The Buy Local movement has a fair bit of traction and I certainly support it, but if your intention is to reduce your environmental footprint then an even bigger step is to Buy Used. Yep, good old second hand and thrift stores are one of the biggest environment protections ever created!
The single biggest source of damage to the Earth comes from how humans produce and consume stuff. In our hugely consumer-oriented, stuff-filled society it is easy to forget that every single thing we eat, wear, put on our skin, drive in and put into the thing we drive at some point has been extracted from the Earth. And, the waste by-products from all of those things will be put back into the Earth.
Clothing is a huge example. Through some recent consulting work I’ve been providing I learned that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry. I was shocked until I really thought about all the resources required to grow the cotton and other materials, processing, dyeing, shipping and transporting involved. Not only do we now have 7 billion of us humans to clothe, but many of us in wealthier parts of the world have more clothes and shoes than we could wear in a year if we wore something different every single day! I was even more shocked to learn that the reach of textile and apparel is so big in fact that globally, by some estimates, 1 in 6 trackable jobs are in that industry!
The other day I was greatly in need of some new workout shorts and tank tops (seriously, my brother recently bought me a new pair of shorts and pulled out my old ratty, tattered pair and wrote a note that said, “Please replace these with these!” with arrows pointing from my old rags to the new shorts!).
Truth is I’d been looking for new workout stuff, but I am really particular about my shorts. I don’t like anything to tight or too poofy. I like the sort of boarder-style not at all tight around the waste shorts. They are hard to find. Moreover, it just doesn’t sit with me to spend $25 on a slip of cloth called a tank top that I am merely going to sweat in several times a week.
I regularly drop off things that I am no longer using at the local Goodwill. This time I thought, “why not go in and look for workout stuff?” Pay dirt! Two shorts, 4 tank tops for $40.
The ultimate recycling is reusing – it’s just less stuff that has to be pulled from the Earth to consume. On top of that, the proceeds that Goodwill brings in are used to deliver job training and employment to people with disabilities. In a sense they recycle stuff to help people recycle challenges into new opportunities.
Other thrift stores support the Humane Society and various similar good causes.
I know in our society, where so much of our own sense of “value” is based on our wealth and the stuff we have, it’s easy to feel a bit embarrassed going into second hand stores. But when I feel that pressure I ask myself, how could it be embarrassing to support people with disabilities or abandoned animals and other good causes? What’s wrong with being frugal? Why would any of us be ashamed to make consumer choices that avoid trashing our planet? These are times when I am grateful for my very modest upbringing in which my mom showed me how to make the most of a thrift store!
I always love that spending money in these establishments means I not only spend a whole lot less money but the money I do spend is directly helping my fellow beings, all the while reducing my footprint on the planet. It’s a little retail therapy without any guilt!
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