Nawaz: A Montreal barter group allows people to name their trades

Nawaz: A Montreal barter group allows people to name their trades

Life through the Bunz-lens seems a little sweeter, a bit more random and a lot less wasteful.

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Imagine a world where you can score a pair of jeans for a carton of oat milk. Where a can of Milton cider can snag you a copy of Leonard Cohen’s Let Us Compare Mythologies. Or where you can offer plant cuttings for chicken nuggets. A haircut for old sneakers. A stick-and-poke tattoo for a nice couch. A world beyond currency or conspicuous consumption. This is Montreal’s Bunz Trading Zone.

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A members-only Facebook group, the Montreal Bunz page is a smaller counterpart to the Toronto version. Founded by Emily Bitze in 2013 as a way to trade items with her friends, the original Bunz Trading Zone grew rapidly in its first three years, spawning an app, a website and a huge community network of local Facebook groups and sub-groups across dozens of cities worldwide.

Montreal’s money-free marketplace is a bargain hunter’s heaven that started in 2016 and is now more than 16,000 members strong. Among the prosaic dish racks, old knee braces and toilet brushes, you can find classical guitars, cameras and craft supplies. A ponytail palm plant. Boxing gloves. A graphic guide to Nietzsche. A backpack shaped like a bunny. No matter what you’re looking for, it’ll probably show up on Bunz eventually.

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The rules: No money, pets, prescription drugs, weapons or ammunition, or bodily fluids (phew). Know your Bunz acronyms: ISO stands for “in search of” — what you’d like in exchange for your offered items — and NYT means “name your trade.”

In this cashless, millennial utopia, trades might come in the form of kombucha, valerian tea, third wave coffee, coconut or almond flour, incense sticks, alcohol and marijuana, or the mother of all Bunz pseudo-currencies: plants.

Likewise, if you’re on the hunt for SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), mushroom spawn or gluten-free sourdough starter, look no further than your friendly neighbourhood Bunz. The Montreal Bunz group is not just a DIY haven for hipsters preoccupied with matters of yeast — it’s, above all, a community. For pickup, it’s standard to list the first half of your postal code or the nearest métro stop. Users also post helpful “curb alerts”: locations and photos of free stuff left out on the sidewalk.

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I find it both soothing and aspirational to peruse the posts on Bunz. Though it might not occur to me to gather a shoebox of half-used toiletries and offer them to people on the internet in exchange for alternative flours, I’m inspired by those who do. I, too, want to leave behind such mundane considerations as old gaming systems, ill-fitting tops and chunky-heeled ankle boots and ascend to a higher plane in which I explore bold new realms of fermentation.

In my imaginary Bunz life, I’m in a chic and sparsely furnished apartment brimming with houseplants, all clutter and nonessentials happily traded away. In reality, Bunz is a dangerous personal gateway to the ready acquisition of random items I definitely don’t need.

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I mostly managed to stay off Bunz during the COVID-19 pandemic, though I noticed a post from July 2020 observing that membership had recently exploded. Under lockdown, the ability to trade for essentials with neighbours became even more important. The administrator, Fiona MacGillivray, while discouraging unnecessary meetups, offered tips for safe, distanced trading and cautioned everyone to be responsible and respectful.

During moving season, with many users double-vaxxed, there was more activity than I could keep up with. The heat wave prompted a slew of posts about air conditioners: someone looking to trade a guitar for a wall unit, someone wanting to trade a wall unit for a portable, and someone hoping to trade a portable for a Nintendo Switch — as well as several members offering older but functional air conditioners in exchange for plant cuttings or two bottles of wine.

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The official Bunz made headlines over the past few years when it attracted an angel investor, opened a corporate office and founded its own cryptocurrency (BTZ). The commercial venture — based on a community-oriented, non-monetary exchange of goods and services — foundered, leaving a number of partner businesses in the lurch. Many of the associated Bunz Facebook groups changed their names to PALZ in response to the sellout implosion.

Bunz Trading Zone Montreal retains the original name and, from what I’ve seen, the spirit of the early group. Unlike users of the official app or website, there are fewer people requesting gift cards or specifying target monetary values for their offered items. Members seem interested in the relationships that can spring up organically around community trades. Life through the Bunz-lens seems a little sweeter, a bit more random and a lot less wasteful. Just be aware: if you’re bringing over some kombucha for a trade, you might be invited to stay and have a glass.

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