Circular Economy in Action - London's Amazing Library of Things

Circular Economy in Action – London’s Amazing Library of Things


The concept of the circular economy implies that we use and reuse products and resources, and it’s about time that we started! We all have stuff that we once bought, used a couple of times, and then either trashed or forgot about in the shed or basement. Be it a gazebo, a tool or some furniture; we thought we really needed it at the time, but then we didn’t. And we spent a lot of money for these things. Now, imagine a place where you could borrow such things, instead of buying them! London’s Library of Things is such a place.

It was back in 2017 that the library got crowdfunded into existence, with the help of £10,000 and a couple of hundred local Londoners. Since then, the concept has become extremely popular and is now expanding into new projects and sites. This shows how powerful an idea can be and how successful and socially appreciated it can become. People simply enjoy and embrace the idea of the circular economy! All Good Newz had the privilege to interview the Library of Things’ community manager Alys Penfold and ask her a couple of question about this exciting enterprise.

Where did you get the idea for this type of library and how did you get started?
Library of things crew
The Library of Things crew

“Library of Things was started by three friends who were living in small spaces and fed up with having to buy things they only used once. Inspired by Leila in Berlin and Toronto Tool Library, they wanted to bring a version to their own community in West Norwood in South London.We started off as a ten-week pilot with The Open Works, which was testing if it was possible to scale up ‘participation culture’ type projects and what impact this had on the community engaging with it.

When the pilot was over, people were asking us where we’d gone and so we decided this was something worth investing in. We hunted for a new home which became our two shipping containers in West Norwood. Three years later, and we’ve just launched our own software and self-serve kiosk in our Crystal Palace site and in 2020 will see two more Libraries of Things in London.”

concept of the circular economy
The concept of the circular economy
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How does the circular economy work?

A circular economy is an economic system that focuses on benefiting both businesses, society and the environment. The conventional, long-used principle of the linear economy was to “take-make-waste”. In contrast, the circular economy tries to be as regenerative as possible and is based on “use-reuse”. This can be applied to both products, resources, ecosystems and energy.

Related article: UK to Stop Exporting Plastic Waste to Developing Countries

Economic activity in a circular economy builds and rebuilds system health. It highlights the importance of an overall highly efficient economic process on all levels; be it for big and small businesses, organizations or the individual citizen. It can best be summed up by these three main principles:

  • Erasing waste and pollution
  • Keeping products, resources and materials in use
  • Regenerating natural environments and ecosystems

This is exactly were the Library of Things comes in. This modern business model manages to effectively reduce waste and pollution simply by keeping products, resources and materials in use. This decrease in natural resource exploitation and usage also contributes to the regenerating of the environment!

circular economy product use
Borrow a drill for £7 a day

The Library of Things offers a wide range of things to borrow; tools, adventure- and outdoor equipment, devices for cleaning or cooking, you name it! There is even a GoPro camera that you can borrow for a £7 a day. The crew around the Library of Things has done an incredible job in identifying all these items that are bought frequently, but used very rarely by many people.

That’s the reason behind its success. And, as stated above, business is booming! This positive development will only continue in the future, as more and more businesses and societies will adopt models of the circular economy. Factors such as enabling technologies, shifts in public policies and, perhaps most importantly, more supportive consumer preferences will help things along and will make such innovative enterprises even more lucrative.

Related article: The Environmental Sustainability Consultant Who Changes the World

Your business model is a great example of a modern and sustainable circular economy. How do you think this trend will grow and develop?

“Years ago the environment hardly got a mention, but now it’s in the news every day – whether it’s the bush fires in Australia, or the banning of plastic straws. People, businesses and organisations are far more aware of the impact that they have on the environment and we’re seeing changes in the way things are done as a result. There needs to be bigger steps taken and the environment considered at every step of that so we all need to adapt.We can imagine a future where our high streets feature repair shops, scrap stores, makerspaces and Libraries of Things alongside all the other services and businesses that a high street already offers.”

library of things circular economy community
The Library of Thing’s community

It’s the meaningful entrepreneurship, a deep care for the environment and for the planet and the social aspect of it all that attracts people. Here are some uplifting social and environmental facts about the Library of Things:

  • 90% of borrowers say they now have more money to spend on things important to them
  • 75% of borrowers feel better connected to their community because of Library of Things
  • Having used Library of Things, borrowers are 60% more likely to repair or recycle items
  • Library borrowers have saved a whopping 15,900 kg of waste from going to landfill by borrowing rather than buying

It really is heartwarming to read about these statistics and the people behind them! One can easily detect joy and fulfillment when checking images or statements on the Library of Things’ homepage! Circular economy business models and adaptations really make a difference, for both the environment and for the people.

What are the responses from the people who come to the library and from the people in London in general?

“We get an overwhelming positive response about what we’re doing which really reinforces that it’s a good solution and makes sense in today’s world! 83% of our members live within 0-2 miles of the Library which shows that this is a really hyper-local service. We’re currently working on rolling this out across other sites in the city so that it’s accessible to more communities.”

All Good Newz wishes Alys and her team the best of luck and salutes them for being such awesome pioneers of sustainability! If you’re visiting London, make sure you check out the Library of Things, it’s well worth it:

All images provided by and property of Library of Things.

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