There are numerous reasons people become members of the Toronto Tool Library & Sharing Depot. Sometimes it’s about the money people save when they are looking for specific items such as expensive tools for a renovation, a set of chairs and an outdoor canopy for an event or all the camping gear necessary for an outdoor escape with the family. Sometimes it’s about the community aspect of the space: the knowledge that by joining a library of things, neighbours are collectively supporting a place where everyone can access what they need regardless of their income. And sometimes, it’s about the space people save in their homes when they no longer need to store all these items they only need to use occasionally.
On #WorldEnvironmentDay, it’s worth doing a deep dive into one of the most important benefits of all: the lighter environmental footprint that comes with borrowing stuff rather than purchasing it new in store. Here are 3 key ways borrowing from a library of things is more sustainable:
Borrowing Uses Less Resources
Our current global socioeconomic system operates on one key principle: infinite consumption of goods and services. In this model, it’s ideal for each and every person to own things individually, even if it means each house on your block has a drill stored in the basement that’s only being used occasionally. Unfortunately for GDP and the pockets of rich people everywhere, this model is completely out of sync with the way our planet works. You cannot have infinite growth and consumption of resources on a finite planet. This might be why researchers are beginning to learn that:
“between 60-80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption. If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.” (source)
Sharing items within a community is a great way to counteract this. If you imagine the amount of energy and materials that go into making and distributing a single tool (the oil, rare metals and water used in production, the fuel used to ship it all over the world, the packaging it comes in, etc.) you can imagine how much more sustainable it is to share a few drills amongst a group of people. The mass, private ownership of tools – as an example – makes little social sense when we consider that most domestic power tools are used for just 10% of the time they are designed to last and spend the rest of their lives depreciating in basements and storage units.
Refuse to buy new and borrow instead.
Creating a Culture of Repair & Reuse
Hot on the heals of refusing to buy new comes repair and reuse. There’s a reason recycle is relegated to the back of the line: recycling is still resource-intensive and most of the environmental damage occurs before the process of recycling even takes place:
“By the time waste gets recycled, 95 per cent of the environmental damage has already occurred – in manufacturing, in oil extraction, in the poisoning of our rivers and air. People have to buy less…our economy is based on endless growth, endless production of what our landfills tell us is basically junk.” (source)
Furthermore, materials can only be recycled so many times before they become too weak to recycle anymore. Couple all this with the recent waste ban imposed by China, and you can see why a culture heavily reliant on recycling is not actually all that sustainable.
When you belong to a lending library like ours, you are helping to shift our culture away from a reliance on recycling to a culture of repair and reuse. We have an exceptional team of volunteers who maintain and fix our tools and other inventory items on a weekly basis. We have also partnered with Repair Café Toronto to give them their first permanent storefront location. This means every Sunday from 12-4pm, the Repair Café takes over our 830 St Clair West Ave location so people can get their broken items fixed for free.
We’ve also partnered with Boomerang Bags Toronto to run free workshops out of our spaces teaching people how to sew reusable bags out of unwanted textiles. Textile recycling is notoriously lacking in Canada and far too many textiles end up in landfill where they release harmful chemicals into the ground and atmosphere. Not only do workshops like this divert resources from landfill, it encourages people to use what is already in circulation rather than creating demand in the market by buying new. Sign up for the next workshop coming up on June 19th!
Fuelling the Shift to a Circular Economy
Currently our economy follows a linear model of resource consumption which follows this pattern: take-make-dispose. Waste is embedded in the design of this system and is therefore inevitable (consider the exponential rise in built-in and planned obsolescence whereby companies design products to fail in order to encourage people to consume yet more stuff). A Circular Economy, on the other hand,
“aims to ‘design out’ waste. Waste does not exist – products are designed and optimized for a cycle of disassembly and reuse. These tight component and product cycles…set it apart from disposal and even recycling where large amounts of embedded energy and labour are lost.” (source)
It is important to consider that the very system we use right now to distribute and access goods is inherently destructive. If we want to make real sustainable change on this planet, we need to advocate for a circular approach where products are designed to last, to be shared and to be disassembled and reused at the end of their lifespan. As the demand for collaborative consumption grows, this places pressure on industry to design and build products that are durable with parts that can be easily repaired, replaced and reused. The Toronto Tool Library has been featured in two articles from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation detailing the ways collaborative consumption fuels this much-needed shift into a more sustainable economy for people and the planet (you can read them here and here).
“There are signs of a shift to a system where household items are not used and disposed, but instead maintained, shared and re-used. The companies and projects described below are all pioneers on the journey to creating more circularity in our homes.” (source)
I’m @itsahashtaglife, a social media manager, storyteller and blogger for non-profits and charities in Toronto. I take the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and apply them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.