Insights

Reduce waste and save money through Tool Libraries

Amy Croucher

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Often described as having infectious energy, I am highly motivated to get things done! During the week I work in sustainability, with a particular interest in waste prevention through sharing and reuse. Aside from this, I enjoy spending my personal time volunteering with community groups and not for profit projects, and most recently founded the Inner West Tool Library – Sydney’s first tool library. I love connecting with engaged communities and thrive on seeing the amazing ideas, projects and collaborations that result.

How you do it?

A few years ago I took part in a half day workshop to build outdoor furniture from pallets and it inspired me to get creative. After the workshop I was eager to get home and get creating, but there was a problem – I had no tools. If I wanted to buy all the tools I needed for my DIY projects, I’d be set back hundreds of dollars. And being realistic, I knew I’d only really use those tools a few times a year. So I started looking at other ways I could access tools. I came across the concept of a tool library.

A tool library is just like a book library, but instead loans out tools and other useful equipment.

They have all of the expected items like hammers, drills, circular saws, angle grinders, but a lot of other things you might only need once a year. The idea isn’t new, with dozens already running across North America and Europe. When I first discovered them, there were only two in Australia, and none in Sydney where I live, so I started my own tool library for my community. The Inner West Tool Library has way more than just tools – think gardening equipment, sporting gear, kitchen appliances and reusable party items.

I love explaining the concept to people who have never heard of tool libraries – that light bulb moment when they get it. The amount of times I’ve heard “oh, that’s SUCH a good idea! I don’t need to have a [insert almost any item here], I only use it once a year”

Why you do it?

If everyone in Sydney buys one less thing this year – a drill, a tent, a vacuum cleaner – and is able to share the ones that already exist, that is five million fewer things that need to be produced. Tool libraries form part of the sharing economy, a way to make the most of available resources – reducing greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to social equity and creating more connected and resilient communities.

Did you know that the average power drill is used for only 13 minutes in its lifetime? We can change this by sharing the things that already exist, meaning less resources needed to make new things and less waste going to landfill. That’s a big tick for the environment!

Tool libraries are also a great way to meet your neighbours and learn new skills. In 2019, the Inner West Tool library was highly commended for a state Community Spirit award, which really shows that community and borrowing go hand in hand. It’s so great to see volunteers and members hanging out at the library on a Saturday morning, sharing stories on their newest project and learning from each other.

There are also the obvious economic benefits for the community too. By joining the library, members pay less than $1.50 a week and have access to hundreds of things, saving them money by borrowing rather than buying. Throughout everything we do though, the underlying message is about behaviour change – to help people understand the concept of sharing, working together and rethinking how they consume. E.g. “I don’t need a drill, I need a hole in the wall.”

We’ve certainly had our fair share of challenges setting up the tool library. We all work full time and volunteer in the evenings and weekends to keep the library open. It’s well known that volunteers burn out and keeping a strong and dedicated team can be hard sometimes. Finding somewhere to house the Inner West Tool Library was also difficult – space in the inner city is not easy to come by. It took well over a year of speaking to different spaces and organisations around the inner west suburbs of Sydney to finally connect with the Petersham Bowling Club where we are located, and we couldn’t be happier! They are a fantastic community run organisation and ‘get’ what we are about.

Money to set up the tool library was another hurdle but thanks to our local council, we received a small grant to help set us up. This went towards getting some of our volunteers qualified to test and tag electrical items, to keep our library safe, as well as buying some good quality key tools. Ongoing funding for day to day operations can still be a struggle. The government at local and state levels is certainly starting to understand the importance of these local initiatives, as they are a key part of the circular economy and a great service to the local community, but the needed support is not quite there yet.

Despite these challenges, the Inner West Tool Library has made a significant positive local impact! We recently celebrated our first year in operation and have wildly exceeded our own expectations with nearly 200 members, 1100 completed loans and a highly engaged and supportive community.

We have saved our members $500 each, on average, by enabling them to borrow tools and equipment rather than buying.

Our top borrower saved a massive $2,200. The more than 250 items donated to the tool library by the community equates to one tonne of waste saved from landfill, and four tonnes of new products that did not have to be manufactured.

There are enough ‘things’ in this world already – let’s share what already exists.

How to get involved with the Inner West Tool Library

Contact Amy and the Tool Library for more information:

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