When it comes to waste reduction, the South King Tool Library is setting the standard in King County, asking: why buy when you could borrow?
The South King Tool Library, 1700 S. 340th Place in Federal Way, won a Green Globe award as the leader in waste reduction and was honored by King County Executive Dow Constantine on Earth Day, April 21.
The South King Tool Library provides access to tools and training in order to help residents maintain their homes and neighborhoods, build community and reduce unnecessary consumption among households of all forms — including low-income residents and under-served populations, according to King County.
“I was just floored when they told us we were going to receive this Green Globe award,” said Executive Director Amanda Miller. “That was really indicative of our successes and work.”
While the tool library was gearing up for a grand opening last year, the world was locking down. Instead of celebrating their new space, “we decided to keep moving forward,” Miller said.
The tool library started online classes — some offered in Spanish — and virtual repair cafe events via Zoom. Drive-thru and socially distanced tool rentals and events diverted an estimated 10,000 pounds and $45,000 worth of usable goods from the landfill, including clothing, cell phones, lamps, fans, computers and more.
Miller estimates the tool library saved the community over $45,000 in the last six months of the year with their free programs.
“It was really difficult, but natural to keep going and slowly build our momentum with our checkouts,” she said.
In December, Miller took the time to quantify the work of the tool library and make their nonprofit impact more visible.
In 2020, the South King Tool Library completed more than 500 tool checkouts to their 600-plus registered users, while maintaining an inventory of more than 700 tools.
So far, the tool library is on track to break a record of 1,000 tool checkouts in one year.
People often try to consume their way out of problems, she said, purchasing more products to adopt a “greener” lifestyle, but “you can’t shop your way out of problems rooted in consumption.”
Don’t buy it if you can borrow it, she said.
“We want more tool libraries everywhere,” she said. “We want to facilitate this idea of locals sharing economy.”
Miller serves on King County Solid Waste Division’s Zero Waste of Resources Task Force, which seeks the perspectives of public officials and community leaders, to help reach the county’s goal of zero waste by 2030.
Coming from an economically, racially and culturally diverse area of South King County, Miller said people who live in urban areas have far less of a decision making process for what kind of garbage they produce.
When on food assistance programs, people often do not have the ability to choose what type of packaging their food is provided in.
If someone can buy smaller packages of items at the store (more garbage per item), but cannot afford to purchase those same items in bulk (less garbage per item), waste reduction also becomes a conversation about equity, Miller said.
“When you’re making week-to-week decisions,” she said, “then you’re disproportionately impacted at the front end by cost, but also at the back end, too, when it comes to garbage production.”
The tool library’s mission is to empower community members and its focus is on waste reduction in all facets. Rather than telling people what to do, the SKTL wants to empower residents to take initiative and make the changes they want to see in the local community.
“I really do think that tool libraries can change the world,” Miller said.
Upcoming events and ways to get involved
In Federal Way, the tool library is hosting a free, eco-friendly clothing swap from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 15 at Curves (32020 1st Ave. South). Beginning May 13, the tool library also launched a new food preservation series with the City of Federal Way.
Various repair cafes, recycling events, and other events are scheduled throughout the summer.
The donation-based organization is also seeking volunteers to help with a range of projects and opportunities within the tool library.
To volunteer or find out more information, visit southkingtools.org or email info@SouthKingTools.org.