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Commentary: One used sofa at a time, how upcycling slows waste

By keeping products in use for as long as possible, websites are helping to reduce waste, says one observer.

PENNSYLVANIA: The average American generates about 680kg of garbage annually, and then spends lots of tax dollars disposing of it.

Even as recycling has taken off across the country in recent decades, the volume of all this trash has kept growing – albeit at a slower pace.

Craigslist might be helping to slow the pace of solid waste growth.


Craigslist is the best-known website for buying and selling, or simply giving away, used stuff. Others include Freecycle, LetGo, Gumtree and OLX.

Founded by Craig Newmark, in 1995 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Craigslist rapidly expanded once internet access became widespread starting 2000. It now operates in 413 US metro regions the US and the website draws more than 400 million visitors every month, mostly in North America.

People in just about all of the nation’s heavily populated areas, including Abilene, Texas, Rockford, Illinois, and Hartford, Connecticut, use Craigslist. But its arrival was staggered.

Furniture, clothing and appliances are the most commonly exchanged items. But it’s also a system for ditching or obtaining everything from diapers to trucks.

But does exchanging this stuff keeps it out of landfills and incinerators?

A landfill in Thailand's Rayong province.

In California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina and South Carolina, the five states with the best annual county-level solid waste data, it was found that solid waste waste declines by 3 to 5 per cent when Craigslist becomes active in an area. 

This effect persisted for at least two or three years once local residents become more apt to reusing furniture, clothing, appliances and other stuff that they bought through Craigslist.


Craigslist is among the more successful pillars of what is commonly known as the circular economy. That is, efforts to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible.

Interestingly, it has counterparts that encourage exchanges and reduce waste within industries and in the business world. 2GoodtoWaste and the Materials Marketplace are two of more popular online industrial reuse marketplaces. 

READ: Save the earth, rent your clothes instead of buying them, a commentary

The extent and variety of these listings can attract enough buyers to create markets for just about anything, from surplus chemicals to salvaged wood.

Craigslist and its business-world equivalents may seem to be nothing more than a gargantuan garage sale with a website. But this model has distinct advantages. 

The sheer number of listed items and people who list them is massive, boosting the chance that you might find something pretty similar to, if not exactly, what you need.

Suvrat Dhanorkar is assistant professor of supply chain management at Pennsylvania State University. A version of this commentary first appeared on The Conversation. Read it here.

Source: CNA/nr