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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.

Swap events or Free Stuff box? 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

Jacquelyn Ottman's book, If Trash Could Talk, inspires a new consumption culture in NYC.

Jacquelyn Ottman’s book, If Trash Could Talk, inspires a new consumption culture in NYC.

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 Swap Events?

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?

Swap 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 Swap Event 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.

What are some things that you have swapped?

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About the Author
Jacquie Ottman is an advocate for zero waste. She is the founder and editor of WeHateToWaste.com She is currently writing a book about Leftovers as a solution to food waste. 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

  3. Kyle Shouldice Reply

    The idea of a “swap-event” holds so much more than simply trading free things. As you put it, the feeling that swapping evokes, involves a sense of community and pride in knowing that you can do more for your neighbor or friend or anyone. As the expression goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and that completely holds true for swapping!

    I have “swapped” clothes many times with my mom, sister, and friends. Something that I have either over-worn or out-grew, now becomes my best friend’s little sister’s favorite new pair of shoes. Not only does this make me feel better that I could empower this girl, but we also created something of economic and environmental resilience. The feeling truly never gets old!

    Great article! I plan to attend a swapping event soon!

  4. Polly Reply

    Stop and swaps, repair cafes … love it! Have you ever heard of tool libraries? Another great idea along these lines!

  5. Victoria Karnatski Reply

    I am the Sustainability Coordinator, STEAM Teacher, and Student Green Team Facilitator at PS 16 John J Driscoll School on Staten Island. On April 1st our school hosted a Stop and Swap in our school gymnasium. The staff at my school brought in bags of donations and had them ready to put out at the Swap. There were over 210 people who attended and it was a huge success for our school community. We cannot wait to host another Swap next school year.

  6. Jessica Wasser Reply

    Stop ‘N’ Swap is a great way to encourage the exchange of not only items but experiences as well. So many perfectly good items are thrown away just because of lack of storage or lack of interest. The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is perfect for this situation. I went to Israel last year in which the small neighborhood outside of Jerusalem has a program where if a household has an abundance of a certain item (books, board games, movies, etc.) they will allow the entire neighborhood to come borrow it whenever. Programs like these help reduce the waste our society is creating of items that are in perfect condition.

  7. Madison McAllister Reply

    Such a smart idea! Swapping clothing, books, and toys is a great way to bring people together. I recently attended a femme-style clothing swap that a friend put together at the beginning of fall and it was so fun. We put everything on clothing racks and let everyone wander through before people chose their items to make it feel more like a real shopping experience (some people love the “browsing” aspect). Overall it was a really sweet way to meet people, change up my wardrobe, and lighten up my closet.

  8. Bebe LeGardeur Reply

    My college had clothing swaps a few times a year, and it was always so fun to find a piece from someone whose style you had admired from afar. The swaps were absolutely a bonding experience; friend’s would end up with each other’s old clothing without realizing it, and people who had been strangers would meet because one of them was wearing the other’s favorite old sweater that they had outgrown. Its so great to hear that swaps are happening in the city. Not only do they bring communities together, but they can also reach a wider audience of people who cannot afford other options.

  9. Noah Stiles Reply

    I love events like these! The environmental club on my campus always puts together a clothing swap for sustainability week. It’s a great way to get rid of old clothes while also picking up new ones, all while creating zero waste!

  10. Irene Reply

    This is an interesting idea! I’d love to see this done on college campuses – before a semester starts and after it ends. I’ve seen so many people throw away unwanted or bulky items when I was an undergrad. It wasn’t because the items weren’t useful, it’s just that it was either too bulky to transport back home or they already had a similar item at home that they didn’t need two of. I think a lot of students can benefit financially from reusing these unwanted items (old, but good quality desk supplies, mini fridges, vacuums, storage furniture, etc) versus buying new ones and adding to the waste when it’s their time to leave school. During the last semester at my undergrad school, they actually started a similar program offering thrown away useable items for free to incoming students. I wish I’d known about this sooner and that it started when I was freshmen so I could’ve saved some money for other necessities.

  11. Emma Archard Reply

    Fordham University’s Environmental Club started holding a clothes swap a few years back towards the end of the spring semester to prevent people from throwing out items that are perfectly usable/wearable. This article does a great job of presenting not only the sustainable benefits of such a program, but also the opportunities to help those financially struggling and for social engagement. Value doesn’t end with the first consumer and one woman’s trash is another’s treasure!

  12. Alizeh Karamat Reply

    An extremely popping and trendy idea! I have seen it on many college campuses and is doing a phenomenal job. I love that it integrates culture, opportunity, sustainability, and economics all in one. Waste prevention seems to a be a growing thread, yet needs more attention. Unity and community building is integral to waste prevention as it instills a sense of humanity and care in one another. Individuals, I know myself included, are more prone to waste prevention when there is a sense of unification to it. These cool swap clothing drives and workshops allow people to share experiences, culture and humanity at once. I love attending these because I see more people attend every hour, and share a common bond with one another.

  13. Brittany Reply

    Participated in one of these on campus for clothes! it was a GREAT way to get rid of excess clothes before the school year ended and replenish your closet with new styles.

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