I've been meaning to write a post about why shopping at thrift stores is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. So many people want to live a greener lifestyle, but don't want to spend money on the often more-expensive, new, eco-friendly options. But the truth is there is a very affordable way to shop green, that even supports the good work of many non-profits. Read on....
See, I've been shopping at thrift stores for quite some time now, since high school, in fact (approaching two decades ago...). At that time, I was on a limited budget, and my friends and I were also looking for funky (or so we thought) retro-styled clothing that was a little different than the 90s clothing so popular in the regular stores.
In college the thrift store became a mainstay in my life, because I was really on a budget, and I was undergoing this hippie-style revolution that entailed countless hours of sifting through other people's old throw-aways to find that unique shirt, that perfect skirt. It was perfectly acceptable, because many of my friends were on very tight budgets and did the same.
Then I moved to Japan, the consumer capital of the world, where everyone buys everything new. They wouldn't even take dogs that were "used"- animal shelters were non-existent (I discovered this when I took in a stray puppy, and no one would adopt her). We searched far and wide and finally found an upscale second-hand shop that catered to foreigners, where you could buy a very gently (or not-at-all) used shirt for $20. I definitely was not getting my thrift store fix there....
And then something interesting happened. After three years, I came back from Japan, and most of my friends had good-paying jobs and blossoming careers that "required" clothing to boot. I watched in amazement as one of my friends, who used to shop at thrift stores, spent $175 on a pair of jeans. It was suddenly "uncool" to shop at thrift stores. Why buy other people's junk when we could now afford to buy new?
The thing is, now that I am in the business of eco-friendly, people often ask me what is the most green option to buy. And you know what? Just about any item that was meant to last that you can buy, no matter how green or organic or natural, is not as green as buying from the local thrift store. Using new materials to produce products that are already in existence is wasteful, unless of course the already-existing product is toxic or harmful to the environment in some daily way.
Remember the mantra "Reduce, reuse, recycle"? The first more important thing we can do is reduce the number of resources and the amount of energy needed to support our lifestyles. In other words, cut down on the "stuff" that we really don't need. The next step, reuse, means that we should reuse something already in existence instead of buying something new whenever possible. The thrift store is the perfect manifestation of that mantra!
Let's take a coffee maker, for example. After scouring local thrift stores, I found a small Krups cappuccino maker, barely used, with instruction manual, for $5. I am always very picky about buying used items. If there are any signs of mold, deterioration, or lack of cleaning or proper maintenance, I pass. If an item looks like it was used extensively, I usually pass. Any foul odors, pass. Any missing parts or pieces, pass. Basically, anything that couldn't pass for a new item to the unknowing, and I look for something else.
I indeed thought a got a great deal, but that's not the only reason I shop at thrift stores. See, if I had gone to my local Macy's or Meijer's and spent $50 a new machine, I would not only have wasted more money, but also the materials, the (most likely) Chinese under-age factory labor, the energy required to manufacture it, and the energy used up in shipping it overseas (it's REALLY hard to find any electronics/appliances not manufactured overseas these days). Since there aren't any real "green" options for a cappucino maker, there wasn't any point, in my opinion, to buy new. Had I been looking for a new fridge, on the other hand, I would probably search for an Energy Star new appliance because the new ones are so much more energy efficient.
It's like this: the most eco-friendly water bottle you could possibly use is a re-used glass bottle or jar. The most eco-friendly clothing you can wear is actually re-used, purchased-at-the-thrift-store items or hand-me-downs (even new organic items use up resources and energy to produce). The most eco-friendly dishes? You guessed it- a set from the local second-hand shop or your grandma's old set (which, if your grandma is anything like my grandma, is most likely in perfect condition).
The problem is that many people have associated shopping at thrift stores with being cheap and as "dirty". There are many, many people that have to shop at thrift stores, because they can't afford new items, so perhaps some people see not going to thrift stores as some sort of "accomplishment". And as for being dirty, well, sure, there are some stained and old items that I would not even consider touching. But for the most part, there are lots of items that simply sat in someone' closet, never to be seen again for years. Many items still even have tags on them. All it takes is a good washing or sanitizing, and you're ready to go. And don't forget, new items in the store are often covered in various chemicals that were either part of the manufacturing process, or were sprayed on to protect the product from bugs and mildew during shipping. Not exactly "clean", if you ask me.
What have I purchased at the local thrift store in the last few months? Here's are just a few of my latest finds:
Krups Cappuccino Maker, like-new, $5
Panasonic Bread Machine, older model but like-new condition, $10 (which we use every day now)
Sunbeam Warm Steam Humidifier/Vaporizer, like-new condition, $5
Patagonia organic cotton long-sleeved men's shirt, like-new, $3.99
Hand-crocheted nativity scene, $1
Christmas decorations, various, $0.25-$5
Gap Wool Sweater, like-new, $3.99
Land's End men's wool sweater, like-new, $3.99
20-piece set of Gibson dishes with snowflake pattern, $6
And an added bonus.... many thrift stores, like The Salvation Army's, are run by non-profit organizations helping those in need. By shopping at their second-hand shops, you are helping to support the good work that they do!
So these days, when going green is becoming wildly popular, let's not forget the humble thrift store. It's the best way you can recycle and reuse, and show your commitment to using fewer resources and reducing your carbon footprint while saving money!