Guest blog written by Caroline Staudt. Caroline is a sustainability advocate focused on reducing waste by keeping clothing and other consumer goods in circulation longer. Her blog, The Green Ostrich, focuses on the environmental impact of running, clothing, and the intersection of the two. She lives just outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

Adopting a sharing infrastructure in our communities allows us to reduce consumption and waste less

When I moved into my house 13 years ago, a neighbor drove by and introduced herself. Before she drove off, she said, “If you ever need curry, I always have some.” In the 13 years since, I’ve had another neighbor borrow our grill one night each year when he hosts a softball team BBQ. A different neighbor has borrowed our power washer to clean his fence. I’ve borrowed a reflective vest from yet another neighbor on a few occasions for overnight ultra-marathons. When my daughter decided to play lacrosse, yet another neighbor let us borrow her daughter’s stick, cleats, and goggles that weren’t being used that season. And when a neighbor was taking headshots for her company’s website, she borrowed a shirt in the right color from someone else on the street. 

I know that my family owns a lot of things that we have used once or twice and are unlikely to use again or things that we only need a couple of times per year. Whether it’s clothing or tools or sporting equipment, we bought it for a specific purpose, but then what? It sits unused until we donate it (where it will likely get landfilled) or it takes up space in our closet or garage.

Sharing as an alternative to consuming  

Evidence from my neighborhood and from Re-Action Collective members like KitUp and TentShare reminds me that there is another way. We can share. The sharing economy is a collaborative socio-economic system allowing for peer-to-peer distribution, trade, and consumption of goods or services. Sharing can be free (think of a Little Free Library, which not surprisingly, exists in my neighborhood or even informal networks like what I describe on my street) or they can be for profit. 

As a society, we’ve already adapted to a sharing economy in certain industries. AirBnB has become an acceptable way to travel, and ridesharing platforms are not considered fringe. 

So why don’t we expand this to more everyday consumer goods? Whether on a large scale, like AirBnB, or on a small scale, like a neighborhood spreadsheet of clothing or tools or sporting equipment that people own and are willing to share/rent/let, there is an opportunity for each of us to adopt a sharing model in our lives both as a consumer and a lender. 

Why bother? It sounds too hard

The result is that we consume less, we have to find fewer ways to store and/or dispose of products, we save money, and, depending on the model, we may even be able to make money off of the items we already own. It’s a classic win-win. 

I’d like to challenge each of us to find ways to share in our own communities. It can start small (like offering curry to a new neighbor), but with time it could turn into something really special and impactful. If anyone takes this on, I’d love to hear the success stories. Personally, I’m excited to find a way to formalize the sharing infrastructure that has already developed organically in my own neighborhood and see how it grows.