The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 24, 2007

Learning to share (and borrow)

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!

You might also enjoy...


Waste-Free Lunchware by

I only post ads for products I use myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
15 years ago

I hadn’t heard of the tool lending libraries, so will definitely check that out. Another site I found while doing research on ways to avoid buying new stuff, I found a very cool website: – I just posted a few things the other day so can’t really speak much for how well it actually works yet, but I think the idea is totally awesome, for lack of a better word. I think they may be just in the Bay Area for the moment, but it’s such a good idea, I’m betting it’ll take off. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you have a chance to check it out.

15 years ago

I love, love the library! I get most of my books from the library and have even stopped buying magazines b/c I can get them from the library. I think this is a little known secret b/c I nearly always get the latest copies! And they don’t accumulate in my tiny, tiny apartment.

15 years ago

Our family has spent a lot of money on board games that haven’t been played a lot. A public library would be a good way for families to share games. I’m going to ask my local librarian about that.

15 years ago

Thanks for the comment on my Wise Bread post, and thanks for the link to this article–good examples of “institutionalized” sharing.

Philip Brewer

16 years ago

I can’t say enough good things about the Berkeley Tool Lending Library. Oakland has one as well. I’ve donated good tools I seldom used to BTLL and if I need them, I know where to find them. BTLL keeps their tools in excellent condition. The people working there are a fount of information and not only that, they’re very friendly.

16 years ago

This is a different kind of sharing. Had a friend over for dinner today. During our conversation, she asked whether the stuff she recycled actually got recycled. Do you think they just landfill it anyway? Are they just trying to make us feel good? So I shared your visit to the Oakland recycling center. Yes, it does really matter. The cans you put in the recycling bin do really get a second life. And paper, and plastic, and bottles. She was very relieved after that. So thanks for sharing your experience at the recycling center on this blog! She needs to read it :)

16 years ago

Rosa, how very Prairie Home! Neighbors who come do your yard work for you when you’ve left it a little too long! That’s so cool! You are very lucky.

16 years ago

Rejin, we are lucky. And we live in a not-very-dense midwestern city, so there’s still some of that small-town helpfulness – if we left a downed tree in our yard, our neighbor would come cut it up after a few days.

It takes a certain amount of resigning yourself to not being in control. I might come home on a day when guests are coming and have to go down the block to get my vacuum back or – this bothered me worse at first – our neighbors might get tired of our tall grass and come mow it one Saturday morning. But overall it’s such a good life, it’s worth it.

16 years ago

Kudos to your Dad for deciding to rent his condo. It’s hard to think of a bigger waste of resources than a condo that sits empty for most of the year. If someone else could rent that condo, less condos would need to be built. What a great form of sharing!

Rejin L
16 years ago

This year I discovered the inter (inner?) library loan system. Even though the local branch is small and under stocked, I have been able to request books from all over the (Brooklyn Public Library) system and they bring them to my branch, then call to let me know to pick up. It is so convenient – much more so than finding new homes for all the once-read books that don’t fit on our shelves. And I’ve saved so much money.
Rosa, you are so fortunate to have such a good borrowing network. My friends live so far away, it never occurs to us. And we don’t really know the neighbors. When we couldn’t find anyone to borrow a chain saw from, we just left the fallen tree in the yard rather than dispose of it. These days I often find myself doing without, rather than buying something I don’t expect to use very much.

16 years ago

In my circle of friends, one of us owns a punch bowl, one has a Kitchen Aid mixer, one has glass buffet plates and I own the fondue pot. For entertaining, we borrow regularly! We also borrow a steam cleaner, a leaf blower, and a pick up truck from the same group, and pool together folding chairs and lawn chairs when needed.

We also have what I call ‘the pipeline’ of kids stuff going–everything from baby bottles to clothing to toys to DVDs just gets passed round and round.

We also rent things from the local hardware store if we need something for one project and can’t locate it amongst friends!

I think a lot of “having to own it” comes from not having a close social network–when I lived in a city where I knew no one, I bought things because I didn’t know whom to ask to borrow things. It’s that whole ‘drive into your garage and close the door’ mentality.

terrible person
16 years ago

I feel incredibly fortunate to live in an area — Oakland/Berkeley — where people leave all sorts of free stuff on the sidewalk. Maybe this tends to happen in cities, where most people rent their homes, rather than own them, and move frequently, and don’t feel like schlepping their stuff (or see each move as an opportunity to free themselves from certain possessions.) I guess it happens especially in areas with a large student population, who may move every year or even semester. From clothes — and stuffed animals — to books and food and electronic devices, I have rescued more things than I can count. I’ve also picked up a number of “lost” items, things people just drop by mistake. But then, I’ve lost a lot of things. I mean to put my name on everything I own (using those addres labels of which every charity sends you pages unsolicited), but then, maybe I sort of like constantly interchanging with the Universe as a way of breaking down the barrier between it and “myself”?

16 years ago

While it’s true that we suburbanites have to have cars, my sister and I have kept it to one each. Most families around here have two cars, but as my husband takes public transit to work, we can live with one car most of the time, as can she. But if for some reason my husband and I both need the car at the same time, we arrange to borrow hers, and she does the same with us.

We can pull this off because we live just a few blocks away from each other, so it’s easy to walk over and get the other car. And just as with the power drill, those two-car moments don’t crop up all that often. Once my oldest daughter gets her license, though, all bets are off.

16 years ago

Convenience is, again, the thing that trumps common usage of items.

If people have enough money, they will choose to have for themselves rather than share. A good example is the fact that on a given residential block of single family homes, every home will have a lawnmower, a rake, a ladder, a snowblower (in Illinois), just as you mentioned.

It’s a huge waste of money and material but then you think of the hassle of asking for an item that is shared, or deciding what to do when the shared item turns out to be broken, or lost, or not returned, or locked up when needed. These are all things that could be worked out if folks got together and came up with a plan but people are frazzled with lack of time and this would be one more thing to deal with…so each garage ends up holding the same little used items for every residence, and the business of selling things prospers. In America we have bought our way out of having to deal with neighbors, just as we have bought our way out of having to share rooms, share houses, etc., as was always the case in history.

In times of adversity (Great Depression, WWII) people have come together and realized how valuable they are to each other and can look back on the experience with fondness, no matter how hard it was. But, soon as the money comes back, it’s back to convenience and isolation.

My philosophical thought for the day: the problem of modern life is that we don’t need each other except for business transactions. The “other” is now just another person in front of you in line or crowding the highway. And, or course, the fact that we are all buying things individually has driven the cost of everything way, way down…except, of course, for the environmental cost!

Stretch Mark Mama
16 years ago

It took me until my third child to realize that most of the Big Chunky Toys (which have a very short entertainment value, but do have their place for a while) can easily be passed around a circle of friends. Exersaucers, bumpy jumpies, walkers, etc.

16 years ago

A van! We borrow our friend’s van to pick up curbside furniture or haul a big load of construction supplies to the dump, three or four time a year (he has also rescued me at Ikea when I bought something too large to haul home.)

Those same friends come over to use our internet-connected computers. We used to go to their house to watch cable, when they had it. They have a coffeepot that we borrow when coffee drinkers visit us. And a lot of tools go back and forth, including a bike truing stand (large!) and a jig saw, and a digital videocamera.

We had to buy a very, very tall ladder to paint the top story of house. It’s too big to haul in a car but everyone we know who lives in walking distance of us has borrowed it at least once.

And books, of course – any book there will be a horrible wait for at our library, like a new Terry Pratchett or Bill Clinton’s autobiography, someone in our circle of friends buys and passes around.