Zero Waste

A to Z of Zero Waste: S – Second hand and Sharing economies

Welcome to our series of posts on the A-Z of zero waste!

An overview of everything that has been shared so far can be found here.


As we have worked through this A to Z we have talked about how in general we need to buy less, by prioritising DIY and making do and mending. But perhaps after thinking about whether you really need something, you come to the conclusion you do and that nothing you already own will do the job. So what do you do then? Here is where sharing economies and second hand items come into their own in your zero waste life.

What is a sharing economy?

A sharing economy is "a system in which people rent, borrow, or share commodities, services, and resources owned by individuals, usually with the aid of online technology, in an effort to save money, cut costs, and reduce waste." - dictionary.com 

Basically it's where people share things to avoid waste or excess cost.

It can be an amazing example of community living, or more often a smart financial business move.

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There are many examples of sharing economies and several you may already use without realising, like your local library, ride share companies (like Zip car or Uber), space sharing websites (like airbnb or WeWork), hiring out car parking spaces, bike sharing initiatives (like the London Santander or Lime Cycles). I'm not vouching for the ethics of these specifically (some are definitely dubious) but I want to highlight that sharing economies are more common than you think. Recently we are starting to see the recurrence of other kinds of sharing economies as people become more aware of waste - like tool libraries where you can hire tools for a short time instead of buying them, clothing hire companies, and party kit hire websites.

Some of these are formalised systems and are designed to make a profit, but not all are. A really simple way to join in with sharing economies is to join your local library. Many local libraries have access to more than just books, with the ability to hire e-books, audio books, DVDs, magazines and lots more. By supporting your local library you are helping it stay open which enables your local community to have access to lots more resources, but also reducing the waste of lots of paper products being created only to be read once.

Another great thing to do it to start to use a bike-sharing program in your city if there is one. Cycling is much better for the environment than driving but lots of people don't necessarily want to own their own bike, especially if you don't have somewhere to store it, or your can't afford to buy one initially. A bike sharing program is also a great place to start exploring whether you can cycle more in your area without the commitment of buying a bike straight away. Perhaps something to prioritise in 2020 is using a bike share to see if you can move towards cycling more often, especially whilst public transport has limits due to the pandemic.

There are also non-formalised sharing economies, probably more aptly called sharing communities. It's the kind of community where resources and skills are shared but money is not necessarily involved. Examples could be borrowing clothes from friends instead of buying new items, great for clothes you won't wear often, like formal wear or specialised exercise wear, or borrowing sports equipment if you don't use it regularly enough to justify owning it. We often borrow camping gear from friends and family as we only camp once a year and don't need to own any of the equipment ourselves when family have it to hand. You can also share knowledge and skills by skill-swapping, for example teaching someone a different language in exchange for their DIY or gardening knowledge or babysitting skills.

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What are the alternatives to sharing economies?

There will be times when you need something and borrowing or hiring it will not work, as there isn't the ability to rent, or you need it often over a long period of time. Then at those times, often the best thing is to try and source the item second hand. This is because every item has a carbon footprint, so every time you buy a new product it contributes to your carbon footprint and can cause increased waste and pollution from its production. Using items that are already in existence saves new items being created and stops other items ending up in landfill.

Second hand doesn't necessarily mean lower quality, as often things can be found technically second hand but have never been used or are "as new". Another benefit to second hand is that it is often a lower price, either saving you money, or allowing you to buy a higher quality item that was originally out of your budget if you bought new. Becoming used to buying second hand items before considering buying new will save you so much money and avoid waste over your life.

Where can I find second hand items?

Second hand can often mean shopping in charity shops or thrift shops but there are also many other options for sourcing second hand items. For clothes there are online platforms like eBay, Depop, Vinted, Hardly Ever Worn, ThredUp, Poshmark and many more. eBay is an incredible resource for finding second hand items of all kinds. You can also find things, especially furniture and homeware items on places like Facebook marketplace or Gumtree. Second hand doesn't necessarily even mean spending money as you can access pre-loved items on websites like Freecycle, and share food for free on apps like Olio. Clothing, book and toy swaps are also a great way to access new-to-you items without having to spend money by trading your own items with others. These kind of swap events are also great ways of building community with your local area to help support each other, like mums hosting a toy swap and becoming resources for each other to share knowledge and skills further down the line.

A to Z of zero waste: second hand and sharing economies.

I hope this short article has showed you that there are actually many options help you avoid buying thing new. Sharing the resources we already have in the world, and keeping items out of landfill can save you money, and help you care for the planet by avoiding waste. As we are at the beginning of this new decade, let us be more mindful about prioritising things that already exist instead of buying the next new things. I honestly believe that sharing communities and sharing economies, along with shopping second hand is where we need to head to reduce the amount of waste that we are creating!

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