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Hyperlocal Sharing Can Help Cities Waste Less, Build Community

Hyperlocal sharing in our communities

Items on display at New York City’s ‘Trash Museum’ suggest that much of what is thrown away is still usable (Image: Jacquelyn Ottman)

Tucked into the corner of the laundry room in my 13-story apartment building in New York City is a little free library. It was created fifteen years ago from a bookcase salvaged from a neighbor’s trash. Nearby sits a repurposed plastic container marked ‘Free Stuff’. The library provides a steady source of free quality reading material to my neighbors and me. The Free Stuff Box serves as a convenient way to pass along gently-worn household goods for both neighbors and building staff to use.

Little free library on repurposed bookshelf in basement of Manhattan apartment building

Little free libraries like this one are common in New York City apartment buildings (Image: Jacquelyn Ottman)

Hyperlocal Sharing Can Change Consumption Culture

Examples of the ‘sharing economy‘ at a hyperlocal scale, the library and ‘Free Stuff’ box are especially free, low-tech amenities that are easy to implement in densely populated cities. They can help city dwellers save money, prevent waste from winding up in the trash, build a sense of community — and importantly, help to change consumption culture.

As the artifacts in New York City’s unofficial ‘trash museum‘ pictured above, so poignantly signify, much household waste is composed of highly durable and still usable items like furniture, clothing, toys, and household articles. So it is important that we consider ways to keep such items circulating within our local economies, starting with our own buildings and neighborhoods.

Global Ideas for Hyperlocal Sharing

Residents in cities all around the world are now exploring fresh new ideas beyond traditional white elephant sales and thrift shops to share hyperlocally. The possibilities are endless. Want to start to share with your neighbors and friends? It’s easy. Here’s how.

Five Ways to Share Hyperlocally

1. Host a clothing, housewares, or toy swap. Take advantage of public services such as Stop n Swaps, free public community reuse events run by GrowNYC, or help start them in your own city. Or, create a new social occasion among friends and neighbors. Inspiration: One Upper West Side NYC building hosts a Swap event in their lobby every Spring.

2. Give items away on FreeCycle.org. Sign up for NextDoor.com a website that allows neighbors to borrow items from each other. Consult the DonateNYC page or a similar resource in own city to find folks who want your stuff. 

Free box in the laundry room of an NYC apartment building.

Free stuff boxes support hyperlocal sharing in any public space (Image: Jacquelyn Ottman)

3. Encourage your local library to lend more than just books and CD’s. Sacramento’s Library of Things lets residents borrow sewing machines, musical instruments, and board games. To complement resume-writing classes, four branches of the Queens Public Library now lends neckties to job seekers.

Encourage more local tool libraries like the South Street Seaport Tool Library. Toronto’s Sharing Depot started out sharing power tools and now offers a whole range of things to share for an amazing $50/ year.

4. Declare Sunday evenings as ‘clear out the fridge night.’ Invite neighbors and friends to pool leftovers Set up a community refrigerator and little free pantry to share food with neighbors and co-workers.

5. Repurpose a cardboard shipping carton into a ‘Free Stuff’ box. Drop in a few items, place the box in your own lobby, workplace breakroom, or other public space — and watch the sharing begin!

Hyperlocal Sharing in Your City

It might seem strange that our waste can be a source of connection and a way to foster economic resilience. But with the potential benefits we all can enjoy, it makes sense to try. All it takes is a neighbor or two willing to get the ball rolling. Will it be you?


Get inspired to share a lot more with neighbors with our new, interactive SHARE, SWAP, BORROW page. Focused on our hometown here in New York City, it can inspire city dwellers Visit our Share, Swap, Borrow page for NYCeverywhere with ideas to share, swap, borrow, donate and gift your way to cutting down on the waste and clutter, saving money and making new social connections. It’s an important step in changing consumption culture — and living better.

Tell Us: What Do You Share?

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Posting Guidelines – This and other stories published on WeHateToWaste.com are intended to prompt  conversation about practical solutions for preventing waste and changing consumption culture. Opinions expressed are solely those of the contributors. WeHateToWaste implies no endorsement of the products or organizations mentioned. 

Published originally in modified form on Shareable.net

About the Author
A waste watcher since age four, Jacquie Ottman has spent the last 25 years showing Fortune 500 companies and the U.S. government how to develop and market products that can meet consumer needs sustainably. An expert on green marketing and a certified creative problem-solving facilitator, she's the author of 5 award-winning books. Read more about Jacquie HERE, and check out her other posts.
  1. Ashley F. Reply

    I love this concept of using sharing to change consumption culture and the idea of a sharing economy. In recent years we’ve seen the beginning stages of a shift where people aren’t as obsessed with the idea of owning their own cars and other items that they don’t use regularly and instead are using sharing services. We see examples of this in the rising popularity of ride sharing apps and services and these mark opportunities for further growth. In college we had various forms of “free boxes” in most if not all of the common spaces and a Free & For Sale page on Facebook. I was surprised that there weren’t even more “free boxes” in shared/ communal spaces in NYC outside of residential buildings. This could be because common spaces in the city operate somewhat differently from the ones on college campuses. I am glad though to see that there are so many sharing and swapping opportunities in NYC. All of these options are simple and easy to adopt into our everyday lives and most of all build community, something we can never get enough of!

    • Jacquie Ottman Reply

      Didn’t realize that college campuses were so ‘Free stuff’ friendly these days, Ashley. Excites me to think that recent grads will bring their ‘free Stuff’ habits with them into their homes/ apartments, offices and other public spaces. Please – don’t hold back. Recommend this idea to your bosses and super/ landlord!

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