Green Lifestyle

Published on July 15th, 2019 | by Sarah Dephillips


Sharing is Caring: How the Sharing Economy is Reducing Waste

We’ve all heard it, and many of us have said it – sharing is caring! It’s usually a reminder we give to kids learning to share. But when did we adults forget how to share? Turns out, sharing is making a comeback, and it’s not just for kids. In the age of the internet, sharing can also mean caring for the Earth – and even saving or making money at the same time. So what is the sharing economy and how is it reducing waste?

The Problem with “Mine”

I’ve heard adults assert that they had to share their stuff so much as a kid that they insist on having ALL their own stuff as a grown up. It’s a fair point, but maybe needs some reexamining from an economic and ecological standpoint. 

Here’s an example to consider. If you live in a suburban neighborhood, how many people on your street have lawn mowers? Trimmers or weed whackers? Leaf blowers? Even if you live in an apartment or condo setup, how many washers and dryers are in your complex? How much recreational gear that only gets used occasionally by its owners? How much of our stuff sits around in our homes and only gets used weekly to occasionally, but “everybody” has one? 

Many of us live in developed countries, have middle class incomes, and just want the convenience of having our own stuff. What’s wrong with that? Let’s go back to the suburban neighborhood example. A new riding mower, trimmer, and leaf blower will cost about $1600. If there’s 10 houses on the street, that’s $16,000 in lawn equipment between 10 homes! But more importantly than the shared economic cost, think about the environmental cost – the raw materials and energy it takes to manufacture and transport 10 mowers, trimmers, and leaf blowers, plus the waste those 30 pieces of equipment create at the end of their lives. Then, think about how much time they sit idle during a typical week. Each piece of equipment maybe gets used 1 hour per week, out of about 105 daylight hours per week in the summertime. 

At the end of the day, most of us own most things not for the sake of having the thing itself, but to have access to the service it provides. We don’t own vacuum cleaners because we love the way they look in our closets, but because we like to have clean floors. All arguments aside, it would make a lot of sense to own fewer things if we still had the same kind of access to the service the things actually provide. And fewer people having fewer things means less waste.

What is the sharing economy?

The sharing economy is definitely NOT anything new.  People have been increasing resource efficiency by sharing throughout history. In fact, individualism is a lot newer than sharing as human values go. But the rise of the internet and the global waste crisis have made the sharing economy much more accessible and necessary in the 21st century. 

The sharing economy, loosely defined, is a system in which people make or save money by sharing or renting things rather than buying and owning them. There are more and more ways this can happen, but here are a few of the most common:

Peer to peer, informally

This is the most basic kind of sharing – the one where you walk across the street and ask to borrow your neighbor’s tools. This generally happens between friends, family members, and neighbors who know and trust one another. Sometimes money is exchanged for the use of the thing, but typically lending is done in good faith knowing that the favor will be returned when needed. Some families or farm communities are a little more organized, agreeing on who will buy which pieces of equipment and who will borrow it when. But for the most part, informal peer to peer sharing is spontaneous and unorganized. 

Peer to peer, formally

This is where the internet has really created unconventional opportunities for sharing and money making. In formal peer to peer sharing, two people are connected – often through an app – so that one person can temporarily use a product or service offered by the other person. One of the most well-known forms is sharing space through apps like Airbnb. That can certainly save resources as well as money. Another common form of this is ride sharing or car sharing. Going far beyond the better known Uber and Lyft, other car and ride share programs allow you to rent cars from individuals, find people to carpool with, or even rent out your car when not in use. The market for online sharing is way bigger than cars, though. There are sites that allow you to rent clothes, costumes, accessories, tools – has basically every item you could imagine, from a crock pot for $5 a day to a pull-behind trailer meat smoker for $220 a day. The use of websites or apps create better accountability and make money handling easier, removing some of the major barriers to sharing stuff with strangers.

Nonprofit to individual

This is another familiar model that’s getting more creative twists. The old familiar example is public libraries. Did you know that today many public libraries also loan out movies, audio books, and even digital media? If you haven’t used your library card in 10 years, it’s time to check back in with your local library! In addition to conventional libraries, hundreds of tool libraries are popping up now, too. A tool library is exactly what it sounds like – a place where you can borrow tools! Many tool libraries have spaces where you can use larger equipment in-house and check out smaller tools to take home. Check out this map to see if there’s a tool library near you:

There are even libraries that lend musical instruments, kitchen utensils, and art.

Business to individual

Businesses renting to individuals don’t necessarily fit into the definition of sharing economy. But it’s a useful model for waste reduction and worth a mention.  Vehicles, tools, and large sports gear are common ones. The renting agency is usually a third party. But there can be great value in a manufacturer retaining ownership of their equipment and renting out the use or service of their products rather than selling the products themselves. In the current prevailing economy, it benefits a manufacturer if their products have a short life. This keeps the consumer coming back for another. If products are designed and built for repeated rental use, it benefits the manufacturer to make the product as durable as possible. The result is better material efficiency and less waste.


So what are you planning to buy that you could share? What do you already have that you could lend or rent to someone else? It doesn’t mean never owning anything again. Ownership can be practical in many cases. And yes, one must exercise caution when using the internet to buy, sell, and share with strangers. Always meet in a safe location and follow the website or app’s guidelines for avoiding financial scams. It’s not hard to join the sharing economy and reduce waste. Walk across the street or download an app and start sharing!

Attribution-free images courtesy of Pixabay

For more on zero waste living, check out

What is Waste

The Invisible Waste: Chemical Toxicity

3 Categories of Stuff You Don’t Even Want

5 Zero Waste Lifestyle Advocates to Follow

Reduce Waste by Practicing Mindfulness

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