We live in a reality rocked by two crises. Both the pandemic and systemic racism reveal major failures in the ways we currently think about supply and demand, environmental justice, and ecological health.

At the same time, a new economic model centered around collaboration and sharing is inching its way toward the mainstream. Referred to as circular consumption, collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy, it may help us emerge from our current crises in a better place. And there are more ways to participate than you might think, even right here in Missoula.

Hubs for the circular flow of goods seek creative ways to keep things out of landfills and in the hands of people who need them. The tool library at the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project, for example, hosts an inventory of over 2,500 tools available for members to borrow for the price of an annual membership, which operates on a sliding, income-based scale.

By helping foster a culture of sharing, repairing and reusing, “customers” become “members” and “buy” translates to “borrow.” Through this process, a new meaning of ownership emerges – one in which the owner is a community rather than an individual.

This simple shift in the way we see our stuff has huge implications for community and environmental health. Our current throwaway culture produces 3.5 million tons of waste every day, and unfortunately, people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by negative health consequences – like asthma, cancer, and miscarriage – that result from consumerism’s constant demand for production and disposal.

This is because the vast majority of environmental “sacrifice zones” – the places where we extract the raw materials for, manufacture and ultimately dump our stuff – are located near communities of color. What’s more, as Hop Hopkins describes in Racism is Killing the Planet,” “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism.”

One of the most jarring pieces of this whole scenario is how little we actually use many of the items that come with such a massive social and environmental price tag. The power drill, for example, is used for an average of just 12 to 15 minutes over the course of its lifetime, according to Rachel Botsman, author of The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

If that same drill were made available to an entire community of users – which is exactly the concept behind the many tool libraries that are popping up all over the world – the use of the drill would skyrocket while also increasing community engagement, breaking down economic barriers to access, and making good use of an item that would have otherwise become obsolete or trash.

In Missoula and around the world, people are working hard to transform the excess of our disposable lifestyles into a culture that prioritizes the health and resilience of our communities and planet. Here are some ways you can participate in this transformative model of sharing and reuse right here in the Garden City:

Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project

MUD empowers people to build a more sustainable community through tool sharing and hands-on learning. Become a member to gain access to over 2,500 tools and receive half off workshops focused on DIY skills.

Free Cycles

Free Cycles is a community bike shop offering bike education, donated bikes and bike parts for sale, space for bike maintenance with access to all the necessary tools, and assistance from knowledgeable bike mechanics.

Five Valleys Seed Library (FVSL)

FVSL offers a collection of locally grown seeds that gardeners and farmers can “check out,” plant, and then “return” to the seed library after harvesting. Located in the Missoula Public Library.

Dish Pantry at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center (JRPC)

The JRPC dish pantry features dishes, silverware, napkins, and linens available for free to members of the JRPC and by donation for nonmembers. The JRPC also offers a library and a community room. Contact the JRPC at (406) 543-3955 for details and up-to-date information regarding availability of community resources.

Missoula Time Bank (MTB)

The MTB is an online platform that facilitates the exchange of services using the currency of time rather than money. Each member creates a profile specifying the skills and services they can offer, then trades services with others.

Community Gardens

Garden City Harvest operates 10 community gardens in Missoula, each of which supplies participants with a garden plot, tools, water, manure, straw, compost, and educational resources to help them grow their own food.

Missoula Babywearing Library

Babywearing, or carrying your baby in a carrier or sling, has many proven benefits for both the baby and the wearer. Members of the babywearing library can borrow up to 12 baby carriers per year. Connect via the Facebook group or contact the library’s head volunteer at jacole@jacolejohnson.com.

Home ReSource & FixIt Clinics

Home ReSource is a community sustainability center with an emphasis on building materials reuse. Their Fixit Clinics provide an opportunity for community members to repair worn, broken, or malfunctioning items with the help of skilled volunteers.

Jane McGuire is the Communications Coordinator for the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has postponed or cancelled many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community and a handful of compelling readings. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

It’s farmer’s market season! The markets look different this year to protect public health, but both the Missoula Farmer’s Market (at the XXXXs) and the Clark Fork Market will have online ordering for pickup at the market available throughout the season, starting May 23. Check their websites for more details. CFAC also has a great list of local food resources for consumers.

Volunteer Opportunity: Climate Smart Missoula is partnering with the City of Missoula's conservation lands management team to recruit volunteers to collect balsamroot seeds which the team will then re-seed on weedy hillsides. This is a time-sensitive effort (needs to happen in the next couple weeks) - if you're interested, email Alli@climatesmartmissoula.org today to learn more.

June 25 - September 3. Montana Renewable Energy Association's Summer Series. On Thursdays at 12:30pm, join in on virtual lunchtime presentations about renewable energy topics. More details and RSVP here.

June 27. Gardening in Bee Country workshop. Join MUD and the National Wildlife Federation to learn all about creating a pollinator-friendly garden space at your own home. Whether you want to support honeybees or one of Montana's many native bees, you will learn about what bees need to survive, native plants that support pollinators, and even create your own native bee house to take home. Get your tickets here.

June 27 & 28. Volunteer tree planting. Trees for Missoula needs volunteers to plant trees this weekend from 9am-12pm at 44 Ranch Playground and Boyd Park Playground. More info and RSVP here.

June 30. Butterfly Count Day. Help the MPG Wildlife Conservation Ranch count butterflies while hiking in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley. Space is limited - reserve a spot ASAP by contacting Joshua at jlisbon@mpgranch.com or 406-396-6285.

July 6. Virtual Science on Tap-Flathead. At 6:30pm, the Flathead Lakers are hosting a free presentation entitled Being Beaver: The Ecology & Conservation of a Keystone Species. Learn about the busy world of beavers, an animal with an integral role to play in watershed health. Register here.

What we’re reading (and listening to) this week: