The Rise of Rental

As we learn more about the damaging effect waste is having on our planet, is it time to go rental?

The Friday night Blockbuster experience was a cornerstone of a 90s, early 2000s childhood. Stores laid with worn blue carpet, plastic buckets bursting with bags of sweets and popcorn, and rows upon rows of VHS tapes, patiently awaiting their fate. Hours spent running fingers along the shelves, letting the plastic sleeves slide past, waiting for a title to jump out. Once the tape – later DVD – is chosen, up to the counter it’s marched. Loyalty card in hand, the final decision handed over to the Blockbuster gatekeeper. After being scanned by the blue hoody-wearing student, that’s it, homeward bound. Just one thought niggles: “we’ll have to return you tomorrow”.

In the 20 years since, VHS and DVD’s have suffered a sorry end, unable to compete with modern streaming services. DVD players have been pushed to the back of the attic, to be replaced by the smart button on a television remote. Nowadays some films even circumvent the cinema and land straight on our televisions. Away from Hollywood, whether it’s a washing machine or mobile phone, rental has seen a resurgence. With modern life moving at a faster pace tomorrow you could find yourself on the other side of the world – we are looking for less financial commitment, ease, and generally less stuff. Has the Blockbuster Friday night fever taken over, is the world going rental?

Are rental cars stepping up a gear? 

As we learn more about the lasting effect road noise, rising pollution levels, and transport congestion have on our physical and mental wellbeing, cities are under mounting pressure to become increasingly bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. With the number of vehicles in a city rapidly outweighing the needs and requirements of residents, recent years have seen a rise in popularity for car-sharing. A study carried out across Europe proved a positive shift in the modern approach to renting a vehicle. With the launch of car-sharing schemes, the Netherlands saw a reduction of 30% in the ownership of private vehicles and the number of kilometres driven by private vehicles reduced by up to 20%. Research carried out in Germany showed that 27% of respondents said they would not use their own vehicle in the future. Each city-based study showed a considerable reduction in CO2 emissions: the cars are usually younger, more efficient, as well as being hybrid or electric. The research “guaranteed the reduction of substances harmful to the atmosphere by nearly 50%” (MDPI). SHARE NOW, a popular car-sharing service in Germany, claim: “A SHARE NOW vehicle is moved up to six times more frequently than a privately owned car” (SHARE NOW), thus freeing up considerable space within the city. 

Rental bicycles to be borrowed not shared 

Data demonstrates that over a billion bicycles currently exist in the world (world o meter); in this year alone 134 million bicycles have been manufactured. As many avoided the use of public transport during the pandemic, bicycle sales saw a dramatic rise and cities were busied building pop-up bicycle lanes overnight (Forbes). Cyclists reluctant to make the financial commitment made use of bike-hiring schemes however, as supply quickly outgrew demand, cities became inundated with broken bicycles, left deserted on the pavements or dumped in rivers. In China a country that is proven to have the highest volume of bicycles in the world (450 million) – bicycle “graveyards” have been photographed; thousands of share-bikes piled on top of each other. But Dutch start-up Swapfiets has a solution: borrow a bike but don’t share it. With monthly subscriptions starting from 16,90€, the membership offers your very own bicycle, free delivery and repairs within 48 hours.


Rental fashion moving beyond the wedding venue?

On a trip to her motherland Rajasthan, Eshita Kabra-Davies was overwhelmed by the devastating effects of textile waste in India. Through founding her clothing rental platform By Rotation, Kabra-Davies encouraged consumers to continue a passion for clothing whilst creating a circular system in which to enjoy it. Rent The Runway, a US-based competitor, was founded after co-founder Jenn Hyman caught wind that her sister had spent two thousand dollars on a dress for a wedding, as a guest. The company – which launched in 2009 and offers customers clothing for rent on a subscription basis – was valued at $1.7 billion in October of this year. Whilst rental services have experienced a dramatic increase in popularity in recent years, once the clothes are shipped, returned, washed and perhaps repaired, is the net result less damaging to manufacturing clothing from scratch? A study on the “environmental implication of casual wear rental services”, proved that for a garment that requires less frequent washing – such as occasion wear – “renting leads to a significant reduction of the environmental impacts by the avoided production of new clothing”. However, in the case of renting a T-Shirt, “there is a slight increase in climate change due to additional transport”. Working to combat this particular area of impact, Pool Berlin, the Berlin-based clothing rental service, delivers pieces by e-bike to its Berlin customers. Learn more about the community-first rental platform in an interview with co-founder Rune Orloff, coming soon to aware_.


by Eliza Edwards

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