Used, pre-owned, renovated, second-hand, thrift, up-cycle, salvage, MacGyvered – whatever you prefer to call it – re-using is cheaper, hipper and second in environmental benefit only to reducing your actual consumption of “products”—that innocuous term we use for all the stuff of daily living we fashion from raw and often non-renewable resources. Consider the mind-boggling fact that in the past 50 years, humans have consumed more resources than in all previous history.[i] Yes, in all previous history. Or that nearly three quarters of what we throw away is products, with organic materials (food and yard waste) making up the remaining 25%[ii](Three words, somebody: Municipal. Compost. Service.)
While there are certain things best bought off the rack (such as underthings and parachutes), when considering the “eco-friendliness” of anything new, the carbon-debt of production of even the most “green” of products yet to be made makes buying used the better environmental and financial bet most of the time.
Scoring a near perfect find for next to nothing or discovering a novel use for others’ callous discards offers rewards beyond the actual thing.
These rewards include: greater self-sufficiency; problem-solving and technical skills; swoons from up-cycle t-shirt seamstresses; and an opportunity to express what I call “creative selection,” which is to rummage, parse, evaluate and assimilate according to a particular need or aesthetic. This process is perhaps the most satisfying and hedonistic equivalent to conventional acquisition, a pleasure well-known to yard sale specters, collage artists, and dumpster divers alike. A once-respected trait that is enjoying resurrected clout uniting Dust Bowlers with conscientious hipsters, resourceful re-use is a crucial speed bump in the one-way chain of production and consumption that is needed if we are going to be an enduring species of large-brained tool users.
The Buy Used Challenge! A-Z
Everything is more fun when put to a challenge, so here it is: In the next year or so, see how many things on this list you can find a suitable used alternative for. Track your savings in terms of ecological impact and your wallet compared to the new version’s impact and list price. Guesstimate the fossil fuel and resources saved by investigating what goes into the manufacture of things—also a great project for kids. Note how others marvel at your creative genius, thrifting savvy and cobbling expertise. You’ll see that it becomes a delightfully addictive habit with benefits that accrue fast!
Don’t know where to start? Make it easy: sign-up with the local Freecycle Yahoo Group (www.freecycle.org), hop on Craigslist.com Scranton or Poconos, and befriend the Wayne County PA Sell or Swap Group on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/groups/117323978371005/). For buying used Advanced Level, read on:
Appliances & Building Supplies:
Many communities offer depots for construction contractors to donate left-over or salvaged building supplies. Habitat for Humanity ReStores, Green Demolitions, and architectural salvage yards (UseItAgainPA.org) are good places to check before springing for new kitchen cabinets, French Doors or bathroom tile. Freecycle is a good bet for appliances, which are often free just because they are a hassle to dispose of.
Babies, Kids, and Maternity:
By definition, kid paraphernalia has a short window of usefulness and often out-grown before out-used. Cloth diaper sets (www.diaperswappers.com), infant furniture, transport gear, toys and clothes are easy to find used and in great condition. If expecting, consider a “gently-used only” themed baby shower or visit Mommy and Me in Honesdale.
Books & Other Media:
The great thing about books is that reading them doesn’t use them up and the same one can be “used” by hundreds of people! I’d be remiss if I didn’t first suggest robust use of your local library. But if you like possessing books, just do a quick Google search for “online used books” and you’ll be buying and selling books in no time. According to MyBookBuyer.com, glues and hard covers make recycling books complicated.[iii] And a tree saved, is a tree saved. For the local used book trade, check out Main Street Books in Honesdale.
Conventional clothing fabric is responsible for 10% of all agricultural chemicals used, 25% of the world’s insecticides, and is almost entirely made with genetically-modified cotton seeds. Even organic cotton is still colored with heavy metal dyes, requires large amounts of water to produce, and is shipped long distances[iv]. Clothing is one of the easiest things to buy used—and any new garment, whether picked up from Sal’s or pilfered from my sister’s closet is “new to me!” For the record, thrift store ensembles are no longer the sole domain of pensioners and urban hipsters and it is no longer a faux pas or even ironic to be seen there. For a professional work wardrobe, formal wear, kids’ clothes, accessories and brand names in great condition you can’t beat consignment stores. Finders Keepers in Honesdale is impeccable in terms of selection and condition and you can find more stores in your area online at Consignmentchic.com.
Salvation Army, or “Sal’s”, that mecca for both thrifters and fashionistas, is good for every day, play wear, and the occasional hidden gem. For the gentlemen, here is a handy list of quality brands to look for when combing the racks at Sal’s. Online craft/auction shops are additional outlets for both buying and selling your duds. You can specify “vintage” on Etsy.com, limit results to your region on Ebay.com, and browse the vintage section on Modcloth.com.
Here it’s probably wise to suggest “buyers beware”. Buy from a trusted techy friend looking to upgrade or from your workplace if they offer old machines to employees. Online seller reviews do a pretty good job of keeping people honest in order to preserve their reputation. Refurbished iPods and other small devices that churn out frequent model upgrades are usually safe bets and deals. And printer cartridges are ridiculously cheaper to refill than to buy new.
It seems for decades now, entire New England hamlet economies are kept alive on their antiques trade alone. Most furniture, save for couches and mattresses, are easy to revamp. Learn tricks for removing odors from furniture and how to repaint and reupholster with readily available sustainable materials and citrus-based solvents and strippers. Collecting pieces from places or people is more fun than going to a dreary furniture show-room, in any case.
Hobbies tend to be changeable and fleeting, often requiring sizable investments in gear for everything from fly-fishing, camping, and rock climbing to scrapbooking or beer-making. Keep an eye on your friends’ lagging interests and/or the level of complaining coming from their spouses in order pull off a well-timed offer when the inevitable sad mention comes that they are looking to liquidate some stuff in their shed. Otherwise, try posting a request on Craigslist or Freecycle. Vintage or salvaged Craft supplies can always be found on Etsy.com.
Home & Garden Tools:
Rent-e-Quip in Honesdale is your next best friend. While you’ll pay more per use for a shorter period of time, where else can you walk or drive away with all kinds of heavy machinery without collateral or a serious bank loan? Better yet, organize a community Tool Library (check out a list of them at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tool-lending_libraries).
LEED or not, the greenest building is the one that is already built[v]. Constructing new, energy-efficient buildings can be less eco-friendly than retrofitting old ones. A study by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that existing building renovation almost always has fewer environmental impacts than new construction—even energy-efficient ones. Also, unless constructed over the site of a previous building, new construction requires a footprint of virgin space that is not reclaimable. Check out ThisOldHouse.com (www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/green) for green renovation ideas.
To get from here to there for the average driver a sound, fuel-efficient, used car beats a new hybrid in terms of carbon-debt, and hybrids still rely on fossil fuel/battery energy thereafter[JH1] . A 1998 Toyota Tercel that gets 27mpg is more environmentally friendly than a Prius, in terms of carbon-debt[vi], for at least the first 46,000 miles. New cars remain a horrible investment even without the ecological considerations. Value of a new car on the dealer’s lot: $40,000. Value once you drive it off the lot: $32,000.[vii] Ouch. Consult www.KellyBlueBook.com for used-car specs.
Scrutiny is a Virtue, Or How to Avoid Ending up on Hoarders
Re-use is best practiced in conjunction with Reduce and Recycle in the form of mindful disposal. It’s important at least for your feng shui to keep the flow of goods and necessary items moving through your home and life. Reuse those five yogurt containers, but for god’s sake recycle the other 250. Shop at the consignment store, but also remember to sell back to the consignment store. If you buy something new, try to ensure it is top quality/repurpose-able/biodegradable/sellable/or at least beautiful. Aim for the ultimate re-use tri-fecta and holy grail of seasoned thrifters: 1. Buy used in great condition. 2. Take good care of it while it suits your needs. 3. Sell it again for a good price, ideally to someone who will continue to use it!
[i] U.S. EPA, 2009. Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead
[ii] U.S. EPA, 2009. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008.
[v] Because renovation projects use less material, it is good for the environment and it requires more labor, which has to be local. http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2012/01/27/leed-from-behind-why-we-should-focus-on-greening-existing-buildings/#ixzz1wTcCsm31
[vi]It takes 113 million BTUs of energy to make a Toyota Prius. Because there are about 113,000 BTUs of energy in a gallon of gasoline, the Prius has consumed the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gasoline before it reaches the showroom. The Prius will have to go 100,000 miles to achieve the same carbon savings as the 10-year-old Tercel. http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/05/the-ultimate-pr/.