural area, I need to share that the program is much easier and cheaper than “buy a box for $68 and set up your own collection center”. For us, TerraCycle meant we collected items for the brigades we joined (health and beauty products, oral care, snack bags, and others), and when we had accumulated the qualifying minimum weight, we sent what we collected in whatever used cardboard boxes we had on hand. If TerraCycle has a brigade established for a product, health and beauty product packaging for example, you don’t have to buy collection boxes. TerraCycle provided our prepaid shipping labels so we spent nothing other than any gas needed to take the box(es) to UPS. Once TerraCycle received our shipment(s), we were awarded points which were turned into cash donations to charitable organizations. You can redeem your points and have them sent to your charity twice a year I believe. During my time as team leader, about a year-and-a-half, we saved hundreds if not thousands of pounds of trash from landfills and provided several hundreds of dollars in donations to our designated charity. We never paid for a collection box because we collected items solely for qualifying brigades. Community members would save their used items for us until they could get them to our location where we sorted and packed as per TerraCycle guidelines. As individuals, you can open a TerraCycle account, join whichever open brigades appeal to you, then start putting those items in your TerraCycle pile rather than in trash or recycling. When you are ready to ship, just print the prepaid label, and send your “treasures” on their way. TerraCycle even utilizes the leftover bits of shampoo and lotion recovered from shipments sent to them and finds a use for everything they receive. The bonus of money going to charities from shipments of “trash” really sold me on the TerraCycle program. TerraCycle is open in countries all over the world. I encourage you to read more about them at their website. 

Thank you, Lisa! That gives me a much clearer idea of what TerraCycle is and what it does — and I plan to go back and see if there is a brigade near me.

Again, I love how supportive this community is and how everyone is so willing to share their thoughts and ideas and experiences. I have learned so much!

Next up: More updates. Probably.

8 Responses to In which I ‘Buy Nothing’ and cause a bit of a ruckus

  1. I think these are important steps! I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good handle on how I purchase consumables, but it’s the more ‘durable goods’ that I find are hard to source in a sustainable way. I mean, when you just need something simple and practical, like an extension cord or something, it seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to find, but I often end up buying it new because scouring multiple secondhand sites and thrift stores feels like too much trouble. So I think developing a strategy for this kind of stuff, and a familiarity with the options, is really smart and useful.

    • I’m really excited about this! (And we’re up to 28 members!) I agree that consumables are the easy part. It’s awesome to have another avenue for everything else.

  2. I think Freecycle lost its steam when Craigslist became big. Since Craigslist has a “free” section, that is where I list anything I want to give away. I almost always have 4 or 5 takers within 5 minutes of listing free items on Craigslist.

    • Oh, funny — well, that shows you how hip I am to these sites. I’ve actually never been on Craigslist, let alone posted anything. Maybe I should go take a look?

  3. Honestly, I like your description better. Theirs makes my head swim a bit – so much jargon!

    Hope your holiday season is shaping up nicely.

    • V! You’re nice. I usually dread the holidays, but this year I’m trying to be wise and mature and embrace the whole ordeal. Things do seem to be shaping up! Although I’m sad to report that our one stationary store does not carry loose recycled paper — I was hoping to get some for our annual Walker Family Christmas Form Letter (WFCFL). Well, it’s only Dec. 3… Hope yours are going well too! (And I haven’t forgotten the tomato question! Our extension service lady has been out. I know you’ve probably given up hope of an answer but I really want to know. Uh, hopefully in time for next season’s canning.)

      • Heh, I love that the question has stuck in your head the way it’s stuck in mine. I look forward to the fruits of your investigation 🙂

        You’d think loose recycled paper would be a relatively easy ask. Too bad! If you’re ever travelling to a part of the world with a real art supply store, I think you (and your daughter) would really love it. I’m not even an artist, and I have to avoid them to avoid buying random supplies I don’t need.

        My holiday is New Years. I love it. And it gives me an excuse to 1.) give the house a thorough cleaning and 2.) get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s my version of spring cleaning – New Year’s clean slate. It’s a pain, but I always love the feeling of starting a new year out that way. Even my husband is finally on board with the whole idea. Now we just need our dog and our toddler to play along…

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