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Library of Things transforms the circular economy with locker-style kiosk for borrowing items

Circular economy start-up Library of Things has teamed up with design and innovation agency Seymourpowell to launch a self-serve locker-style rental system, which enables communities across the UK to borrow household items – rather than having to buy them.

The new locker system acts as a self-serve kiosk, and houses over 50 quality items available to borrow by the day, including Bosch power tools, The North Face adventure gear and Kärcher cleaning equipment. This innovation is already live in one community library in Crystal Palace, with more locations to open across London in 2020.

Officially launched in 2016, Library of Things aims to transform our broken consumer economy by offering people a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable alternative to buying occasional use household items – just as car and van rental platform Zipcar has done for personal transport.

Incorporating feedback from Library of Things’ community of 2,500 members, the new kiosk system is designed to be flexible and modular to suit different spaces, as the initiative expands across the UK. The lockers can accommodate over 50 different items ranging from GoPros to garden strimmers, and have been designed for distributed manufacture and installation by local fabricators.

Empowering people across the UK to drastically reduce waste by borrowing rather than buying.

A survey by Library of Things found that 58% of their members said their motivation for borrowing was to help the environment.

Each year, 170 million new electrical items are purchased in the UK, yet less than a third are recycled. Borrowing items we use infrequently is a simple way to reduce the amount of items that end up in landfill.

Since launching the Crystal Palace pilot site in May 2018, members have borrowed items over 2,500 times and have joined meet-ups like repair parties. Through borrowing and repairing, members have diverted 16 tonnes of waste from landfill – the equivalent to 1.25 London buses.

But motivations for borrowing are not purely environmental – renting is also more cost-effective than buying, helps reduce clutter and is a low-barrier way to learn practical skills like repair and DIY.

This ties in with broader trends towards access over ownership. Almost 1 in 4 people in the UK now use sharing platforms like Zipcar, eBay, and Airbnb.

Sophia Wyatt, co-founder of Library of Things, said:

“We want the simple action of borrowing items to become a pathway for people to get more involved in their neighbourhood and make more environmentally-friendly choices. So what starts with ‘I need a drill’ becomes ‘I’ve made friends with my neighbours’, ‘I’ve learnt basic repair skills’, or even ‘I’ve decided to start a local project myself’.”

Library of Things designed a bespoke software system to manage item reservations and the item collection and return process, before partnering with Seymourpowell to design the physical self-serve kiosk.

The Seymourpowell-designed system can be easily integrated into public, community and commercial spaces of varying shapes and sizes – such as high street libraries, community reuse hubs, entrance foyers to housing blocks and even the front of retail stores.

This new kiosk system is designed to make the borrower user journey smooth and inclusive, look clean, contemporary ​and​ approachable, and be manufactured on a limited budget by local fabricators.

Local authorities and communities can order a ready-made Library of Things for just £30,000. This includes the 50+ items, the kiosk, the software, marketing materials, and training from the Library of Things team.