In my first week in Barcelona, while I was sitting in the cafe next door and watching the world go by, I noticed something very strange. An extremely well dressed woman walked up to the garbage bin, picked a few things and shoved it into her shopping trolley and walked away. I simply assumed that she was picking up something that she’d thrown into the garbage by mistake until three more well dressed people did the exact same thing. Maxime, my flatmate explained in a very matter of fact manner that people kept out stuff they did’t have any use for anymore, which were picked up by other people who could use them. This is something that would never happen in India – people would never reuse stuff used by others, especially not something picked up from a garbage bin. This act would only be reserved for the lowest social/ economic strata of our society. Even if there was going to be a change in mindset, it’s hard to find dustbins (segregated) in every corner of India, making it extremely expensive for us to throw stuff away.
Traditionally, the way Indians typically dispense off old stuff is by giving them away to their maids because we can’t be bothered to find a garbage big enough to hold all our dump. But then again, since maids are freelance, there’s an issue of supply overflow which results in maids turning into brokers. In a technologically powered culture such as the US, these brokers tend to be online marketplaces such as craigslist where you will find a lot of stuff that people are giving away stuff free of cost. There is zero cost of disposal, similar to giving stuff away to a maid in India. Although, I would argue that from a receiver’s perspective, the price of acquisition is far lower in the US than in India. This is because when Indians give away things to their maids, they are hoping to buy loyalty in return for broken old stuff unlike when you give away stuff to random people on Craigslist expecting absolutely nothing in return.
Assuming that giving away good stuff for free to be re-used by others within the society is only privy to highly mature societies, lets examine scenarios where there is fair trade of excess of capacities. Its true that we have come a long way in embracing perks of a shared economy such as Uber, Airbnb, etc but that’s only because these are fairly competitive alternatives to how we do things traditionally. If any of this, were more expensive on a per ride basis, we wouldn’t be bothered about the long term sustainable benefits of a shared economy. In order to incentivise us to embrace more sustainable business models, most of these companies end up bleeding cash and being less than sustainable. So, who do we blame? Poorly designed incentives or our expectations which have been conditioned to be unrealistic?