Going green, one crib at a time

At Zwaggle.com, parents can trade in their kid gear. It's one of a growing list of sites encouraging people to swap rather than ditch their old stuff.

As a mother of two young children, Lynn Husum has more than her share of Baby Bjorns and sock rattles crowding the family's Brooklyn home.

So instead of hanging on to what the kids have outgrown, she's exercising a new method of social consciousness online, by shipping off those baby slings and monitors to other parents she found through the site Zwaggle.com.

"When you're a parent you see such ridiculous consumerism; it just feels good to pass it on, and especially to someone who really needs (the stuff)," Husum said. "It feels like the right thing to do in this environmentally conscious world we're living in now."

Like a growing group of people, Husum is taking a modern approach to an age-old practice among parents of swapping clothes, handing down furniture, or borrowing instead of buying. Rather than meeting up with others to exchange goods at the local church or school, she's turning to an online social network to connect specifically with peers or like-minded people.

"There's this massive, passive inventory of kids' stuff already being Zwaggle'd in the real world."
--Andrew Hoag, engineer and co-founder, Zwaggle.com

Zwaggle.com, for example, helps members donate a product like a crib or baby monitor, and in return, earn points to pick up something else that they might want for little cost. Members pay only for shipping for the desired item.

Exchange sites are nothing new--Craigslist and eBay have been changing the way people unload unwanted goods for years. Niche sites like Lala.com, Peerflix.com, and Bookmooch.com have even emerged to appeal to music, movie, and book buffs by helping people swap media. Yet today, more sites are playing into the green movement , encouraging people to make environmental or socially conscious choices.

Freecycle.org, for example, started in 2003 to help people "gift" unwanted stuff to strangers and help keep the landfills free of items that could easily be reused . Now the site has more than 4,000 local Yahoo groups, whose 4 million-plus members give away goods in 75 countries. In San Francisco, for example, the number of messages posted to the group has grown from 37 in January 2004 to more than 2,400 in the same period this year. As a result, the nonprofit said that it keeps more than 300 tons of stuff out of landfills per day, thanks to all of the donations from member to member.

Analysts believe the concept should catch on more broadly, but maybe for a less noble reason.

"I think (recycle programs) are something every e-commerce site should incorporate," said Allen Weiner, an analyst at research firm Gartner Research. "No. 1, it raises their profile in terms of being green and socially conscious. And No. 2, it gives people the ability to clear out and buy more stuff."

Privately funded Zwaggle, based in San Francisco, was founded last year by two guys who don't have kids. Andrew Hoag, an engineer and co-founder, said that at the time, he was surrounded by friends and family having children and noticed all of the extra stuff they accumulated but didn't necessarily use. For that reason, the idea seemed like a no-brainer.

"There's this massive, passive inventory of kids' stuff already being Zwaggle'd in the real world," Hoag said. On the Web, he said, more people can find each other.

He and his partner, Adam Levy, launched the site for friends and family in spring 2007, followed by a public launch in August. So far, it has roughly 2,000 members.

The company makes money by collecting fees from the shipping cost of items. For example, if a baby monitor costs a member $10 to ship across the country, Zwaggle would collect roughly 50 cents on the donation of that item--or 5 percent to 7 percent of its cost. And Zwaggle makes it relatively painless for members to donate products. A mom collecting an item will pay the shipping fees online, and then the person donating the item will simply print a prepaid shipping label and drop the item off at a local mail store.

Hoag said that the company also plans to eventually sell new products on the site that people can't find on the used site or would prefer to buy new. In addition, the company will soon sell gift cards preloaded with points for new parents who want to pick up used items on the site, but don't yet have things to share.

"We want to make Zwaggle the first choice where people go to outfit their kids, and do it in a socially responsible way," he said.

Still, the site needs to grow its membership to facilitate more eco-friendly practices like local pickups and drop-offs, instead of shipping. Donating heavy goods like bikes or skis could be cost and convenience prohibitive in terms of shipping, Husum said.

"There's a huge market in Brooklyn for this, and when more of them go online, that will boost trading," she said.

 

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