Conservation Commentary – Buying Used Stuff

September 3, 2008

The big attraction with buying used products is that you might save some money and get a device, vehicle or gadget that’s in great shape. We’re all attracted to the lure of a deal, but what kinds of things are we really willing to buy in used condition?

Cars are a no-brainer. I’ll buy any used car that’s running and uncrashed with one caveat. It cannot have been smoked in. There’s no way to get rid of the smoke fog on the inside of the windows or the stale smell of poison from the upholstery.

On that tangent, I wonder why rental-car companies still don’t offer non-smoking cars. Sure, it would limit the number of cars in a certain class but hotels already offer smoke-free facilities and you’re spending a whole lot more time in a hotel room than you are in a rental car. I know if I were addicted to something, it would be easier to pull the car over and take part in my vice than hop an elevator to the lobby and enjoy my addiction on the sidewalk outside.

What about clothing? I’m certain that I’d wear used shirts and pants. Coats are a given, too. But gloves? I’m not sure. Shoes, I don’t think so (I even bought my own bowling shoes so I don’t have to rent shoes the two times per year that I bowl).

What about ties? Sure. Same for belts. But then the line turns into a wall. There’s no way you’re getting me to snuggle into a used bathing suit, or underwear or socks. Even hats are a stretch…and I love hats.

Perhaps it’s the personal nature of items that dictate how willing we are to enjoy them secondhand.

Toothbrush – are you kidding me?

GPS system – no problem.

Hair brush – out, out, out!

Hair dryer – sure.

Kitchen stuff makes me feel a little squirmy. Silverware and plates can be blasted with fire-hot water in the dishwasher, but what about chopsticks or salad tongs or can openers? It stands to reason that these things could be cleaned as well as a spoon, but they seem a little more likely to harbor cooties.

Chopsticks are long and thin. How in the world could you ensure that they’re clean? And salad implements aren’t supposed to go in the dishwasher, so how could I trust they were germ-free?

And don’t get me started on the myriad food particles that are probably stuck in the crevices of a used can opener. Ravioli. Tuna fish. Deviled Ham. Cat food. You get the picture.

As a population so bent on conservation and ecological awareness, why don’t we recycle the real stuff more? People – for the most part – are ignoring bottle bills and can recycling and redemption efforts. It’s not worth our time to go snag a nickel for a can when we can toss it in the trash and be on our way.

The same goes for supermarket plastic bags. They fly like winged monkeys across roadways and into trees all over the planet. And efforts by the stores to get people to bring bags back and switch to reusable bags are still falling flat.

The only times I’ve seen conservation work is when it’s combined with an economic incentive.

Make someone pay extra for using a paper or plastic bag, and they’ll find a way to carry 37 items out of the store in their arms.

Make gasoline so expensive that filling up an SUV requires a credit check, and people will walk a little more, drive a little less and scooter and bicycle sales will skyrocket.

Make it possible to get a piece of furniture or clothing or a gadget for a reduced price and people will jump at the opportunity. Maybe we’ve got to adjust our thinking.

For the first time, maybe buying something used should be viewed as a planet-saving measure instead of a penny-saving one.

Because if we don’t come to terms with vanishing resources and the need for conservation, making do with nothing is something we’re going to have to get used to.