How green are you really?

6 Dec

We all hear about being more green.  We may even be making an effort to be more green.  We buy things that are supposed to be green.  We pay attention to advertisements for products that are supposed to be more green.  But…really, are we being very green at all?

We forget that even new products have a carbon footprint.  It costs “carbon” to gather the raw materials, to make them, to ship them, and then to sell them to you, for you to transport them home.  There’s a huge footprint with advertising alone, with the television, radio, internet and print advertisements.  It’s also sucked away a good chunk of your time.  Then, there are the things that nobody mentions.

Like how hard it is to recycle OR dispose of those massive but inefficient batteries for your “green” hybrid car?  How green are they really?

Or those “green” products that are made in some distant country?  All that transportation needed?

Even your “organic” vegetables, fruit, meat, and grain…how far did that have to travel to get to your grocers’ store?  How green is that really?

It’s not practical for us all to change our lives to the simpler ways of our grandparents and great grandparents.  We don’t have a world like that anymore.  We can’t all be homesteaders, there just isn’t enough land for that either.  There are just too many people for all of that.  So what should we all be doing?

Obviously recycling is a really good start.  Collecting metals and plastics and glass, sorting them, sending them to be remanufactured into new goods…it saves resources because they are merely being remanufactured.  But…is that the best option really?

Why not consider used items?

Used items are being re-used for their original purpose.  They save money because they cost less.  They are often very high quality items.  After all, shoddy goods often don’t survive long enough to become “used”, instead becoming “trash”.  This covers everything from motor vehicles to toys to clothing to household goods.

Sure, you have to pay attention when you buy items that are used to make sure that they are in good condition, capable of serving their purpose, whether it is to boil water or cover your head or drive you down the road.  On some items, you also need to pay attention and do some research to ensure they meet current safety standards.  This especially is important in regards to baby gear.

Most items that we can easily purchase used will include household goods, clothing, motor vehicles, outdoor gear, sporting goods, and items such as this.  Certain items are not recommended to purchase used, such as under garments and mattresses.

Many people assume that the only reason someone is selling an used item is because it is “no good” anymore.  That isn’t true.  There are many reasons why everything from electronics, clothing, books, home appliances, and other items may enter the market as “used” items.  Some of the reasons may include things such as:

  • estate sale
  • not the correct size
  • moving
  • reducing amount of material goods owned
  • not used often
  • doesn’t fit current needs
  • change in lifestyle
  • need to raise cash

Some of the reasons that someone should consider used goods include:

  • need to save money
  • item is no longer in production
  • desirable item for collection
  • desire to reduce carbon imprint
  • better value
  • age
  • raw materials used
  • fits current decor
  • from particular era
  • quickly recycles cash through local economy via the seller’s wallet

These are all valid reasons to consider used goods.  Even so, many people feel somewhat embarrassed by purchasing used items, as though it implies some deficiency in their own character.  This is obviously not true, and becomes a case of adjusting one’s perspective into proper alignment with the whole concept of being green and recycling.  Being a savvy shopper when it comes to used goods requires a bit more education and effort perhaps than being the average mall shopper though.

So what is important to know when shopping for used goods?

Know what an item costs new of comparable quality

Know what the market is

Have familiarity with older models/products, especially when considering home appliances and electronics.

Once upon a time, being a savvy shopper in the used world meant lots of effort and experience.  Today, with the internet, it’s much easier.  We can all compensate for our lack of experience with a few clicks of the mouse, and often, we can even locate our desired items just as easily.  There are online auction sites such as Ebay, as well as online versions of the old fashioned newspaper want ad showing listings of items for sale, and there is also the listing features of Craigslist.  We’ve all heard horror stories of people being robbed and worse during transactions, but a few common sense rules help keep everyone safe.

  1. Don’t send cash with a service that doesn’t keep records (such as Western Union) for items you don’t have in-hand.
  2. Don’t go to a stranger’s house alone, especially with a large sum of cash for the transaction.
  3. If using an online auction service, read their recommendations at their website.  They like their buyers to also be happy, and will have some guidelines to help you be a safe and happy customer.

In addition to these ideas, there are other venues for finding used goods and helping you save both your wallet and the planet from unnecessary impact.  These include:

  • thrift stores, often charity operated
  • second hand stores
  • flea markets and swap meets
  • local papers, including the free want ad papers that most areas have
  • local dealers

When you shop at these local businesses, whether charity operated or operated for profit, you are also helping your local economy.  The money you spend is often very quickly recycled into your community, whether through the charity’s efforts or the spending of a shop owner or clerk.  That is always a plus, in any community.

This time of  year, people’s minds are often focused on purchasing gifts, and  yet often disregard the possibility of a “used” gift, fearful of some sort of stigma.  It’s time to rethink  that way of regarding used items.  Used items, which also include both antique and vintage goods, are often excellent buys, costing far less than comparable new items, even if similar quality can be found.  In addition, they have the added allure of showing that you honestly put a lot of effort and thought into the purchase, considering everything from planetary input to the recipient’s desires as you sought the perfect gift for them.

So how do you know what kind of a vintage, antique, or used item to buy for a gift?

Consider the person carefully.  What are their interests?  How old are they?  Do they have any heroes in their life?  What is their lifestyle?

Once you have a list of these things, start shopping.  Ebay is easy, as you can do it from home with just a few clicks of the mouse.  It also lets you examine goods from a wide area than you can reach in your car, as well as harmlessly learning prices and how the ads are worded.  You may get other ideas as you shop too.

A vintage pair of skis might not be interesting to your grandma, but for the ski buff they might be perfect for their den’s decor.  Your sister might be in love with an old tea kettle that resembles the one that grandma used to have…especially when it is fitted out to display fresh or silk flowers.  Your brother in law, that high school English teacher…he might find an old English literature textbook to be a real treasure.

They aren’t used items.  They are gifts that illustrate that you cared enough about the recipient to really look for something that would touch them.  For your immediate family, it may mean that the gifts are more than mere material items, as that new bicycle/car/motorcycle/boat/canoe/kayak can also become a project of camaraderie as it is restored to like new condition or customized.  Maybe instead of just a new backpack, it’s a whole set up for camping, allowing the family to affordably go on a vacation when the weather and schedules cooperate for a getaway.  It can mean the difference between one new electronic gizmo in the latest model and the entire family receiving the not-so-latest model.

For our day to day needs, buying used items can mean we spend 10% or less of what the new items would cost, an important consideration especially when clothing someone who quickly changes sizes (like a child) or ruins clothes often (children or adults) whether due to work or play.  It allows a person to change their wardrobe according to shifting tastes, seasons, styles, and needs without spending an inordinate amount of money too.

For household goods, it saves an incredible amount of money, especially since many items may be only needed for a brief time, such as a specialized baking pan, platter, etc. Items such as these are often found at a fraction of their original prices, and by searching for these items online, there is often a staggering array available, far more than any local department store could possibly offer.

Used items can also be reshaped, retaining most of their original purpose, but getting an artistic twist from those that are so inclined.  Whether it is refinishing a piece of furniture, embellishing a sweater, or remaking a table cloth into curtains…this too is a possibility.

Used goods do no mean that you are impoverished.  Used goods means you are smart enough to save a lot, both in terms of our planet and your wallet.







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