Meadows Share: insight into Edinburgh’s online free-cycling community

The old ideal of the tight-knit neighbourhood, with the whole block coming together to build a house, sharing tools and resources, seems to have died with mass production and 1950s consumerism. Now everyone has their own hammer, so to speak. However, the internet plus the focus on limiting waste has coalesced to form a modern version of this idea in online community marketplaces, like virtual yard sales (but free).

Need a food processor, or a cycling class, a phone charger, an alarm clock, help moving, or a welding class (all things directly off The Meadows Share Facebook page)? Or maybe need to get rid of some things that are taking up space in your crowded flat? These community shares are all over Edinburgh, with different shares for different neighbourhoods in the city, the biggest being ‘The Meadows Share’ (for those who live in walking distance of The Meadows).

The group’s purpose is not to sell things but to ‘freecycle’ them: to give or receive from people in the community, for free. Things that are okay to post on the page (written in the group description): “Things to give away, Requests for things you need, including information and advice, Flatshares, Free events, charity events, and workshops [sic].” Another comment follows saying “The only thing that’s ok to ask for money for are (sic) travel/event tickets since they expire, but only for less than face value and no scalping obv.”

If there’s something that you want, but either can’t afford or don’t want to buy for ethical reasons, someone out of the 18,000 members may have it to give second hand. It works by people posting pictures of an item they want to give away on the page, members then commenting if they’re interested. Alternatively, if there is something you want, people post requests to the community. Then, depending on the item, the ‘buyer’ can go pick up the item or can meet the ‘seller’ somewhere nearby. 

‘Freecycle’ is a website, built on the same idea (the giving and receiving of free things). The differences are that the group is all of Edinburgh and also seems to get a bit more traffic. For Freecycle you make an account and then add yourself to a group based on location. From here you can see posts from your area or you can post on the page either as an ‘offer’ or ‘wanted.’ If you’re interested in an item you can send comments to the ‘sellers’ and they’ll message where and when to pick up. ‘freecycle’ seems to have mainly furniture, though other random things do come up as well.

These sites are handy, free, and good for those trying for a greener/ cleaner existence. Ethical consumerism, or the idea of buying things that were ethically produced (typically focused on protecting the environment, human/ worker rights, animal rights, politics, and/or product sustainability), can be difficult and expensive. It’s hard to find things that aren’t wrapped in plastic, were not made by workers on meagre wages, that are locally sourced and not tested on animals (among other things). These shares are a way to get and give products without the negative impacts because the items are second hand and thus no money is going to the big companies that made them. Furthermore, if you have a product that you no longer need you can just give it away and avoid adding to a landfill.

Food Sharing Edinburgh is another Facebook share page devoted to helping limit food waste and assisting individuals and families with food insecurity. The instructions on the page say to “post left-over food that is still fit for human consumption and arrange a collection time with people on this group.” Frequent things on the page: leftovers from catered events, bread, extra produce, unopened snack foods.

This is part of a larger program called Zero Waste Edinburgh that’s running initiatives to lower waste in the city. Shrub, a “Swap & Reuse Hub” – the group that runs the Food Share Facebook page as well as the free shop during Freshers Week – also has a food share in a physical location (as opposed to the virtual one) that just opened on 24 January. They say that “the goal of the Food Sharing Hub is to save surplus food from shops, restaurants and supermarkets from an unnecessary fate in the bin. The food is still fresh and good to eat and you get to pay as you feel.”

They cite a statistic from a government-funded research project that says that “15 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in the UK.” Another disturbing statistics from The Food Foundation tell us that in 2014 roughly 8.4 million people in the UK suffered from food insecurity. Considering these two factors together, hopefully, projects like the Food Sharing Hub will begin to lower food waste and help support members of the community. The Food Sharing Hub is at 22 Bread Street.

Shrub also runs a Swapshop at the same location. It works by you bringing in something to donate which you then receive tokens back for (depending on the value of the item – typically things like clothes or books), which you can then use to ‘buy’ things in the shop. (You can also pay in cash if you prefer). Both the Food Sharing and the Swapshop are looking for volunteers.

Other notable spots in Edinburgh for sustainable/ ethical grocery shopping: New Leaf Co-Op (a wholefood store with a “focus on products that are fresh, local, organic, low packaging”) and Real Foods (“Organic, Fairtrade, Vegetarian and Special Diet foods”).

Charity shops and thrift shops also make ethical purchasing a lot easier, and Edinburgh has a lot of them. Best ranked in Edinburgh: W. Armstrong & Sons on Grassmarket and on Teviot (funky vintage, if you want a good denim jacket or a jumper check it out). For secondhand books, Barnardo’s on Nicolson. In fact, Nicolson Street is crawling with charity shops: Shelter, PDSA, Oxfam, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation. Needless to say, charity shops go to a good cause, save money, and provide a little “cheat” where you can buy brand names without actually giving money to those brands that often use unfair business practices

There are other Edinburgh shares on Facebook with more specific items like Edinburgh Seed, Plant and Garden Share (frequent items on the page: pots, seeds, plants that need a new home) or Edinburgh Book Share. Just a quick search on Facebook and you can find lots more.

 

Image: Ninian Reid via Flickr

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