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Byttestation: Sharing for the community and the Earth

Almeria Allen
Almeria Allen

Indonesian living in Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen | Tue, October 3, 2017 | 09:04 am
Byttestation: Sharing for the community and the Earth

Locals in the Verterbro area of Copenhagen are familiar with byttestation or give box. (JP/Almeria Allen)

Jakarta has been growing a lot and so has the lifestyle. 

I went to private schools before high school. I didn’t understand then, but now I figured it out that there were gaps between the haves and the have nots. I also didn’t really feel it in high school and college, but it was still there. 

Now that all information on the internet is just one click away, if I may say, I feel that the gap is even bigger. 

There are more shopping malls with the latest fashions, more shops with big brands, more fancy cafés and restaurants, etc – all things that young urbanites would love to spend their money (or sometimes their parents’ money) on. Things and possessions become a priority, a way of life that we will pass on to our children.

A heartwarming twist on the materialistic lifestyle is found in a cold country up north, Denmark.

Locals in the Verterbro area of Copenhagen are familiar with byttestation or give box. Bytte can mean exchange in English, and as the name suggests, a byttesation is a box where everyone can put in and take things out as an exchange.

In the byttestation, you can find things from baby clothes, shoes, cups and plates to furniture. I would take a box of stamps for my collection, but I needed to do my late spring cleaning. It punches me in the heart and tells me that it is nice to care about others without thinking about their race, gender and what their faith is. In Indonesia, we often see donations or charities that only channels aid to a specific group or faith. Moreover, people are more likely to help others who share the same faith or identity, not based on universal humanity or sympathy. 

Byttestation is organized by local group called Naboskab (neighborhood) -- if we split the word to nabo and kab it literally means neighbor and cabinet. This is a nationwide trend and even though the name can be different. Byttestations are also common in cities like Berlin and Amsterdam, where they often go under the name of "give box" or "swapping station."

The average Dane throws out 9 kilograms of waste a week (Indonesians throw out 3.5 kg a week, but remember that we have much more people). The city of Copenhagen’s Municipality of Technology and Environmental Management, the local committee of Kongens Enghave and Vesterbro area renewal started the project “Vesterbyt.” The vision behind this project is to increase the share of direct recycled goods in the area. The program encourages the perspective that it is fine to wear or use second hand goods. You can also give away things you don’t like anymore that might be useful to somebody else.  

Three byttestations were built in June 2016 as a testing phase. They were set up as temporary installations in Saxoparken (park), on Sønder Blvd (road), and Vesterbro Biblioteket (library). This was a pilot project conducted in cooperation with the Vesterbro Local Committee, Area Renewal Central Vesterbro, the Settlement and Technical and Environmental Management and some project groups.

There’s no obligation to how much the donation should be. You put things that you think can be useful to others. It may be clothes, books, cookware and toys.

If we think again, the idea of having exchange stations can also become a local meeting place, in an urban stting, where the community can give goods to each other. We don’t always have to meet at a café or restaurant.

How can we make sure that nobody is taking advantage of the system? It’s a tricky question or should I say it needs a tricky answer? It’s trust-based. We need to have self-discipline. We have to respect others. This small thing can actually affect trust, security and the way to be “local” The cooperation between local and social initiatives can be culture-creating for an entire area.

It is never wrong to channel your donations through foundations. But, maybe we could also restart the idea with the genuine mindset of helping. There are others who are not so lucky, so share and care. Start with the little things around you.

Can we spread the idea of more sharing and less complaining? (dev/kes)


Almeria is an Indonesian living in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she has been living since 2007.

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