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Stop ‘N’ Swap Events Help Make NYC More Sustainable

GrowNYC's free Stop 'N' Swap® community reuse events promote social and economic aspects of sustainability in addition to cutting down on trash in NYC.

GrowNYC’s free Stop ‘N’ Swap® community reuse events promote social and economic aspects of sustainability in addition to cutting down on trash in NYC. (Image: GrowNYC

Free Stuff box promotes sustainability in my upper east Side NYC apartment buiding

My first step towards swapping for sustainability: establishing a Free Stuff box in my own NYC apartment building’s laundry room.

When I put a Free Stuff box in the laundry room of my apartment building on the Upper East Side of New York City, I wasn’t thinking about the larger idea of holding a live swap event with the neighbors, and what that could mean for us as a community. I was simply focused on how much waste we could reduce by swapping gently used articles, silently, anonymously via a 3′ x 2′ x 2′ box. Perfectly decent stuff would be intercepted before it hit the trash. Neighbors and their housekeepers and building staff could avail themselves of free stuff — after all, who doesn’t like free stuff?  And I would feel good that I made it all happen. Then a light bulb went off in my head…

Swapping Provides Other Sustainability Benefits Besides Cutting Down on Waste

Although it certainly helps my neighbors and I keep stuff out of landfills, a Free Stuff box can provide other sustainability benefits as well:  helping folks to save money and enhance economic resilience. Turn it into a live swap event, and all kinds of social benefits kick in.

GrowNYC’s Stop ‘N’ Swap® Is Making a Difference All Over New York City

Some of this is already happening in spades at the free Stop ‘N’ Swap® community reuse events being run in all five boroughs of NYC.  However, it’s exciting to think of what more good these events can do in the interest of promoting sustainability, especially in underserved neighborhoods.

Man with speakers at GrowNYC Stop ‘N’ Swap®

Snagging a new set of speakers at a GrowNYC Stop ‘N’ Swap® event. (Image: GrowNYC)

Stop ‘N’ Swap represent a Zero Waste program of GrowNYC, a not for profit funded by the NYC Department of Sanitation. Started in 2011, they have been so successful, 45 events are planned for this year, with more slated for next. Happily, many of these events already occur in NYC-based housing projects.

For 2.5 hours neighbors pile in with their overstuffed shopping bags while other neighbors happily stream out laden down with newly found treasures — there’s no limit to how much you can take and it’s all for free.

The folks who run the Stop ‘N’ Swap greet, weigh, sort, hang, display and eventually help pack all the items carefully laid out on tables marked ‘Men’s Clothes’ ‘Women’s Clothes’ ‘Toys’ ‘Books’ ‘Media’ ‘and even ‘WildCard’.

The Magic of GrowNYC’s Stop ‘N’ Swap

I visited my first Stop ‘N’ Swap on a Saturday this past March. It was held in the cafeteria of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a not-for-profit located in one of largest underserved areas of the country.  While there, I was welcomed by Kathleen Crosby and Victoria Dearborn, who manage Stop ‘N’ Swap events along with a small army of 15 volunteers. The event was well-promoted to community members, many of whom seem to have come before. Women (mostly) arrived with bags full of clothing, shoes, knick-knacks, toys, DVDs and CDs, books, and other items.

Harlem Stop 'N' Swap promotes sustainability and cuts waste

GrowNYC plans 55 free community-based Stop ‘N’ Swap events this year in neighborhoods all over NYC. (Image: GrowNYC)

Everything flew off the tables as soon as they were restocked. Some items still had tags on them, like the little pink knitted ‘pussy-type’ hat I picked up for my granddaughter. One middle-aged woman excitedly snatched up a brass menorah — she claimed it was her first. Another swapper found several items she intended to pass along as gifts to neighbors and godchildren.

What Might the Future Hold for Community Swaps?

Amidst all the swapping and smiles I couldn’t help but wonder about the many ways that a community-based swap event like this one, with a little tweaking, could do even more to promote sustainability and so very cost-efficiently.

Coordinators Kathleen and Victoria manage the Stop 'N' Swap sustainable reuse events

Kathleen Crosby and Victoria Dearborn, GrowNYC’s Stop ‘N’ Swap coordinators who are helping to bring sustainable reuse events to communities all over NYC.

Is it possible that even more swap events could be run in low income neighborhoods where they are so sorely needed?

What about focusing events on single items, like children’s clothes and toys, kitchen items, or possibly just food, making it that much easier for folks like busy moms to find stuff of value?

Swapping Skills and Expertise, Not Just Stuff

And while we’re thinking big, why not include ‘skill swap’ tables where folks could teach each other their knitting, cooking, sewing, fixing, DIYing, painting and other skills that could empower folks to be more independent and economically resilient? (Stop ‘N’ NYC Zero Waste Resources for ResidentsSwaps meet Repair Cafes, anyone?)

Teaching each other to repair stuff also promotes social connections that build a community. Serving refreshments help builds community, too.

Sharing Best Swapping Practices

I was delighted to learn from Kathleen and Victoria that they and others at GrowNYC are being asked to share their best practices with individuals, schools and community organizations looking to host their own swap events. When more neighborhoods set up community swap events of their own, look for a flood of creative ideas as they customize their events to local needs, excess items, and culture!

The Simple Idea Behind Community Based Swap Events Gives Me Hope for a More Sustainable Future

Mountains of gently used items seem to exist everywhere these days. With a little luck, swapping stuff — and sharing skills, and stories over a cup of coffee — could one day replace shopping as a national pastime.  And to think that is can all start in a humble cafeteria like the Stop ‘N’ Swap I attended, or be sparked by a Free Stuff box located in a laundry room, foyer, or other well-trafficked space.

Subscribe to WeHateToWaste.comWant to grab some quick tips on how to host a successful swap event in your community? Live in or near NYC and want to attend a GrowNYC Stop ‘N’ Swap event? Click here for a calendar of upcoming events and contact information.

What are you already swapping among friends and neighbors where you live?  Take our poll.

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.

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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 Wolitzer Reply

    “Swapping” really does provide so much more than the tangible item you receive. So many people in New York City are throwing perfectly good stuff out because they don’t have room for it or don’t need it, yet so many people go without. Keeping goods within the NYC community has so many potential benefits.

    My friends and I have started this new bookswap, a “sisterhood of the traveling book” if you will. It has been such a crucial part of keeping us connected since we graduated. I feel like, sometimes, I get more out of the book itself, passed down to me with my friends’ annotations, than the story itself! There are so many potential economic, social and environmental sustainability possibilities. I hope we will see swaps sweeping the city in all types of communities soon.

  2. Regina Ryerson Reply

    I’d love to see a Stop & Shop for safe, toxic-free items. Swapping knowledge about dangerous, toxic consumer products— and alternatives— could be part of the event.

    Where else does anyone go to learn that stuff? Many consumers “get it” about organic foods, but unknowingly exposed to toxics shed from furnishings, clothing and more.

    You’ve heard about flame retardants, but toxic dyes could turn out to be an even bigger problem in homes. http://cen.acs.org/articles/94/web/2016/11/Bromine-containing-dyes-dwarf-flame.html?platform=hootsuite

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