2021: it sounds futuristic. Yet here we are. This isn’t just the dawn of a new decade, it is also the start of a new way of consuming. Or it should be. Changing consumer habits and technology mean we can unlock a revolution in the way we consume goods and services. Explosive growth in novel businesses and projects are allowing people to share, lease or reuse goods and services in a way previous generations could only dream of, with real benefits for our neighbourhoods and environment. Here are some of the most exciting examples.
Power drills. We all need one, at some point. But for just 20 minutes? For most people, that is all they ever need. So why own one? Why not just rent one, a good one, easily and cheaply, plus a few other tools at the same time while making some DIY savvy friends in the process? Welcome to the world of tool libraries.
Tool libraries are just one way to lease rather than own something. Some businesses and projects offer a single type of good, like a bike or washing machine. Others offer a whole range. Some are platforms that connect you to everyone in your town or city that is wanting to lend out their stuff, which can be just about anything. Depending on the service, you might have to pay per use, or pay a subscription. Tool libraries in Scotland and Belgium are low cost, socially driven projects. Others are more strictly business focused, where convenience of easy access to high-quality, worry-free, environmentally friendly goods (efficient, long-lasting, upgradeable and repairable) usually comes with a higher price tag when compared to ownership over the long-term.
You know the feeling: you grab a bargain, you are delighted, then it stops working way too soon. The era when we repaired everything may be long gone, but there are good reasons to think it is making a come-back. Brand new laws are unlocking spare parts like never before, and companies are taking a growing interest in design and repair. Want a repaired and upgraded computer for example? Look no further than Circular Computing.
Computers are the tip of the iceberg. From next year, all new televisions, fridges, freezers, washing machines, washer-dryers, dishwashers and lighting products sold in Europe must meet minimum repairability standards. On top of this, professional and home repairers will get access to spare parts for at least 7 years after a product is retired from the market, plus useful repair instructions. A ‘right to repair’ movement is thriving, as is the independent repair sector and access to repair advice. Some manufacturers of smartphones and kitchens are going beyond repair alone to make products modular and upgradeable, so if performance or taste is the problem, you don’t have to replace the whole product, just one modular part.
Once upon a time, throwing stuff away after use was wonderfully convenient. Nowadays, the bin is less cool. But it is still hard or impossible to escape throwaway plastic packaging. Then there was Loop, the reusable packaging company.
You don’t need to subscribe to a fancy new service to cut down on throw-away plastic or other materials. A universe of second hand gadgets exist on Amazon Renew, and everything comes with a one year warranty. Vintage clothes or furniture have no warranty, but the cost savings make shopping feel like a treasure hunt. If cost savings float your boat, clothes or toy swaps between friends or strangers are often free. Packaging-free shops are popping up in many cities, able to put that giant collection of tote bags to good [re]use.
Sharing is caring, or so they say. The spirit has breathed new life into one neighbourhood in Genova, Italy. There, people share many of their personal possessions with neighbours for free, thanks to an online platform Si Chiama Pietro. The sense of community bonding is as palpable as it is heartwarming.
The world of free sharing is vast and diverse, ranging from toys and clothes to food and even accommodation, skills and services. Social media platforms or easy to build website templates with low cost hosting are making it easier than ever to create or connect with successful micro-communities interested in sharing the same type of goods or services.
The keys to recycling are good old fashionedsorting of waste, plus getting broken stuff out of the cupboard and into therecycling bin. But what if broken stuff could be made new? Not fixed, but madeagain with minimal environmental impacts. That’s closed loop recycling, and this is Apple’s Liam.
There aren’t so many firms using closed loop recycling because it isn’t easy. A lot of our broken gadgets end up living in our bottom drawers at home for years, not in the recycling stream, making it hard for firms to get their hands on the materials they need. We can all help fix that to unfreeze the potential for closed loop recycling. Nevertheless, a growing number of manufacturers are using high quality recycled plastic in their goods. One recent survey found that people don’t notice any difference in quality, appearance or performance between products made from virgin or with recycled plastic.
Making stuff uses resources, a lot of resources. That means mining, forestry, plastic production, transport and waste. E-waste is the fastest growing wastestream and every European creates an average 16.4 kilogrammes each year. If our things last longer, either because they are high quality, repairable or upgradeable, they stay working longer and need to be replaced less. Sharing, leasing or reusing things could mean you never need to buy a new one, saving you money and helping protect the natural world.