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  • Jenny Hill

Reuse: Buying (or Selling) Used Items Online

Rs for Resilient Living Series

Remember in 2018 when we talked about shopping second-hand for the holidays because it was more sustainable and eco-friendly? Well, good news--it is STILL more sustainable and eco-friendly, plus, by taking it online, you might be able to avoid the supply chain delays making headlines at the end of 2021.Two categories lend themselves particularly well to having gently-used (or treasured vintage) items to choose from: clothes and books.

Depending on where you live, there may be excellent opportunities to shop in-person for second-hand clothes and books. And that brings the added sustainability bonus of no shipping. However, I’d like to highlight some online shopping sites that offer second-hand stock and, in some cases, “giving back” extras.


If you are shopping for women’s or kids’ clothing, Thredup is a website of amazing offerings. Their tagline--“We’re an online consignment & thrift store for your closet, your wallet, and the planet”-- addresses the many ways they have made smart moves around buying and selling used clothing.

The site offers, literally, millions of items, meticulously sorted, described and photographed. You can search by the usual categories: sweaters, for example, and size, color, price and brand. Then more interesting (and useful) categories like neckline, price, condition, material, pattern and accents. You can save your searches.

You can also sell (or donate) your unwanted clothes using one of their free clean out kits.The Thredup website includes extensive reporting of the impact of buying clothing second-hand. They report that 1 in 3 consumers care more about wearing sustainable apparel now than before the pandemic. When you search for that used pair of jeans, dress or sweater, Thredup has figured out the details and displayed it right along with the photo of the item, like this:

In addition to women’s clothes, Thredup features accessories, shoes and maternity and children’s clothes.

But let’s not forget men might need clothing too. REI (Recreational Equipment Inc) is a well-known retailer of clothing as well as outdoor gear. They offer both used and trade-in shopping choices in men’s categories as well as women’s and kids.’ “Used” is REI’s designation for items returned by other REI customers that are inspected before being re-sold. They have a detailed shopping site, as pictured below, where you can see all the details that would be available if you were purchasing the item new plus information on how the used item is “used”--in the photo below you can see the detail: “Minor discoloration on palms.” There is also a 30-day satisfaction guarantee on used items. For their “Trade In” category, you need to pay a one-time fee to become an REI co-op member.


Two online used book sites, Abe Books and Better World Books, are stand outs, but for slightly different reasons. Abe Books has a huge inventory of not only used books, but also rare books and collectibles. They offer free shipping in many cases and you can sell your used books to them or get set up (for a monthly fee) to be a seller on their site. Either of those options will keep books circulating and out of the landfill.

Free shipping always sounds as appealing to me as “free lunch.” But from an environmental sustainability standpoint, free shipping is no bargain. Better World Books offers free shipping also, but takes it a step in a different direction by offering carbon offsets for shipping for a slight fee.

Like Thredup, Better World Books is an organization that deals in huge numbers.Their website lists they have re-used or recycled over 300 million books.They have all the bells and whistles of categories, displays, “If you like…” suggestions and customer account perks that make online shopping easy. They have done the math for this busy holiday season, letting you know which shipping choices are likely to deliver your books by when.

You cannot sell your used books through Better World Books, but they have a network of drop boxes in the United States (Twin Cities metro area for Minnesota) and the United Kingdom where you can donate your books. As someone who has owned “too many” books for almost her entire life, sometimes it is just a relief to know the books will get some kind of new home. This is where Better World Books really shines. For every book sold on their website, they donate a book to someone in need. They offer literacy grants and partner with Books for Africa, the largest shipper of donated library books and textbooks to the African continent.

There are many other options just within clothing and books - are there online secondhand or thrift options you like/use? Please add in the comments. This is part of our “Rs for Resilient Living” series--again, if you have comments or suggestions, please share with us!

Like many aspects of living sustainably, there are tradeoffs to second-hand online shopping: not being able to see or handle items before purchase, not supporting local businesses, and the environmental impact of packaging and shipping. Depending on your goals, these drawbacks may be outweighed by the benefits. As always, it’s good to be informed about the tradeoffs and benefits and decide what makes sense for your personal sustainability goals...small changes have a big impact over time. Do you have a favorite second-hand store? Please share in the comments.


Dec 13, 2021

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Dec 10, 2021


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