We live in a reality rocked by two crises. Both the pandemic and systemic racism reveal major failures in the ways we currently think about supply and demand, environmental justice, and ecological health. At the same time, a new economic model centered around collaboration and sharing is inching its way toward the mainstream. Referred to as circular consumption, collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy, it may help us emerge from our current crises in a better place. And there are more ways to participate than you might think, even right here in Missoula.

Hubs for the circular flow of goods seek creative ways to keep things out of landfills and in the hands of people who need them. The tool library at the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project, for example, hosts an inventory of over 2,500 tools available for members to borrow for the price of an annual membership, which operates on a sliding, income-based scale. By helping foster a culture of sharing, repairing, and reusing, “customers” become “members” and “buy” translates to “borrow.” Through this process, a new meaning of ownership emerges – one in which the owner is a community rather than an individual.

This simple shift in the way we see our stuff has huge implications for community and environmental health. Our current throwaway culture produces3.5 million tons of waste every day, and unfortunately, people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by negative health consequences – like asthma, cancer, and miscarriage – that result from consumerism’s constant demand for production and disposal. That’s because the vast majority of environmental “sacrifice zones” – the places where we extract the raw materials for, manufacture, and ultimately dump our stuff – are located near communities of color. What’s more, as Hop Hopkins describes in “Racism is Killing the Planet,” “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”

One of the most jarring pieces of this whole scenario is how little we actually use many of the items that come with such a massive social and environmental price tag. The power drill, for example, is used for an average of just 12 to 15 minutes over the course of its lifetime, according to Rachel Botsman, author of The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. If that same drill were made available to an entire community of users – which is exactly the concept behind the many tool libraries that are popping up all over the world – the use of the drill would skyrocket while also increasing community engagement, breaking down economic barriers to access, and making good use of an item that would have otherwise become obsolete or trash.

In Missoula and around the world, people are working hard to transform the excess of our disposable lifestyles into a culture that prioritizes the health and resilience of our communities and planet. Here are some ways you can participate in this transformative model of sharing and reuse right here in the Garden City:

Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project

MUD empowers people to build a more sustainable community through tool sharing and hands-on learning. Become a member to gain access to over 2,500 tools and receive half off workshops focused on DIY skills.

Free Cycles

Free Cycles is a community bike shop offering bike education, donated bikes and bike parts for sale, space for bike maintenance with access to all the necessary tools, and assistance from knowledgeable bike mechanics.

Five Valleys Seed Library (FVSL)

FVSL offers a collection of locally grown seeds that gardeners and farmers can “check out,” plant, and then “return” to the seed library after harvesting. Located in the Missoula Public Library.

Dish Pantry at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC)

The JRPC dish pantry features dishes, silverware, napkins, and linens available for free to members of the JRPC and by donation for nonmembers. The JRPC also offers a library and a community room. Contact the JRPC at (406) 543-3955 for details and up-to-date information regarding availability of community resources. 

Missoula Time Bank (MTB)

The MTB is an online platform for the exchange of services using the currency of time rather than money. Each member creates a profile specifying the skills and services they can offer, then trades services with others.

Community Gardens

Garden City Harvest operates 10 community gardens in Missoula, each of which supplies participants with a garden plot, tools, water, manure, straw, compost, and educational resources to help them grow their own food.

Missoula Babywearing Library

Babywearing, or carrying your baby in a carrier or sling, has many proven benefits for both the baby and the wearer. Members of the babywearing library can borrow up to 12 baby carriers per year. Connect via the Facebook group or contact the library’s head volunteer at jacole@jacolejohnson.com.

Home ReSource & FixIt Clinics

Home ReSource is a community sustainability center with an emphasis on building materials reuse. Their Fixit Clinics provide an opportunity for community members to repair worn, broken, or malfunctioning items with the help of skilled volunteers.

This piece originally appeared in the Missoula Current on 6/29/2020


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