Anyone who has been trying to reduce their carbon footprint has likely discovered the benefits of buying second-hand items. Just thinking about the many harmful drawbacks of the manufacturing cycle is enough to set your teeth on edge. In fact, it can hardly be called a cycle at all; it’s more like a straight line (with some pit-stops) from the manufacturing plant to the landfill. Natural resources are mined from the Earth by heavy-polluting and wasteful means, after which raw materials are subjected to more waste and pollution thanks to a variety of chemical processes at manufacturing plants. Then these finished products are wrapped in all kinds of packaging that consumers will purchase and discard (more waste), until finally the many disposable products that permeate our society are carted off to their final resting place at an overflowing landfill (more waste, more pollution…you get it).
Giving items a second life by reclaiming them breaks the linear mentality and creates a cycle in which less manufacturing and waste is required. Sounds pretty good, right? It is! And by frequenting yard sales, you can save money on this most eco-friendly mode of turning one man’s trash into your green treasure. However, there are a few things you should think about when you purchase items in this manner, such as what you can reasonably use and the impact it might have on the environment when you bring it home.
While you are probably doing a good thing by keeping most items out of the landfill, there are a few caveats to consider. For example, you must reflect on whether or not continuing to use the item will do more harm than good. Suppose you find an old fridge that still works. If it’s not an energy-star model, it will suck up massive amounts of electricity, unlike a much more eco-friendly model. But if you want to turn it on its side, throw a couple cushions on the top, and make it an interesting seating arrangement in your backyard, that’s a different story. Or what if you get a living room set and then decide to have it reupholstered. Do you have any idea how many chemicals are used in the process? You might as well get a new couch if that’s your plan!
The point is, you need to put some thought into the items you’re buying second-hand so that you make sure your purchases are the greenest possible choices. Whether you frequent San Francisco, New York, or Aurora garage sales, the truth is that you’re not likely to find items that were originally conceived to be eco-friendly. Sorry to break it to you, but conflict-free diamonds, organic clothing, and furniture built without varnish or glue are not common finds on the yard-sale circuit. You’re much more likely to find stuff that was made before the term “eco-friendly” even existed. So if you’re going to try to make strides for a greener future by buying second-hand goods at yard sales, it’s a good idea to find items that will help you to reach your goals rather than ones that will set you back in your efforts.