Reducing packaging waste by buying nothing new in 2016

Plastic waste is a serious environmental problem. A documentary called Trashed explores ways that plastic creeps out of our hands and into the ocean and water, into living organisms and up the food chain. Another documentary called Addicted To Plastic also covers issues related to pollution from plastic.

This year I am setting a goal to not buy anything new except for certain consumables. I’ll buy everything I need second hand.

New stuff has packaging. This packaging is wasteful and often non-recyclable. Recycling plastic is becoming unprofitable due to the drop in oil prices, so even if the packaging makes it to the recycling bin it may end up in a landfill anyway.

Buying used goods saves the goods themselves from being sent to a landfill, or worse, ending up in a body of water.

New things off-gas more than used things. Lots of products we buy are made with some sort of toxic chemical process, and we welcome those toxins into our bloodstreams merely by being in proximity to them.

Some people argue that there is zero carbon footprint from used goods since no extra energy is used to make them. I find this logic similarly questionable to the argument some vegans make about buying second hand leather or down jackets. I would rather make the other side of the argument; by not buying something new I will not be responsible for the energy that it took to make that new product. Somebody did expend carbon to make the used product, but by extending its useful life I am sharing the cost with its previous owner. By the same logic I do not buy used animal products. I refuse to share that cost.

Some things I will still have to buy new. Examples that come to mind are bicycle tubes, light bulbs, and underwear.

I’ll also have to buy groceries. This year I will buy as much in bulk as I can to reduce the amount of packaging I consume. I’ll also make as much from scratch as time permits, not only because it will reduce packaging but also for its health benefits.

Lots of other people have refrained from buying things for a variety of reasons including political/anti-consumerist, environmental, and simply for a challenge. It’s not an original idea, but it’s one that resonated with me enough to put it into practice. Even after writing this I’m still not 100% sure of my own motives. I suspect that just as with going vegan years ago, I will still not be able to fully understand my reasoning looking back, but it will undoubtedly be for the best.