How technology can help reduce waste

swapping instead of consumerismOne of the first ‘green’ things I did on my eco friendly journey was set up our local Freecycle group.

The idea of matching people with items they no longer want to people who need them seemed to make perfect sense. It’s a win-win for individuals, communities and helps prevent landfill waste.

There were many times when I visited my local household recycling centre only to see perfectly good items being thrown away. ..

Collaborative consumption

According to Rachel Botsman, author of ‘What’s mine is yours: The rise of collaborative consumption” she’s on a mission to make sharing hip and cool. She believes we are waking up from a hangover of emptiness and waste and taking a leap to create a more sustainable system built to serve our innate needs both as an individual and community.

Rachel reckons there is a revolution coming where society, faced with great challenges,  will make a seismic shift from individual getting and spending towards rediscovery of collective good.

Unwanted items

In her engaging TED talk Rachel asks how many of you have books, cds, dvds or videos lying around your house that you probably won’t use again but you can’t quite bring yourself to throw away. I know my hand is going up! She points out that items like these are obsolete to us but have immediate latent value to others.


Rachel set herself a challenge to find out how easy it would be to swap her unwanted copy of “24” for a copy of “Sex and the City”. [amazon-product align=”right” small=”1″]0007395914[/amazon-product]

On swap tree she found 59,000 items available for swapping and within 60 seconds had found someone she’d never met before who indeed wanted a copy of “24” in exchange for their copy of “Sex and the City”.

Technology and trust

But what of the trust issue? How can you possibly swap an item with someone when you don’t even know their real name? A few years ago it might seem like a crazy idea to swap stuff with a complete stranger yet 99% of trade on SwapTree happens easily and effortlessly.

Wired to share

An extremely powerful dynamic that has huge commercial implications is at play – namely that technology is enabling trust between strangers. We live in a global village where we can mimic the ties that used to happen face to face. Social networks and real-time technologies are taking us back – we’re bartering, trading and swapping like we used to and Rachel believes we’re inherently ‘wired’ to share and we’re taping in to our primate instincts to co-operate.

Sharing through technology

Through the internet we share files, video games and knowledge and Rachel believes we’re moving from a culture of “Me” to a culture of “We”. We now live in a connective age where we can connect to anyone, anywhere in real time.

Since the economy crash, Rachel observes we have developed:

  • A renewed belief in the importance of community
  • A torrent of peer to peer, social networks and real-time technologies
  • Pressing unresolved environmental concerns
  • A global recession that has fundamentally shocked consumer behaviours

Hyper consumption

She says these four drivers have fused together and are creating a big shift away from the 20th century defined by hyper consumption towards the 21st century defined by collaborative consumption. She also highlights three systems which are coming together to allow people to share resources without sacrificing their lifestyles or personal freedom:

  • Redistribution markets – moving things from people who don’t want them to someone who does stretches the life cycle of a product and reduces waste
  • Collaborative lifestyles – sharing money, skills and time such as Landshare.
  • Product service systems – this is particularly valuable for things that have a high idling capacity such as baby goods, fashion items or a power drill.  (She points out a power drill will be used for 12-13 minutes in its lifetime, so rent out your drill instead!)

Ditch the car!

In a fascinating experiment, ZipCar; a car sharing service, asked 250 participants who were all self confessed “car addicts” to hand over their car keys for a month. Instead they had to walk, bike, take the train or use other public transport; they could only use the services of zipcar when it was absolutely necessary.

After just one month 100 out of the 250 participants did not want their cars back. The car addict had lost their urge to own!

Trust and Reputation

According to Rachel, the average car costs AUD8000 per year to run yet sits idle for 23 hours a day, so she advocates making money by hiring your car out utilising the power of peer to peer car rental. Yes it requires trust, but as Rachel points out every time we flag a spammer, share an idea or take part in a transaction online we’re leaving a trail of reputation.

Libraries and Laundrettes

Product services have been around for years, you only have to think about libraries and laundrettes to know that, but according to Rachel we’re entering a new age because technology makes sharing frictionless and fun. She sums up her talk with the quote “Sharing is to ownership what the iPod is to the 8 track what solar power is to the coal mine.”

Tell me; have you ever taken part in a sharing network either on or offline?


  1. Brenna on December 28, 2010 at 12:25 am

    What great ideas! I think it can be hard for people to actually use technology in this way, especially when doing something like a swap with another person (requires trust), but what an incredible amount of resources we have available to us!

    (P.S.- Would love to see you link up on my latest blog post.)

  2. Lynna G on December 29, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Thank you I really enjoyed this article. I am going to find a free cycle group. it’s a wonderful idea

  3. Mrs Green on December 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    @Brenna: Hi Brenna, thanks for the comment – I’ll have to come along and take a look at your link up blog; thanks for the invite!
    @Lynna G: Hi Lynna; I hope you manage to find a local Freecycle group and enjoy using it. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people 🙂