If someone were to set up a telephone booth sized box on your street filled with unwanted items — such as books, toys and small knick knacks, perhaps — and then topped it off with a “Free” sign, what do you think would happen?
If Switzerland is any indication, passersby turned salvagers and recyclers would appear out of nowhere, sifting their way through other people’s unwanted discards, thinking up ways to put their newfound discoveries to good (re)use. Some would even add their own unwanted items to the box.
Neighborhood exchange boxes have helped Geneva, Switzerland reuse 32 tons of goods thus far thanks to a program called BOÎTES D’ÉCHANGE ENTRE VOISINS–a box for exchange between neighbors. But can it work in other cities?
Started in 2011, people leave items that they do not want, and take items that they do want. It’s that simple.
Or is it?
The environmental benefits of increasing reuse are obvious, but from the project creator’s perspective, there’s more to the Neighbourhood Exchange Box program than just going green.
It’s also part urban art and part social experiment, providers of unusual opportunities to create social and cultural links between people in a neighborhood.
Neighbourhood Exchange Box is a project which explores reciprocity between neighbours. It brings a new impulse into the neighbourhood and a sense of belonging and involvement to the local community by prompting opportunities of exchange and contact.
Behind it all is Happy City Lab, founded by Dan Acher, an “artivist” from Geneva focused on creating happy cities.
Most of us know by now that reducing and reusing are part of the answer to what our planet needs more of, so instead the program toils over questions like:
Nowadays, whilst most of our interactions depend on money, is it still possible to establish a completely disinterested form of exchange, without even knowing who the beneficiary is? Is it possible to extend such a project to the scale of a whole town? That of a region? A country? Further?
Here’s how the Neighbourhood Exchange Box was born, according to Shareable:
Acher got the idea for the boxes from the yearly clearing of his apartment in Geneva — he would watch from the balcony to see people pass by and take home his old things from the street opposite his building.
Of course Acher was not the first to come up with the concept of an exchange box–there are informal versions all across the world–but Happy City Lab captured video of theirs in action, which helps observers pause and reflect on the greater meaning of the boxes. Plus on the Exchange Box website visitors are invited to share photos of their discoveries and the items they’ve donated, for an added element of engagement.
You can watch A day in the life of a Neighbourhood Exchange Box here: (Advice: you don’t have to watch all 4:23 minutes to get the gist.)