This January, the world’s first borrowing centre (a.k.a. item library, library of things, tool library) will open at York University in Toronto, Canada. The initiative is a project by York University’s chapter of Regenesis, a Canadian student-involved environmental organization. The borrowing centre will allow students and community members to borrow items such as tools, games, camping equipment, sports equipment, and much more. “This is an important initiative that will reduce consumption and provide free and low-cost access to tools and other items that can improve our quality of life,” says Shadiya Aidid of Regenesis.
Our society is incredibly wasteful and addicted to the consumption of goods. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said: “There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes. Does everyone really need their own drill?" The borrowing centre concept allows us to reduce our consumption and be more efficient with the goods that are produced.
Here’s how it works: Students register for a free membership (community members can register for a low-cost membership). You can then browse items in an online catalogue, put in a borrowing request, and pick the item up from the centre’s location in the York Lanes Mall at York University. Items are lent out for free, though expensive items require a cash deposit in order to ensure the item is returned.
Matt Fender, a York undergraduate student, has come to the Borrowing Centre repeatedly since it opened to borrow all sorts of items including a cart for moving out of his residence, board games to play with friends, and a DJ Controller for the party he organized with his club. Matt says, “Students like me around campus see Regenesis initiatives such as the Borrowing Centre and become engaged, become involved, and that’s how the widespread change in attitudes happen. It is from individuals discovering alternative ways for sustainable living.”
Many consider item libraries and tool libraries to be part of the sharing economy, which uses technology to level the playing field between corporations and individuals wanting to sell or share an item or service. Proponents say that sharing economies allow us to better match supply and demand and increase collaboration between people. Critics argue that technologies facilitating the sharing economy are responsible for the loss of job security in some sectors and a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages. For example Uber, a new transportation app that upset the taxi industry by providing a more convenient and cost-effective service, has resulted in lost jobs and lower wages for taxi drivers due to the loss of customers and a lack of government regulation of new sharing technologies.
Michael Jodah, Executive Director of Regenesis says: “It is important that the so-called sharing economy is equitable and socially just—meaning, that folks of all incomes and abilities have access to the services it provides and those employed by the sharing economy have living wages and job security.” He goes on to say, “Initiatives such as these aren’t just a part of the sharing economy - they are also a part of the gift economy.” The gift (or mutual aid) economy is a concept that is touted as a possible alternative to the capitalist economy. It is a belief in the common good of people - that those of us who can work and produce goods or services will share with those in our community with less and that we will mutually aid each other through cooperation and giving. Regenesis at York University also runs a Free Store that operates on this principle, where all goods are donated by and given away to members of the community.
The folks at Regenesis are committed to spreading the borrowing centre and other environmental initiatives, such as the free store, to other campuses. If you are looking to green your community or campus, check out the Regenesis website and their new video.