By Grace Soning
In today’s society, we are trained to have a consumerism mindset. In other terms, the more products we buy, the happier we will be. This encompasses products from all aspects of our lives, from the need to have the newest iPhone to buying a new outfit for every occasion. However, coupled with our consumption habits comes the depletion of natural resources such as water, energy and fertile land. In fact, we now use 50% more natural resources than only 30 years ago which is the equivalent of 60 billion tonnes of raw materials a year (1). Luckily, society is becoming more aware of the damage that is being caused and the mindset of consumers is changing. One way people are changing their habits is by turning to second-hand shopping.
Although buying clothes and other products second hand is way better for the planet, if our consumer habits remain the same then the positive impact will not be seen. Ever since we were young, we have been trained to believe that we need a new outfit for every occasion. Who remembers the famous outfit repeater scene in The Lizzie McGuire Movie?! So, if we continue with this idea of buying new clothes every season even if they’re from charity shops, apps like Depop or websites like eBay, there will be no offsetting our environmental impact. Here’s why:
The majority of clothes that are donated to charity do not end up on display in charity shops. In fact, the majority of the clothes that are donated are sent to Africa where they should be sold in second-hand markets. However, 40% of these clothes are of such bad quality (thanks to fast fashion) that they are immediately sent to landfills costing the livelihood of the second-hand market sellers and creating a huge negative environmental impact. This process equates to over 6 million garments being sent to landfills each week, and these are just the clothes that people decide to donate. Therefore, even if we are trying to reduce our environmental impact by buying second-hand, if we are still overconsuming then there will be little change. The same goes for electronic items. On average, 800 laptops are thrown away every second worldwide. Moreover, 85% of computers end up in landfills and only 2% end up in the hands of second-hand users (2). So, when making the change to buying products second-hand always ensure that you dispose of your old products properly.
Use this link if you live in the UK: https://www.hse.gov.uk/waste/waste-electrical.htm.
The way forward is to change the way we think about buying new products. Before buying something ask yourself, will I still want this in a year’s time? Additionally, try to buy things of good quality that will last longer. Remember learning the three Rs in school, reduce, reuse and recycle? Well, the new motto is to reduce, reuse and THEN recycle. Therefore, we can live a circular lifestyle as opposed to the current take, make dispose one that we are conditioned to live. Always try and repair old products before buying new ones to give our things a longer lifespan. Finally, when it comes to needing new things, do try and buy second-hand but just be conscious of the impact of your old products! You can also get creative, especially with old clothes. Upcycling is a fun activity and you get a cool new product out of it!