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Share tools with your neighbors

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Sharing tools is an easy way to decrease our environmental footprint

Maybe you’ve heard the claim that the average drill is only used for 12 minutes in its whole lifetime. This was an idea that was tossed around repeatedly as an argument for the sharing economy for years. Well, it turns out that this claim isn’t well backed up with data – in fact, scouring the internet for it led me to a very interesting, rather depressing article that told me the sharing economy is dead

That aside, this is just another reminder for you to keep thinking in a less consumerist way. Maybe you don’t actually NEED to own your own drill! Maybe you can share those hedge trimmers or that food processor with your neighbor. The bottom line is that every purchase we make has its own footprint, and that measuring this can be almost impossible – especially for power tools that have parts from all over the world.

This post is just a teeny, tiny piece of a couple of much bigger concepts: the circular economy, and the sharing economy. Both of these have been hot topics in the last decade, and there are tons of amazing projects out there — some of which you can read about at the MacArthur Foundation. But for this post, I’ll be sticking to tools.

Where do I start?

If you are fortunate to live in a place with a close-knit community, you have super generous neighbors or you have a wide circle of friends who do lots of home improvement projects, finding tools might be easy. But for most of us, it is not so simple.

If you are lucky, you might actually have access to an organization that has a huge library of tools, like the Toronto Tool Library described in this article. You can check and see if your city has a Tool Library, which usually offers tools for an affordable subscription fee. There are also plenty of people working to build for-profit apps like this one which will help you connect neighbor to neighbor to rent tools. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a clear leader in this regard, so these apps may or may not be useful. In the US, NextDoor is fairly popular, although getting a neighbor to trust you with their $1000 compound mitre saw might be tricky. 

As a last resort, which is not as affordable, you could rent tools from a place like Home Depot or your local tool rental company. This tends to be pricey, but it can be good if you need a highly specialized tool but want to avoid purchasing it.

The benefits of tool sharing – my personal experience

Setting all of this aside, I’m going to bring in a little of my own experience with tool sharing.

I actually work for a nonprofit tool sharing organization, called the Houston ToolBank, which has a massive warehouse of tools (over 295 different tools and 15,000 items!) just for community projects. In fact, I’ve spent a good portion of the last three years of my life helping to raise funds for this organization, and explaining (in almost every way imaginable) why having a ToolBank is so great for a city. As it turns out, even if you live in Houston, you won’t be able to borrow tools from us – unless, of course, you are volunteering for a nonprofit! 

What I can tell you is that sharing tools has been great for Houston. I started working there right after Hurricane Harvey, and our tools allowed nonprofits to get out into the local community and immediately begin the “mucking and gutting” process. For those of you who don’t live in flood and hurricane prone areas, mucking and gutting is when you strip a house down to the studs in order to remove all the damp materials which can grow mold that is highly toxic. (The sad fact is, it creates a HUGE amount of waste.) 

After that, nonprofits could use our tools for every step of the process of home repair – from floor installation to hanging cabinets in kitchens. And everytime they used the ToolBank, that was one less tool purchased — which meant less environmental impact and of course, less cost for the nonprofits. In fact, we lent over $7 million worth of free tools for recovery efforts… and these tools will be in our inventory supporting community projects until they wear out completely! 

A little less convenient… but a lot better for the planet!

Ultimately, like a lot of elements of the butterfly movement, sharing tools may require a little more effort and inconvenience upfront. You might have to devote some of your time contacting a few neighbors and then picking up the tool you need, or doing research about your local options beyond your neighbors’ tool inventories. Even if you don’t have a Tool Library in your city… it is worth at least checking around to see if someone might have what you need. You might be surprised to find that someone is willing to share… and you might also make a friend in the process! 

This blog is not meant to shame you if you happen to use a drill (or any other tool!) often. It is more just a reminder to think before you buy. In fact, a lot of the articles I came across said the drill wasn’t the best example – because many people use one way more than 12 minutes in its lifetime. But if you already have a drill and it is mostly gathering dust… well, don’t worry too much, just make sure you let your neighbors know they are welcome to borrow it, anytime. Or, consider donating it to your local Tool Library where you can go visit it whenever you want… and it will be a lot more useful in the meantime.

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