Community libraries that lend things promote neighbourhood sharing and reduced consumption

Two new community initiatives offering the opportunity to borrow everything from chainsaws to party supplies are aiming to reduce waste and bring back the tradition of neighbourhood sharing.

At the Tools ‘n’ Things Library in Leederville, Perth, the local community can bypass the hardware store and simply borrow the things they might need around the house, from chainsaws to sewing machines.

“So many people buy things once, just for a small task at home, and then they won’t use it again for another couple of years,” library volunteer Rex Breheny said.

For an annual fee of $75, members can access the library’s 640 items including an array of power tools, gardening equipment and kitchen and cleaning items.

“That’s our philosophy — don’t buy, borrow,” he said.

“Because somebody’s done it before you. And then that’s cutting down on waste and all the rest of it.”

The project is run by volunteers who founded it in 2019, and after an interruption in 2020 with the pandemic, it has now grown to have several hundred members who can come and borrow things twice a week.

With spring gardening in full swing, the library is now particularly busy with people wanting tools.

“Those tools are going out, you know, twice a week, sometimes twice a day, somebody will come and take them out early in the morning on Saturday and bring them back and somebody else will take them out,” Mr Breheny said.

He said in a way it was a return to an older tradition of neighbours borrowing each other’s lawnmowers and forming connections in the process.

“That used to be quite the philosophy, didn’t it?

“You’re getting to meet the people in the community, it’s great.”

Tools ‘n’ Things might have been the first in Perth, but another has just been started in the eastern suburb of Bassendean by the team of volunteers that also runs the neighbourhood repair café.

Bassendean Share Shed co-founder Renee McLennan said they wanted to expand beyond tools to all sorts of things that people might use rarely, like camping equipment or entertaining needs.

“We’re doing the kind of equipment you’d use for a party,” she said.

“Instead of everybody buying disposable plates, and cups and things like that, we’ve got great quality crockery and glasses and cutlery, decorations that people can use for those events that they might have once a year.”

Along with the repair café, she sees the Share Shed as a way to tackle consumer culture.

“We know that the world cannot continue to support our current level of resource consumption — at present over consumption means that each year we consume 75 per cent more than what the planet can regenerate, or 1.75 earths,” Ms McLennan said.

“Borrowing items and shifting our thinking from an ownership to an access model helps to reduce the number of things that are produced and limits waste.”

It’s also about making things available to people who might not be able to afford them.

The Share Shed currently doesn’t charge for membership but asks people to volunteer if they can instead.

“There’s lots of people that are doing it tough financially,” she said.

“We don’t want money to be a barrier for people to be able to access the equipment.

“It also gives people an opportunity to access things they might otherwise not be able to, (such as) to use to take their family camping, so that nobody needs to go without the things that they might like to use to try different activities.”

Down the track, the Share Shed also hopes to list items that other people have available at their homes and are willing to lend.

“We want to use it to bring our community together,” she said.

“Sharing the things that we use every now and then is a great way of connecting people who live locally.”

Like the Leederville library, gardening equipment has proven particularly popular but so have some more playful items.

“There are a few things that are in high demand and one of them is the bouncy castle.

“We’ve got some mini bouncy castles that some people are borrowing for their children’s birthday parties, it’s been a really popular item.

“And then the catering stuff for when people have a 21st or an 18th.

“It’s saving them money from having to hire it themselves and it’s reducing the waste because they’re not having to use disposables, which is fantastic.”