Waffle making with rented waffle maker from the Library of things. Sebastian Wood/Library of Things
Until the advent of cheap credit and cheaper item costs, for many consumers in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rental was the most accessible way of obtaining products such as televisions, video recorders and washing machines that were high cost and frequently required repair. Now we buy cheap and pile high or just chuck out when something stops working – even if we could fix it.
The consumption of household goods in Western society is now at its upper limit, so much so that Steve Howard, Ikea’s head of sustainability, said it had reached “peak stuff”. While he was quick to say that this did not contradict Ikea’s target to double sales by 2020, he suggested a break from a prevailing “take, make, use, throw” economic model towards a circular model that encourages repair, reuse and collaborative ventures that share the use of products.
At the heart of the circular economy is the sharing economy, in which products and services are leased for a time. It’s about access rather than ownership, and any number of things can be shared, from transport, property and consumer goods (such as tools and kitchen appliances), as well as skills and knowledge.
Care: paying it forward. Shutterstock
There have been routes to borrowing items for many years – hiring formal clothing for events, for example, or car sharing schemes that are now commonplace in many cities. And despite more recent funding cuts, public libraries still offer access to books, music and films, while big businesses such as Amazon Kindle, Netflix and Spotify mean there is no need to actually own physical, hard copies of media items.
But sharing, borrowing and reusing is now becoming something that businesses are actively engaging in. Take the Riversimple Rasa – a hydrogen fuel cell car that has been designed specifically within a car-share business model.