In the western world where items are mass-manufactured there are few home goods, products and luxuries that are unavailable or out of our price range; tools are churned out from low-wage continents, whilst electronics are shipped half way around the world from China or flown thousands of miles from Mexico. With prices that have never been cheaper, it can be all too easy to quickly collect items that are purchased, used once and then just as swiftly forgotten about – consigned to a cupboard, shelf or shed never to be seen again. This behavior is killing the planet. Those items add up – and many of them come with a staggering carbon footprint. Take the average wood splitter as the perfect example – the steel head of a wood splitter creates 7 pounds of carbon dioxide during the manufacturing process – and that’s just the head, we’re not even counting the rest of the metal, the wooden handle or the shipping processes.
It’s time to have a re-think about items such as these and reimagine the ways in which our communities can share typical items that are otherwise owned by each household. Here are our tips for creating an ecosystem where tools and other items are shared throughout the community.
Storage – The Logistics of A Neighborhood Sharing System
Decide whether the items will be stored in a central location or whether you’ll simply have a publically accessible list as to who owns what for people to arrange the shares between themselves. The former idea is usually easier to manage, and helps to avoid a few common problems (such as certain neighbors who contribute more than others).
Should you choose a central location, you’ll need to consider:
– Storage – Where will the items be stored and how will it be made secure from would-be intruders?
– Management – How will you keep track of what’s gone out and what’s due back? What time limits will you place on the items? What would happen if an item were lost?
– Inventory – Many sharing schemes focus specifically on certain items, tool sharing being the most popular. What will your scheme stock? Will it also include electronics or other home items? Could there be a need for shared toys (products that notably blight the planet given the world’s growing populous and the fact most toys are created from plastic).
We share further tips and guidelines for this approach later on in the blog.
Go Digital – For a Sharing System That Runs Itself
Creating a hub where your neighbors can gather needn’t involve complex leg work – nor does it mean that you have to meet in person or have a physical noticeboard. Instead, it could be as simple as setting up a local Facebook page or group. There are, however, some key rules that should be put in place if you want your system to run smoothly (and if you’d really rather avoid quarrelling neighbors).
Your Sharing System – Some Rules and Suggestions to Explore…
1. Prohibit the sharing of items that frequently breakdown or that can be easily broken
Where members of the sharing scheme are putting their own items up for lending, you should help avoid issues and arguments by prohibiting the lending of tools that often break or that often need repairing. Alternatively, a solution would be to run a paid membership scheme; this has worked well in places such as Ithaca (an Ecovillage in New York), where the scheme charges members $60 each year.
2. Consider purchasing liability insurance
Labiality insurance is a sticky issue for schemes such as this – whilst you’d presume that participants are all equally as good hearted as the last, and that any accidents would be considered exactly that, you do need to at least consider the prospect of litigation. Some programs in the US undertake liability insurance to counter any legal action, whilst others have users sign liability waivers in some or all cases (for example, one Atlanta Community Tool bank requires that waivers are signed whenever power tools are borrowed).
3. Track each item meticulously
Robust record keeping is key to a community sharing programme that runs like clock work, as is the need for rules as to how long each item can be borrowed. Managing this could be done via an Excel sheet or Word document, however it pays to put a process in place for chasing up ‘late’ items – such as having a ‘due back’ board to notify those who are late that they need to return their loaned items.
4. Get a skilled DIYer involved
Maintaining items is important to keep a sharing system going – without a skilled DIYer or mechanic, your community could quickly face broken items – leaving them out of pocket directly, or requiring higher membership fees. Hopefully there’s a person amongst your members who fits the bill, if not however you could consider approaching local repair businesses and requesting a discounted rate in exchange for good publicity.
After all of that hard work (and neighbors who are liberated as to what they may build, mend or DIY next), you and your community may have worked up quite the appetite. For this, there could be a community food share scheme (and as Americans send half of all the food they purchase to landfill, these schemes are arguably in severe demand). Again, this type of system could be a simple as sharing home grown fruit and veg, or splitting large pots of stew with a neighbor; it could also be as complex as paired up neighbors covering different fruit and veg to split them equally.
Communities that share and share alike not only do their bank balances a favour, they are also kind to a planet that’s increasingly resource short. Let us know how you get on with our ideas in the comments, and if you have any tips that we’ve haven’t covered here, feel free to share them with your fellow readers.