Sharing is Sustainable – Expanding the Sharing Economy

Sharing—with your partner, parents, children, friends, community, or even a total stranger—is a big part of what life is all about.

My neighbor Henry has nearly every power tool that a grown man could want, and he generously shares them with me and others on our block. Which means we don’t need to buy tools and let them sit idle in our garages.  By connecting with people, we are entering an era in which everything from a bicycle to a car to a power tool can be fully utilized by a network rather than just one owner. And that’s good news for our environment and our economy.

Bicycle-and car-sharing can happen informally between family and friends, but collaborative websites and organized programs now help us do the sharing. Last year, Bay Area Bike Share put 700 bicycles into curbside stations in five cities. The 350 bikes within San Francisco—half the fleet—are used 900 to 1,000 times per day.  That translates into a significant decrease in local auto traffic and tailpipe emissions. EPA has been working with the City of Honolulu to promote bike sharing and reduce congestion.

Our cars sit idle 90% of the time, so sharing them can have a huge impact. For example, when miles driven in the U.S. dropped just 3% in 2008, road congestion declined 30%. Every shared ride is a win for our environment and our health, because less traffic means less stress.

When we no longer need items, instead of throwing them into the trash, it’s easy to sell, swap or donate them. Online sales of used goods reached at least $16 billion last year, and more than 25,000 consignment and resale stores across the country generated an additional $13 billion. When Macklemore’s song about shopping for bargains at thrift shops hit number one on the Billboard charts, I knew this “sharing economy” must be gaining steam.

Donating your used clothes not only helps the needy (and the trendy!), but every pound in the drop-off bin saves about 3.6 pounds of CO2 and 725 gallons of water that would have been used to grow fibers and manufacture clothing. We can do a lot more— only about 15% of clothes in the U.S. are being recycled.

One city is doing something about it. Thanks to a partnership with Goodwill, San Francisco is placing hi-tech recycle bins in 100 condominiums and apartment buildings, with the goal of furnishing all its high-rises by 2019. Built from recycled materials, each bin is equipped with devices that notify Goodwill when it’s full. Donated clothes will be resold, used in other textiles, or broken into fibers for use in products like insulation.

Did you realize that 15% of American households don’t know where their next meal is coming from? You can share food with those in need through donation programs, and you can encourage your local restaurants and businesses to donate canned goods to local food banks. More than 40% of America’s food is wasted, and reducing that waste is a climate-friendly practice everyone can support. When food ends up in a landfill, it generates methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases in the world. EPA is reducing food waste every day though with our Food Recovery Challenge participants.

Your favorite food service businesses and grocery stores can join too!

By recycling and composting biodegradables, Americans cut more than 183 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. This is equal to taking 34 million passenger cars off the road for a year—more than all the cars registered in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii combined. EPA’s West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum brings together state and local government leaders working to cut materials-related greenhouse gas emissions. Check out the presentations from the Forum’s 5th Annual Meeting on the Sharable Policies for Cities.

The possibilities for sharing are limitless and sustainable, bringing environmental as well as social benefits. Through sharing, trusting relationships are formed. In the new sharing economy, nearly three quarters of startup businesses rely on social networking features to find trusted contacts to share goods and services.

Join me in sharing and reducing waste to make a difference today and every day.

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