Tuesday, 23rd April 2024

Tuesday, 23rd April 2024

Earth-friendly freebies

09 Mar 2021

NTU student Jonathan How’s goods-sharing app connects people with things they need – for free. Who else benefits? Our planet.


Want a guitar? Want an exercise bike? Books, clothes, even flower seeds – you can get them for free on the Sharetings app created by Jonathan How. Every day, its 5,600 members donate at least two items, which means there are 10,000 items available
at any one time. 

Jonathan says, “I set up this platform to reduce waste and also to benefit lower-income families, who could get these things for free. It seems a shame that while we throw away functional things, there are people who can’t afford basic things
like clothing and furniture.”

Jonathan is one of the ten recipients of the National Environment Agency’s 14th EcoFriend Awards this year. He recalls the story of a lady, who came from Choa Chu Kang to Punggol with a suitcase to pick up items from one of the members. It was her
daughter’s 9th birthday, and this was the only way she could get her daughter presents. She couldn’t work due to a bad back and her husband had lost his job, too.

“What really touched me was that she said that she, too, would give these things away when her daughter no longer needed them,” said Jonathan. “This would really keep the spirit of sharing going.”

You don’t need a lot to give

Jonathan embarked on this idea while at university, but his zero-waste philosophy was inculcated in him during his childhood.

 “We were barely surviving, and my parents were always telling me not to waste, finish all my food…”  .  

But although they didn’t have much, Jonathan’s mother would always get him to donate unwanted items to charity on a regular basis. His family believed that anything that could still be used should be, rather than thrown away.  

Jonathan grew up quite happy to give away clothes that he didn’t wear much – knowing that it would do someone else good.

He says,  “To give away something that we don’t really need, doesn’t really pain us. But for the people who need these things, this small act means a lot.”   

Genesis of the idea

When Jonathan moved in to the hall residences in NTU, he was shocked to see how some fellow students would simply throw items away when they moved out, even if the items were barely six months old. These could be chairs to household appliances like air
fryers, and most were still in good condition.

Seeing that there wasn’t already a platform that allowed people to easily donate their pre-loved items, Jonathan and three other friends decided to create Sharetings, a platform that would allow people to easily make unwanted items available to
others. 

Having the idea was one thing, but to actually build a platform without much tech knowledge was a daunting task. So, Jonathan decided to first start a channel on Telegram (Singapore Freebies by Sharetings), using that as a pilot to test his idea. This
is still running along with the app.

Growing the idea, getting support 

The Telegram channel proved to be an important way for Jonathan to show how viable Sharetings was when he applied for grants and funding support.

Jonathan explains, “When I first applied for support, the progress was very slow, perhaps because the organisations were trying to test how committed I was. It’s good that we had the Telegram channel to work on over the months, because we
were able to build a community of users – starting from a few hundred to more than five thousand in just over two years. This proved that people would use it.”

Once they received funding from the National Environment Agency and South West Community Development Council, the Sharetings team were able to hire a developer to create their app.

The app is now available on both the App Store and Google Play, and takes things up a notch by introducing a reward system. Users collect points when they give or collect items, which they can then redeem for various essential items from partnering merchants.

Only items that are consumed daily are offered as rewards. Jonathan hopes this incentivises even more people, creating what he calls a “circular economy”, where more items are shared than bought new.

To others, who may want to take up the cause for sustainability, Jonathan’s advice is:  “If you have an idea that helps the environment, just do it. There’s bound to be challenges and difficulties, but as long as you press
on and don’t give up, whatever comes along will be a learning experience that will help to bring your idea to life.”

To see other student solutions towards sustainability, check out our article on the finalists of the 2020 Young Sustainability Champion Senior Hackathon Grand Finals here. 

You can also check out what the students of Punggol Primary School are learning from their Applied Learning Programme (ALP) in Environmental Education here. 

Otherwise, check out Marsiling Secondary School’s video on using STEM for eco-sustainability here.