May 2009 Archives

May 26, 2009

Cash-Strapped States Find Sharing Is One Solution

Once in a while, someone hears about The Sharing Solution and says, "That's SO California!" To the contrary, sharing is catching on all over the place, as the New York Times reports in an article about sharing between state and local governments. Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example, are sharing everything from fish to sign language interpreters, saving up to $20 million over the next two years, as demonstrated in the Wisconsin Minnesota Collaboration Report.

Other states are sharing, too. In New Jersey, one county closed its juvenile detention facility, saving millions, and sent the detainees to a neighboring county. In Missouri and Pennsylvania, cities and boroughs voted to consolidate into other counties or towns to save money on services that otherwise would be duplicated. As the economy continues to struggle, we feel sure more and more people, organizations, and entities will catch on to the sharing solution.

May 25, 2009

Coming Together at the Seams (or "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine or More People from Having to Buy Sewing Machines")

sewing.jpgA friend of mine who is a landscaper recently told me about his plans to spend an afternoon at a local sewing center, patching up his denim work pants and mending various articles of clothing. His line of work subjects his clothes to a lot of wear and tear, but without his own sewing machine, he has a hard time giving them the durable repairs they need. He was on his way to Waterside Workshops, a nonprofit in Berkeley, CA, that has a Sewing Program open to the public. During their drop-in hours, anyone can come and use an array of sewing machines or other equipment, get sewing advice, and chat with others about sewing for $5 per hour.

It would be wonderful for every community to have a public sewing workshop. It would encourage people to repair damaged clothing rather than throw it away. It would also help us all develop our skills, give us a space to socialize with others, and save many resources -- both personally and for the planet.

Along the same lines, it would also be great if every community had:
  • A public woodworking shop
  • A welding center where anyone can go to repair broken metal items
  • A bike repair station where we can use specialized tools to repair our own bikes, like the Missing Link in Berkeley, where I once replaced my brakes
  • A place where we can go learn about and change our own car oil, transmission fluid, and so on
  • A tool lending library
  • Large commercial-scale kitchens that people could use for the day if they are helping to cater a one-time event or do a fundraising bake sale. Shared kitchens, such as Kitchen Chicago are also great for small-scale food enterprises.
There are probably plenty of other great ideas along these same lines. If you have any ideas or would like to tell us about a cool community program of this sort, please email us at sharing (at) janelleorsi (dot) com. Thanks!
May 24, 2009

The Sharing Solution Featured in East Bay Express

The May 20 issue of the East Bay Express weekly newspaper includes an article by Matthew Craggs about The Sharing Solution and its authors.

May 23, 2009

Free the Cans! Working Together to Reduce Waste

trash can photo small.jpgIn a blog about how people share, it's worth the occasional reference to the bizarre ways that people DON'T SHARE. Is it safe to say we live in a society that places great value on independence, private property, personal space, and privacy? Even sometimes extreme value? Is that why people at an 8-unit apartment building in Oakland, CA have separate caged stalls for eight separate trash cans? I know it's not nice to stare, but I walked by these incarcerated cans and could not help myself. I returned with my camera, so that I could share my question with the world: Why can't people share trash cans or a single dumpster? Or, at the very least, why can't the cans share driveway space?  

The Zero Waste Movement has come to the Bay Area and it calls for a new use for these eight cages. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Turn two of those cages into compost bins. Fill one with grass, leaves, and vegetable scraps, let it decompose for six months, then start filling the second bin in the meantime.
  2. Put in a green can, which is what Oakland uses to collect milk cartons, pizza boxes, yard trimmings, and all food to send it to the municipal composting facility. If your city doesn't do this yet, tell them it's a great idea and they could be as cool and cutting edge as Oakland.
  3. Put in one or two recycling cans for glass, plastic, cardboard, paper, aluminum, etc.
  4. Put out a FREE STUFF box for unwanted clothing and household items. The neighbors could sort through it each week, and later put it out on the curb for passers-by to explore. Take what's left to Goodwill or a comparable donation spot.
  5. Put in a few small bins for various items that can be recycled, such as batteries and electronics, which can then be taken to an electronics recycling center every month or two. Styrofoam can be brought to a local packaging store or ceramics business that accepts used packaging material. Or, if you accumulate a bunch of plastic bags,take them to a store or to some other place that accepts used ones.
  6. Put in ONE trash can. By the time you compost, recycle, re-use, redistribute, and take a few other measures to reduce your waste, you'll have almost no trash each week.
  7. Install a bicycle rack or locked bicycle cage.
  8. With the leftover space, put in a container garden and a bench where neighbors can gather and chat. A much more pleasant alternative to the garbage can jailhouse ambiance, wouldn't you agree?
May 21, 2009

Sophisticated Stuff Sharing

Sharing can be a simple as lending a book to a friend, but opportunities are arising on the Internet to share more things, more often, and with more people, including those you don't know. There are at least two new websites which provide an interface for more sophisticated sharing of "stuff."

First, there's SwapTree, where you can obtain free books, DVDs, music, and video games from others by offering things of your own to swap. And while the word "swap" may conjure up an image of a two-way exchange, a more sophisticated "swap" might look more like this: Bradley receives a book from Max, who receives a CD from Reggie, who receives a DVD from Susan, who receives a video game from Bradley, and so on. With SwapTree, you enter information about items you have to offer, and click on items you'd like to receive, and you are then presented with a list of all the items you could potentially receive in exchange. When a swap is confirmed, SwapTree sends you a mailing label with the recipient's address and pre-calculated postage (which can be quite cheap using the media mail rate). You don't even have to go to the Post Office. In the meantime, you wait for your new goodies to arrive.

Another potentially useful website, in beta stages of development, is Lend Around. This is a system to allow you to lend items to friends, keep track of where they are, and easily find out what your friends have that you can borrow. Right now, LendAround members can lend and borrow DVDs, but it sounds like there's plan for expanding the categories of borrowed items.

What I'd love to see is a website where neighbors or friends can create a network and post all types of household items they own and are willing loan to others. This could include tools, appliances, electronics, sporting equipment, and so on. It could even include immobile items, such as a hot tub. The owner of the hot tub could indicate when they are willing to let others use the tub, and people could schedule use of it with the website. If you know of such a site or are planning on starting one of your own, I'd love to hear about it: you can email me at sharing (at) janelleorsi (dot) com.
May 18, 2009

A Mouthwatering Day of Sharing

apricot.jpgTo be completely honest, while my enthusiasm for sharing is motivated in part by my desire to create a better world, it's also driven in large part my by passion for FOOD. I can't even begin to talk about how much I love food, but I will talk about this past Sunday, which was a perfect example of how my sharing habits -- whether planned or spontaneous -- keep me very well-fed.

I started the day by making a hot breakfast for my partner and housemate. My housemate washed all the dishes, which felt like a perfect deal to me! (Doing dishes feels like the complete anticlimax to a great meal, doesn't it?) Meanwhile, I made some nori wraps in preparation for an afternoon hike and picnic. Having a surplus of ingredients, I made seven wraps -- enough to deliver a surprise lunch to my three neighbors. When I delivered the wraps, my neighbors greeted me with a luxurious treat: a pot of steamed oysters on the half shell, leftover from their Saturday night dinner! I took them home and stored them in the fridge, knowing they would be perfect for the second meal of the day, which, for me, is not lunch, but "second breakfast".

My partner and I then set about our morning project of pruning our neighbor's apricot tree. The prior weekend we had taken a tree-pruning class and were anxious to practice our new skills. Having eaten 50+ apricots from our neighbor's tree last summer, we were familiar with the tree and knew it needed work. Fortunately, our neighbors had no objection to the offer for free tree work. For our task, we required a pair of very large lopping shears, which we conveniently borrowed from the Berkeley Tool Lending Library, one of my all-time favorite sharing institutions.

The pruning project left us a bit of an appetite, so we warmed up the oysters and had a delicious snack. We then left the house and met up with a friend for the afternoon hike. Our friend brought some tangerines, yummy honey-curried kale, and triple chocolate cookies on the picnic, which we all enjoyed in addition to my wraps. In the evening, we all made a big Greek salad and went to another friend's house for a potluck gathering. It was a well-planned potluck, where everyone was assigned a course to bring (as opposed to one of those potlucks where everyone, coincidentally, brings lasagna). And for dessert, we had the choice of cheese cake, chocolate cream pie, and/or cinnamon bread. I chose "and". Mmmm, I love sharing!
May 15, 2009

Sharing Nourishes Local Living Economies

It's no fun to focus on bad news, so I won't for more than just a second. One piece of news literally drove home for me the importance of building local economies. I used to live near and work in Wilmington, OH, where the shipping company DHL has recently proceeded with the layoff of over 7,000 employees. The town itself barely has 12,000 people, which makes the number 7,000 sound unfathomable. It's scary that small towns all over the U.S. are so dependent on an economic system that's way bigger than us, and that's seemingly out of our control. We've all heard the encouragement to "buy local," "eat local," become "locavores," and so on. But creating vital local economies is not just a nice-sounding idea, it's crucial to preventing devastation of our communities, and current events are making action feel increasingly urgent.

But now for some positive thoughts -- here are just a few of the ways that sharing can help strengthen our local economies:

  • Carsharing and ridesharing encourage people to reduce driving and shop locally.
  • Sharing facilitates a barter economy, especially when shared services and goods become a type of currency, exchangeable for other shared services and goods.
  • Sharing ownership and purchase of goods reduces costs and makes it possible to purchase quality goods from local producers and artisans.
  • Creation of consumer-owned or employee-owned businesses provides local economic opportunity.
  • Sharing can help small business owners -- allowing entrepreneurs to share office or retail space, equipment, trucks, and so on.
  • Sharing the purchase of services makes it more affordable to hire house cleaners, gardeners, home care workers, child care workers, and so on, thereby providing work to people locally.
  • Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs create a direct link between consumers and local farmers, and provide security for the farms that grow our food.

For more resources and information about creating sustainable local economies, visit the website for BALLE -- the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Their vision is to create "living economies" which "ensure that economic power resides locally to the greatest extent possible, sustaining vibrant, livable communities and healthy ecosystems in the process." There, I'm ending on a positive note.

May 12, 2009

Annie Leonard's "Story of Stuff" in New York Times

Berkeley's own Annie Leonard, the "unapologetic" activist for sustainability who created the online video "The Story of Stuff," is the subject of an article in the New York Times on May 11, 2009. The 20-minute video, first posted in 2007, has become a popular way for teachers to present climate change issues in the classroom.

Annie Leonard is a fan of The Sharing Solution -- these are her comments about the book:

From the neighborhood level to the global, sharing may be the single most important strategy to reduce our environmental impact, gain financial health, promote equity and have fun. The Sharing Solution provides valuable advice and how-to tips for seasoned sharers and new converts. This book is a tremendously valuable resource for us all, and a must-read for those who want to chart a new path: a more sustainable, more compassionate and more fun one.

Congratulations to Annie Leonard on this great visibility for her important project!