Swap ‘Til You Drop

Thanks to the ease of exchanging treasures, clothing, books, games and other items online, swapping is back in fashion. And the environmental benefits of keeping still-usable goods out of the trash and preventing the purchase of new items couldn’t be more timely. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produced about 243 million tons of waste in 2009, or about 4.3 pounds per person per day—more than half of which is now sitting in landfills. When you swap instead of shop, you are conserving raw materials, natural resources and greenhouse gases.

Swapping is also a great way to save cash. The official National Swap Day is now celebrated on January 22, complete with a Facebook page, a Twitter tag (#SwapDay) and events across the country. The only cost for online swap purchases is typically for shipping (or for refreshments at a swap event). Find events on the National Swap Day site, events.swap.com, clothingswap.com (women’s fashion only) or in your local paper.

Sharing sites, where you can borrow or share your stuff with friends and neighbors, have also been catching on. They’re perfect for anyone needing a ladder for a quick painting job or a camcorder for a one-week vacation. Here are three of our favorite online haunts for browsing, swapping and sharing:

1. Flickr Wardrobe Swap Shop

The Flickr Wardrobe Swap Shop is a place to post pictures of wardrobe items you’d like to swap or trade. More than 700 members post their shirts, dresses, pants, shoes, jewelry, bags and more. The page administrator asks that members “please only post pictures of fashion items you want to trade—no selling/business promoting/or eBay items here” in order to provide visitors with a non-commercial community and friendly environment. All swapping is at your own risk, but if you can’t complete your swap with another person, you will be asked to leave the group until you can complete it. You’re also asked to respond to all e-mail and responses on your items—if a member doesn’t have a swap item you want, in other words, kindly decline her offer.

2. Swap.com

Swap.com has over one million members that have listed over 2.5 million books, CDs, movies and video games. Simply list the item that you want to trade and the item you want to receive and swap.com does the rest. The site pulls up the results of all of the items that you can receive for your swap. When you see something that looks good, just click on the “get now” link for more information about both the item and the trader. If the other party confirms that they will swap with you, you’re all done! All you need to do is ship your item. You can also find online swappers in your area through the site’s Swap Local feature or contribute to its Swap4Schools program, which helps struggling schools receive donations of books, movies and more. And the Safe Swap Guarantee ensures that “empty swaps where you send an item and get nothing in return are a thing of the past.” The site claims to have saved members $12.7 million and reduced carbon footprints by 11.3 million pounds since its inception in 2004.

3. ShareSomeSugar.com

Share Some Sugar asks, “Why buy when you can borrow?” The site is centered on three principles: being resourceful, caring for the environment and making neighborhoods feel like communities. Visitors start by clicking “borrow or rent stuff” or “share your stuff.” If you’re looking to borrow, Share Some Sugar has categories set up for everything from dog travel crates to carpet steamers to automotive jack stands. In a site testimonial, one borrower enthused how happy he was to borrow a GPS navigator for a road trip, writing, “For me, it would be a waste of money and raw materials to buy one for only the few times a year I would actually use it.” One caveat: The site is based on membership postings which may be scarce in your area. A connection to Facebook, however, may be able to help. Log in to Share Some Sugar with your Facebook account and add the item you need to your “wishlist” to inform your local Facebook friends that you’re on the hunt. You’ll get a notification as soon as someone posts the item you need and maybe get others hooked on sharing in the process.