This weekend, I had a conversation with my dad about what to do with certain possessions if he rented out their condo in Hawaii. “I’d have to store a lot of books,” he said. And it got me realizing that one of the best ways to reduce our consumption, plastic and otherwise, is through borrowing and sharing items that we don’t need access to on a regular basis.
I understand his attachment to books. They are part of his identity. And for English major me, some books do have sentimental value. But the majority of the books that I read do not. For a while, I was buying used books and then Freecycling them. But then Michael got his library science degree, and suddenly the idea of borrowing rather than owning became an option I hadn’t considered since elementary school. So now, when I want to read something, I try to borrow it from the library or from a friend before thinking about whether I want to purchase it.
But libraries are not just for books these days, or even just videos and CDs. Many cities have tool lending libraries, either as part of the public library system like here in Oakland, or as part of the Public Works Department. Wikipedia has a list of tool lending libraries in the world. I’m not sure how comprehensive it is. Maybe your town has one that’s not listed. The beauty of Wikipedia is that anyone can update it.
I’ve seen posts online that claim that the average power drill gets used anywhere between 3 to 20 minutes during its entire lifetime. Why does every family need to have their own power drill (or table saw or belt sander) when many people could share the same piece of equipment easily and with much less cost to the environment?
If you don’t have a tool lending library, think about borrowing tools or appliances from friends. A few weeks ago, I ran out of ground cinnamon but found some cinnamon sticks in the back of the cupboard that had never been used. If only I had a spice grinder or even a coffee grinder. I placed an ad on Freecycle and looked for a used one at Goodwill. Then, it occurred to me that even if I found one, I’d probably only use it a couple of times. So I asked my friend, Nancy, and sure enough, she had one to lend. I got my ground cinnamon and one less plastic item to clutter my kitchen.
I think borrowing from friends sometimes is good for us. It can be humbling for those who like to feel that they are self-sufficient. And a little humility is not a bad thing in a world full of entitled individuals consuming far more than they need. Of course, being willing to share is also important, as is taking care of what you borrow and getting it back to its owner in a timely fashion!
But back to libraries. Another hunk of plastic you can avoid buying is a personal computer. Now, Michael and I do have our own computers which we use every day. But Michael’s mom uses the computer at the local library, and another friend of mine only uses the computer at her job. For those people who aren’t as cyber-addicted as me, borrowing computer time might be a great resource-, as well as money-, saving option.
And finally, the biggest hunk of plastic that Michael and I share rather than own is a car. For those of us who live in urban areas with excellent public transportation, owning a car can be an expensive pain in the butt. And renting cars is a hassle, what with waiting in line and filling out paperwork each time. Instead, we belong to Flexcar, one of the three car-sharing companies in the Bay Area (along with Zipcar and City Car Share.) We borrow the car once or twice per month for shopping or driving somewhere inaccessible by BART or bus. It’s way less expensive than owning a car and we save a ton of plastic in the process. Check out this cNet article about the increasing use of plastics in cars.
What other things do you borrow or lend that I haven’t thought of? Reducing the amount of stuff I collect is a big part of this project and any suggestions for ways to borrow rather than own are welcome!