Yesterday I learned that the goods we buy and services (such as banks and shops) contribute to an amazing 3.5 tons of our carbon footprint, on average, in the UK. Considering the UK average footprint is 12 tons of CO2 that’s a huge percentage!
Clearly the carbon involved in manufacture, production, packaging, transportation, of new products is huge – not to mention energy use of retail outlets, and the carbon footprint of associated activities such as marketing. There’s a more in-depth analysis here (”Buy an old thing not a new thing”) but clearly buying second-hand is a much more environmentally friendly option. Second-hand goods tend to be cheaper, and tend to last longer too, if they’ve lasted to be handed on…
Since the beginning of 2009 I’ve tried to limit my purchases, not just for environmental reasons, but also economic. Here’s my notes on environmentally-aware purchases:
Buy second-hand: Websites such as eBay and Gumtree make buying second-hand very easy. Computer exchange sell second hand DVDs, computer games and mobile phones, and of course, there are our old friends charity shops, vintage clothing shops, and second hand book shops. There are now more and more “swap shops” for second-hand goods, “swishing” events for clothes, and sites such as Freecycle or Snaffleup where you can pick up items for free.
So far this year I’ve purchased a variety of second-hand items, mostly clothes, but also furniture, books & CDs. Second-hand means I can afford beautiful clothes from shops that I wouldn’t otherwise buy from – for example, including postage costs, I’ve purchased a Hobbs skirt for £3.49, and a beautiful Monsoon top for £4.69. Bargain!
Low-impact purchases: Downloading MP3 music, e.g. from iTunes, means there’s no physical product to manufacture or transport. Similarly, I’m subscribed to the Ecologist, but with an online-only subscription, and amazingly they’re even phasing out their printed magazine from July 2009. Reading newspapers online as well means less paper to recycle (recycling is good, but better not to have anything to recycle in the first place?!).
I haven’t recorded my food purchases, but buying seasonal food, from local sources, is very important, as is buying organic food (& clothing where possible) that doesn’t require nitrogen-based fertilisers. These fertilisers break down to produce nitrous oxides, which are greenhouse gases up to 300 times more damaging than CO2. Organic = less greenhouse gases.
Buy what you need: Obviously not everything can be bought second-hand. I’ve purchased new toiletries, tights and energy-efficient lightbulbs. The key is to only buy things that that you actually need and that you’ll use.
Buy to last: Cheap products may seem money-saving but they often break or wear out easier and need replacing faster = worse for the environment overall. So, try and buy things that last! I bought a new pair of shoes from Hotter shoes (very good quality, and made in the UK), and not just any saucepans.. but ones from M&S (I think Plan A is a brilliant idea).
Giving second-hand or crafted gifts: Personally, I would LOVE it if people bought me second-hand things rather than brand new, and I’ve asked for this in the past, but I think people can feel guilty or cheap for giving second hand! Creating gifts can be a good option (knitting or crafting things if you are so inclined) and is nice because they have that personal touch.
So far this year I’ve bought 2 brand new gifts for people. I just didn’t feel comfortable buying second hand in these instances, but I try and consider if I can find something appropriate that isn’t brand new.
No excuse?! I’m not perfect and I can’t justify every purchase I’ve made! I bought a copy of Marie Claire magazine as it came with a free Body Shop Body butter on the front cover… But, it’s only one magazine, and it is recyclable which is a start?!
If you have any more ideas do let me know!