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FEATURE ARTICLE - SPRING 2009
Finding Used Items Online
Get what you need for free by swapping,
borrowing, and bartering online.
With today’s economic realities,a “shift to thrift” is vital to help our country’s cash-strapped and debt-laden citizens save more and spend less, while conserving precious resources. One important element of that shift—reuse—is easier than ever, thanks to a growing number of Internet sites that are helping people across the country repurpose unwanted items and find what they need secondhand. Swapping or buying used locally is the best way to choose to reuse, because you foster connections and economic development in your community. But when you can’t find what you need in your area, the following innovative Web sites can help you buy, sell, swap, give away, and loan or borrow secondhand items.
Tried-and-True Internet Sites
Popular online auction sites such as Ebay.com are a reliable option for purchasing used items on the Internet at bargain prices—from furniture to clothes to movies and more. Although sellers hail from every corner of the US and even a few foreign locales, eBay provides the zip codes of sellers and an in-person pick-up option, so users can choose to buy local, or close-to-local.
ShopGoodwill.com is part of the same nonprofit as your local Goodwill, and like eBay, allows users to sell and buy an array of secondhand items through online auctions. Your purchases benefit the charity’s job training and employment programs for disadvantaged and disabled people.
On Craigslist.org and half.com, users can buy and sell just about anything through direct sales, not auctions. While Half.com is a national network, Craigslist is divided into locally based mini Web sites, so all transactions are based in your area. It also allows users to post volunteer opportunities, garage sale notices, rideshare requests, and more.
Every empty seat in the hundreds of millions of cars on the road represents a missed opportunity to save money, reduce traffic and pollution, and build community through a shared ride. While the idea of carpooling isn’t new, several new Internet sites and applications make it easier than ever to publicize open spots in your car and to safely seek out promising carpool partners.
Get What You Need for Free
Several online sites allow you to get a wide variety of used items free of charge—and give away things that you can no longer use yourself.
TheGreenUmbrella.org provides a comprehensive list of independent “free-sharing” sites across the US.
Freecycle.org is one of the most popular of these sites and is broken down by city—you join the listserv for your community at the main site, keeping all exchanges locally based. Members post unwanted items to the listserv, and responses asking for those items go directly to the e-mail box of the person making the offer, so pick-up arrangements are kept private. Members can also request specific items they need.
Throwplace.com allows individuals and businesses to list goods they wish to give away to US and international charities and nonprofits, which will pick them up or pay for shipping. Any 501(c)3 organization can register with ThrowPlace for free.
The site also includes an “Up for Grabs” section that functions much like Freecycle, where individuals and businesses can get and give away items for free, and a “Business” section where individuals and companies can get higher-quality items for a small fee that supports ThrowPlace. Any items that are not taken from other portions of the site after one month filter through to the “Up for Grabs” section.
In California, iReuse.com connects nonprofits with free and low-cost furniture, office supplies, computers, and many other items that have been donated by for-profit companies that no longer need them. Individuals can donate or recycle large unwanted items by requesting a quote to have items removed from their home through iReuse Hauling.
Swapping and Borrowing
Got something you’d like to trade, rather than sell? Several sites offer members the opportunity to swap for the things they need—or even borrow them.
Craigslist.org has a bartering section through which community members can contact one another directly about trading items, from household goods to cleaning products to car parts.
DigNSwap.com allows members to post pictures of used clothing and accessories they no longer want, and then “dig” through photos of other items posted and make even trades with other members. You only pay for shipping.
The unique neighborrow.com functions as an online lending “library,” enabling members in the same community to borrow items such as household tools, electronic appliances, or DVDs. Members can also swap items they don’t need with other members, or give away an item in exchange for “neighborrow-bucks,” which can then be used to purchase an item that someone else has posted. The network currently consists of over 5,000 people in over 300 places.
Buy or Swap Used Books
Though buying books new is the only way to financially support the authors who write them (find a local, independent bookstore at www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder), a growing number of sites can help you adhere to your book budget while keeping old books out of landfills.
BetterworldBooks.com collects and sells used books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than two million new and used titles in stock, Better World Books has raised $4.5 million in funding for literacy and education. Shipping is free to any location within the US, and it’s also carbon-neutral, thanks to offsets from Carbonfund.org.
Post the books you are willing to trade on Paperbackswap.com, and when someone requests one, you mail it out to them to earn one credit in exchange for paying the shipping costs. With every credit you earn, you can request any of the 3 million-plus books available nationwide.
Buy or Swap Entertainment Media
Trade entertainment media—i.e. books, music, movies, and video games—with other users around the country via Swaptree.com. Members create a “Have” list of things they have to trade, and a “Want” list of things they want. Swaptree will search through the lists of other members and will match you up with willing swappers.
For example, say you have a Gaiam exercise DVD, and you want a copy of a Toni Morrison book. You put the DVD in your “Have” list and the book in your “Want” list. Then, Swaptree connects you with a person who wants your DVD and has the Toni Morrison book, and you make an even exchange. If you’re the curious type, Swaptree will also inform you about all other items for which you can trade your DVD.
Users only pay for the price of shipping, and the site makes it easy to mail your items by calculating postage and generating printable mailing labels. Swaptree can also help you trade with members in your neighborhood.
SwapaDVD.com is a great way to share DVDs of all varieties with people across the country. To join, you sign up for free and offer ten DVDs on the site—earning you one gift credit that you can exchange for one DVD offered by someone else. After that, you earn an additional credit every time you mail out a DVD to others. Its sister site, swapaCD.com, allows you to do the same with CDs.
You Name It: The Internet Has It
From cardboard boxes to building materials, some specialized sites can help you sell or obtain particular items.
The days of having to visit every grocery store in town in the hopes that they will part with some extra boxes for your move are long gone. Usedcardboardboxes.com salvages large quantities of reusable boxes from companies that may otherwise throw out or recycle them. It takes the boxes to regional distribution centers to ensure quality and sort by size, then resells them online across the US. Shipping is free for residential orders.
Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts can buy reused or reclaimed building materials online through PlanetReuse.com, an eBay-style auction marketplace for floors, doors, fixtures, and more.
Putting the "Eco" in Economy
Buying used or getting what you need for free can help you stick to your budget and weather today’s volatile economy—while keeping unwanted items from heading for landfills.
“The environmentally friendly aspect of it is just amazing,” says Ibe Elbouchikhi, co-founder of DigNSwap. Plus, “you create a community of people that are sharing.”
Green Your Shipping
If you can’t find the used items you need locally, you may not need to feel too guilty about ordering them online. A February 2009 study from Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University found that when the average customer shopping by car buys fewer than 19 items per trip (or fewer than six items when taking the bus), shopping on the Internet using ground mail delivery will emit less CO2 per item.
To lessen the environmental impacts of your shipping, choose ground mail over air delivery whenever possible (planes emit far more greenhouse gases than cars), and take care to minimize your packaging when sending items to others.
When you have a choice of carriers, you can’t beat the US Postal Service (USPS ), which comes to your house daily, unlike other carriers, which have to make special trips to bring you a package. The USPS uses water-based inks for its stamps, and its Priority and Express envelopes and boxes have been Cradle-to-Cradle certified for meeting high environmental standards from manufacture to disposal. A third of all USPS deliveries are made on foot, and its delivery fleet includes electric, hybrid, and biodiesel vehicles. It has also been working to reduce energy use and incorporate green design elements in its buildings, and its employees are unionized. UPS is a distant second-best shipping choice, thanks to unionized workers. Avoid FedEx, which is currently the subject of a boycott for alleged union-busting activities and discrimination against Arab-American employees (www.fedupwithfedex.org).