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The Green Life: Shop Secondhand First

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August 24, 2011

Shop Secondhand First

Thrift store Every week on the Green Life, we share a new eco-friendly fashion item. But the most sustainable way to shop is to not to buy anything new at all. Instead, head to your local thrift shop. That's what photojournalist Jenna Isaacson has been doing all summer. In fact, she's visited thrift stores across America, documenting her journey on her All Thrifty States blog. Part anthropology, part art, and part environmental activism, Isaacson's journey aims to raise awareness about the magic and sustainable merits of secondhand shops.

With only 11 states to go, she's driven a fuel-efficient RV named HaRVey from a wind-powered boutique in Colorado to a "mystery thrift" store supporting a no-kill animal shelter in Kentucky. While the project was motivated partly by a desire to understand America via its “collective closet,” Isaacson primarily wanted to bring attention to the under-reported environmental benefit of thrift-store shopping. As she says on her blog, “When we purchase something that’s used, ultimately we’re saving it from a landfill and making a conscious choice to lower the amount of natural resources we collectively demand.”

The facts back her up. According to the EPA, more than 12.9 million tons of clothing waste ends up in the landfill, comprising 6% of America's total municipal solid waste stream. But, according to a life-cycle analysis conducted by University College Northampton and Environmental Resources Management, reusing clothing in thrift shops results in more than 97% net energy savings (compared to manufacturing and buying new clothes).

So save the earth and your hard-earned money at the same time. It takes a bit of a perception shift, but it's true: Thrift stores can be a fashion treasure chest. Vintage, couture, and name-brand threads line the racks for $3, while the quirky factor can't be beat. Isaacson's adventure also proves that you can find everything you need, not just jeans. Looking for a toaster oven, bicycle, cow-kettle, wedding dress, taxidermied pair of toads, or even a personal star? Look no further.

The best part is, you’ll never have to feel consumer guilt again. And if you shop at Goodwill or the Salvation Army, you're also supporting these organizations' public-service programs: The Salvation Army, for one, serves more than 30 million disadvantaged people.

--Christa Morris

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