Borrowing better than buying; check out lending library

Did you know that the Rotary Auction staff can use up to 600 forks in one day? That’s why they partner with the Zero Waste Lending Library to borrow flatware to reduce waste while feeding 600 volunteers a day.

Volunteers Diane Landry, director, and Jane Martin, head librarian, manage the lending library’s large inventory of colorful linens, glassware, flatware, dishes and a collection of event items that are available to the community for free through the Sustainable Bainbridge Zero Waste program.

It started about 15 years ago when one of Martin’s friends was getting married, and she discovered that it costs more to rent tablecloths than to buy them at Walmart. “So, the wedding happened, and then the tablecloths were stored at my house and then Cedars Unitarian Church borrowed them for an auction, and then Yes Magazine said, ‘Oh, I hear you have tablecloths, could we borrow them?’”

Because more tablecloths were purchased to match the borrowed ones, more were returned. And so it went. “The tubs got bigger and bigger” and more and more tablecloths piled up because people kept borrowing and returning more than they borrowed.

When Martin volunteered during the Rotary Auction set-up week, she didn’t want any single-use plastic utensils used. “We started using metal utensils from the Rotary kitchen department to serve 300 people twice a day.” Then it’s used for Rotary’s set-up week. “The idea is to reuse, wash and reuse as opposed to using single-use plastic flatware,” she said.

One year Martin calculated that 10,000 utensils had been loaned out of the library and saved a lot of garbage from the landfill.

The library does not purchase new items, practicing its credo, “reuse is better in creating less waste.” Many of their acquisitions come from donations. They are always looking for dessert and salad bowls, and dessert and dinner plates. There are some vintage, red dishes in the collection, perfect for a holiday dinner or private party.

With a spreadsheet, volunteers manage the inventory that has 97 events booked this year for nonprofit and private gatherings ranging from weddings to book launches, a magazine party, fundraisers, a memorial service and a chili cookoff.

The system works on a “first-come, first-served” basis, and all items need to be cleaned before returning them.

Folks can save a lot of money using this service. For example, buying linens for eight guests per table would require 14 tablecloths and about 112 napkins for an average-size wedding. Rental fees can vary, but a basic white table linen from one Seattle company starts at $14 with matching napkins running up to $2 each, which means a couple could spend more than $375 just for linens.

After 15 years of service at the lending library, Martin enjoys her work because people appreciate it so much. “All of these things have celebrated lives, done fundraising and honored people.”