How a simple jar of pasta sauce sparked a revolution

Amy Harper, and her daughter, Frances.

Bartering is nothing new. But in the summer of 2013, the quest for a simple jar of pasta sauce became the catalyst for BUNZ. The mega-popular trading app was started by Emily Frances Bitze, a college grad who struggled to make ends meet after moving from Montreal to Toronto. The story goes that when Emily couldn’t round up change to buy pasta sauce one evening, she set up a Facebook page and put a call out to friends. Before long, someone agreed to swap an item owned for an item wanted.

Ever since Emily satisfied her pasta craving that fateful night, BUNZ has expanded beyond Toronto and grown into a movement, complete with its own currency. At the time of writing, 1.7 million items — everything from beer, to clothes, and food — were available for trade on the app. Let that sink in: that’s 1.7 million items that will potentially find new homes instead of clogging a landfill.

Aside from the obvious financial and environmental benefits of bartering, BUNZ fosters a sense of human connection often missing on the likes of eBay and Kijiji. One member offered to help move furniture at the drop of a hat, while another made a house call to give an autistic child a haircut. In the age of digital, it is one of the few platforms that unites more than isolates. The BUNZ phenomenon has even been the subject of a short documentary, ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens and Compassion.

We spoke to BUNZ Community Advocate and Content Strategist, Amy Harper, about the power of modern bartering and the impact it has on her shopping habits. BUNZ challenges our impulse to buy everything new, minimizing the guilt that comes from mindless accumulation. If anything, the app has given Amy pause to consider what her family truly needs before making a purchase.

Franny-bear.

How did you become involved in BUNZ? Were you already an active BUNZ?

I became involved in the Bunz community three years ago when I was on maternity leave and feeling a bit isolated. I started trading baby items with other moms in my neighbourhood, and I was hooked! Bunz is such a great resource for trading items, but also for building connections and community.

Growing up, Emily Frances Bitze allegedly loved scavenging on garbage night and imagining the stories behind pre-owned items… What’s the most unique or memorable BUNZ you’ve scored?

There have been many, but my first trade was probably the most memorable. It was a teddy bear that just happened to have my newborn daughter’s nickname on it. It felt meant to be!

More recently, we added local artisans onto the app, and I just scored a gorgeous handmade moonstone necklace. It’s something I wouldn’t normally splurge on …But with the new Bunz currency, BTZ, I was able to get it using the BTZ I earned through trades.

BUNZ now has its own cryptocurrency. Tell us how that works.

Our currency is called BTZ — it stands for Bunz Trading Zone, and is pronounced “bits.” We knew that a lot of Bunz were going out and purchasing things to trade with like beer and subway tokens, so we wanted to provide an alternative. Now you can trade your old coffee table for BTZ…and then use those BTZ with local shops. We are actively onboarding shops all over Canada and love taking suggestions! Email shoplocal@bunz.com if you have local places you’d like to see accepting BTZ.

How has your work affected your family’s relationship to spending and consuming in general?

We don’t purchase anything now without checking to see if it’s on Bunz first, so we have definitely saved a lot of money by trading. We’ve also learned how to be far less wasteful, continually trying to ensure we’re contributing to a circular economy. Bunz has also connected us in a real way to our community and neighbours.

Amy’s handmade splurge

Julie Green is a freelance writer, artist, and autism advocate. She lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and bulldog. Learn more at http://www.juliemgreen.ca.

The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Got a story to share? Come chat with us on Facebook.

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