An increasing movement of people say that humans need to change our definition of “growth.” They say the capitalist economic model of build more/buy more/supersize it is unsustainable, leading to overpopulation, climate change, planetary ecological collapse, and the sixth mass extinction—something a multitude of evidence shows is happening right now, day by day.
On Bainbridge Island, there is a fast-growing group of people who appear to believe that an alternative economic model is not just sustainable but actually more fun. Sustainable and fun?
Just ask Buy Nothing Bainbridge (BNB) members. The online forum, launched just over two weeks ago and now commanding upwards of 700 members, has captured the imagination of a dedicated following—parents with outgrown toys, gardeners with an excess of veggies, Islanders with oddly specific thingies and/or the desire for oddly specific thingies. Then there are the people who just dig bartering, getting fresh-baked bread in exchange for shelving, beer in exchange for books—and the list goes on, and on. One thing they apparently all have in common is they’d rather find a home for their unneeded stuff than toss it.
Brainchild of BNB Rebecca Rockefeller admired Freecycle but saw the need for a more open bartering system. She wanted members to be able to communicate directly, without restrictions, about what and how things could be exchanged (Freecycle, for example, does not allow the exchange of food and has tight limits on the length of item descriptions). Here’s the BNB motto:
Buy Nothing: Give Freely. Share the bounty. Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or trade. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free, borrow, or share. Keep it legal. Keep it civil.
With Liesl Clark, who works with Rockefeller on numerous branches of their waste-busting company Trash Backwards, Rockefeller put Buy Nothing Bainbridge on Facebook.
Clark and Rockefeller share an unusual combination of idealism and pragmatism. They are also both deeply concerned about the increasingly colossal amount of trash humans are dumping in our ecosystem, and rather than sit and worry about it they are taking innovative steps to try to change it. They hope their most recent innovation on Bainbridge Island will spread to communities worldwide. Rockefeller told me, “If this is a replicable model and reaches a critical mass we would love to see it all over the world to foster really localized gift economies.”
Already they have helped launch a Buy Nothing Kingston/Indianola in Washington and a Buy Nothing Loma Linda/Redmonds in California, with others likely forthcoming in Olympia, Washington; Chico, California; and Prince Edward Island, Canada.
When I asked Rockefeller if she and Clark are looking to make money from the venture, she replied, “We’re not sure how this could be monetized. How would you advertise on a forum that is not about buying?”
A filmmaker for National Geographic and NOVA, Clark regularly visits Nepal and studies the trash of ancient villages. Trash is on her mind, especially the never-say-die plastics we are leaving behind today. She told me, “Our situation on the planet is not the scarcity model. We need to stop thinking of the store and start thinking more about our relationships to things [and one another]. We don’t all need to be generalists, each with the same things in our homes, but rather specialists who can share.”
Both Clark and Rockefeller talked with amusement about the funny nature of our “stuff” and how that is sparking humor among members of BNB.
One BNB member offered up bare wire frames in the shape of trees, asking only this: “Will trade for a picture of what you do with them. Taken with a camera phone, polaroid, child’s sketch. I’m not choosy. Enjoy!”
Another member had 30 of his self-published books left unsold and wanted beer in exchange. Thus was born the BNB Books-N-Beer night at Bainbridge Island Brewing, where members gather to drink beer at the Brewery and exchange beer for books. The second monthly night will be August 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Here is how a member described the group: “BNB is like an intergalactically connected web of supernatural beings who can magically intuit the needs, wants, and desires of their peeps.”
Will Buy Nothing change the world? Who knows. But, as exchanges on the BNB FaceBook page reflect, it is genuinely bringing people together. They are finding creative ways to connect, meeting at one another’s homes for exchanges, and making new friends in the process. One active member, Melisa Lunt, came up with this idea:
“Here is a vase. Right now, it’s empty, but I’m going to put something fun in it and put it out on the Giving Bench. If you happen by and would like the vase, take it. Enjoy its contents for as long as you’d like. Then, please put something lovely of your own in the vase and place it on someone’s porch when you do a pick-up. And so on. If you’re thinking, ‘Well, I don’t have anything lovely to put in a vase like fresh flowers or garden herbs’ then grab a pen and paper and write ‘Have a wonderful day!’ like a message in a bottle.”
Featured photo of “colorful nesting omelet pans” courtesy of Liesl Clark. Photo of bread loaves courtesy of Rebecca Rockefeller. Photo of dish rack courtesy of Lisa Kastner. Photo of bench courtesy of Sarah Grafton Albee. Photos of tree frames and vase courtesy of Melisa Lunt.