Buy Nothing Groups: Everything You Need to Know First

If you’ve always wanted to join a community event or get to know people in your area, becoming a part of the Buy Nothing project is one way to do so without investing a lot of your time or money.

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So what is the “Buy Nothing” Project, exactly?

The Buy Nothing Project is a global network of smaller communities that are focused on giving and receiving recycled or unused goods. Sometimes, people provide services (called “gifts of self”) if someone requires their help. This could be as small as taking a picture of a local newspaper, to as time-consuming as filing paperwork in city hall.

If you heard about the zero waste movement and gift economy before, Buy Nothing groups are built around these ideas.

Buy Nothing Project 101

The history of the Buy Nothing Project began in 2013 when the original Buy Nothing group was formed by friends Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller. The two, who are both moms of homeschooled kids, lived on Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle.

At the beginning of their friendship, the ladies would wander the beaches with the kids and have always been stunned by the amount of plastic they are faced with every time. 

They decided to turn the mystery of where the trash was coming from into a citizen science project with their kids.

After a while, this small group of nature explorers discovered that the trash wasn’t coming from tourists, people from Seattle spending an afternoon by the beach or on boats. Instead, the plastics came mostly from their homes. It was a local problem.

This is when the Buy Nothing Project was born. Clark and Rockefeller’s plan was simple: encourage people to buy less stuff by asking neighbor’s for stuff they may no longer need. Not only does this ended their community with less waste, but the people who joined also saved money and built relationships in the area.

By 2021, over 4,000 volunteers man hundreds of Facebook groups, keeping the spirit of paying-it-forward alive within their own communities.

How to Join Buy Nothing Groups on Facebook

The official Buy Nothing Project groups on Facebook are listed on the website.

Aside from the United States, other groups have also already been formed for communities in various locations such as:

  • Australia,
  • Canada,
  • New Zealand,
  • UK,
  • Europe,
  • Israel,
  • Iceland,
  • Central America,
  • Brazil,
  • Vietnam,
  • UAE,
  • Thailand,
  • Singapore,
  • South Korea,
  • Philippines,
  • Malaysia,
  • Japan,
  • Indonesia,
  • India,
  • China,
  • Brunei,
  • Africa,
  • and more.

Yes, you need to have Facebook to use it, but joining is super easy.

Just click the area nearest you (it will directly send you to a Facebook group), and you just click on “Join Group.” Facebook will then present you with 3 questions to answer. The group’s admin only approves requests with answers to the given questions.

Be aware that the Buy Nothing Project recommends you to join only one Buy Nothing Project group, so that you are able to “give where you live” more freely.

Starting Your Own Buy Nothing FB Group

If you can’t find a Buy Nothing Facebook group in your area, you can volunteer to become a Local Group Leader/Admin and start your own Buy Nothing Project Facebook group. Here are the steps:

  1. Make sure your area has a population of 25,000 people or less. The area should be about 20-minute away from end-to-end, so it is easier to give away and receive stuff.
  2. You have to fill up this form before building your local group.
  3. You have to undergo a quick training (hosted by the Buy Nothing Project)
  4. You have to commit to your job as a volunteer. Not only will you be monitoring the posts of your group members and accepting new member requests, you may also have to

Buy Nothing Rules

What should you expect out of it? Can you sell your stuff with “buy nothing”? Probably the most basic rule is that you can’t buy or sell any item on these groups.

Although there are different volunteers who are supervising each Facebook group, all groups follow the same rules. These include:

  • Members are not allowed to buy, sell, trade, barter, or otherwise exchange money for items or services.
  • Members can ask for things that they want or need. As a gift economy, Buy Nothing admins see “no difference between want and need, or waste and treasure.”
  • All members can post to GIVE or ASK. It is highly advisable to pay it forward, so your chosen group could continue being a lively community.
  • Members who have stuff to give could offer them to the group.
  • Members can lend or borrow items.
  • Members who do not have items to give away can always give the “gift of self,” “gift of talent,” or “gift of time.”

Of course, being polite and expressing gratitude should be a given. Rude, aggressive, racist, and “haters” are not welcome in the group, so it is best to act appropriately. Admins recommend that if a post bothers you, ignore it and move on.

However, admins will not be referees for misunderstandings. You’d have to talk it out with either the giver or the receiver as amicable as possible.

If in doubt, there is always the community agreement and members’ resource page to guide you if you feel you had been treated unjustly, or if you want to make sure your request is good.

Problems with Buy Nothing Groups

There are two problems I see with this concept.

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  1. Not all groups are equal. When these groups work, they work exceptionally well. The members really pull together to keep the spirit of giving alive. Unfortunately, not all groups are like this. If the group nearest your location isn’t an active one, no amount of giving-away posts you do could bring it life. While you can always spread the word about the group to your family and friends, sometimes it takes a lot of time and effort to build a lively community. Sometimes, it won’t even happen.
  2. Some members demand delivery. The most common complaint among all FB groups is that members who are asking for stuff or gotten dibs on certain posted items tend to prefer the items delivered. While this isn’t really prohibited (and some givers may agree to the request), many posts indicate that the items they’re giving away must be picked up.

Buy Nothing Groups on Facebook and beyond

Aside from the official Buy Nothing Project, you can find similar groups on Facebook, Instagram, and even traditional resources like Reddit have their own version of ZeroWaste programs for the community.

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