Sustainable Student Living: Charity Shops

By Braedie Atkins, GLOBUS Correspondent

Painting a wardrobe that you bought for £30 and changing the doorknobs is an excellent way to decorate your room – and it doesn’t cost hundreds of pounds. The same goes with clothing. A new jumper, or pair of jeans for £5, gives you room to make alterations so they fit in with your style. There’s no need to follow high-street trends when you can set your own. 

For young people, there is an alarming pressure to spend, spend, spend! With social media, and consumer culture at large, advertising a lifestyle existing in trends, the reality of the climate catastrophe can too often be forgotten. Resultantly, the environmental cost of flat-pack furniture, fast fashion, the toy industry and gift buying fades into the background. 

Essentially, our throwaway culture is costing us a lot more than the savings we make on cheaper goods and unlimited choices. Each year in the United Kingdom (UK), 350,000 tonnes, or £140 million worth, of clothing goes to landfill. Cheap and quickly assembled furniture from Ikea is so popular that the number of Ikea shops in a country is used as an indicator in The KOF Index of Globalisation– where the UK ranks fourth place. According to data by the World Atlas, the UK spends the most in the world on toys for their children, standing at $438 per child each year. During December, the average Briton spends an extra £800, along with the average person spending £251.20 in the 2019 Black Friday sales. All of this in a nation where household debt is an ever-growing epidemic. 

One way we can act now to address this crippling conspicuous consumption is to take action on the buyer side of these supply chains and business models. Shopping in charity shops for our clothes, furniture, and gifts for loved ones is one way that we can make a conscious effort to make sure our spending is not complicit in the existence of industries that require our constant need to ‘spend it all.’ 

From this, it is unsurprising that the appetite for more sustainable spending options is growing, whether it is for second hand, upcycled or goods directly from a retailer or brand. For instance, second-hand retailers have grown 21 times faster than the wider retail market over the past three years, according to GlobalData for Thredup. Moreover, initiatives such as second-hand September that was initiated by Oxfam last year increase awareness against only purchasing products that are brand new. Resultantly, the younger generations, namely millennials and people from Generation Z, are adopting second-hand 2.5x faster than other age groups. Put simply, investing in charity shops recovers clothes from landfill, which are then recycled and re-used by paying customers. Climbing the rungs of the waste hierarchy (see figure 1) is firmly put into action, and the seeds of a sustainable circular economy are sown. 

Image of a Waste Hierarchy pyramid. Sourced from the Charity Retail Association
 

Furthermore, the benefits of using charity shops are not just useful for satisfying our desire to do our bit for the planet. For students and anyone on a budget, it is incredibly cost-effective. A whole new outfit for £10-20! All charity shops also have toy, books, and entertainment sections along with knick-knacks and unused gifts which cannot go a miss around Christmas time. Plus, you get to donate to a worthy cause and the money goes straight back into the local economy. So, what is not to like? And luckily for Warwick students, there are multiple charities we can donate to and shop in, with eight charity shops in Coventry city centre alone. 

Charities that only sell furniture are also common. A great thing about buying furniture second-hand is, although you may not get identical pieces, you can customise your thrifty finds to make them unique. Painting a wardrobe that you bought for £30 and changing the doorknobs is an excellent way to decorate your room – and it doesn’t cost hundreds of pounds. The same goes with clothing. A new jumper, or pair of jeans for £5, gives you room to make alterations so they fit in with your style. There’s no need to follow high-street trends when you can set your own. 

However, no matter how much we support local charity shops, our environmental impact rests on us re-using the items we buy. Ensuring a longer lifespan for our clothes and furniture, as well as making mindful consumer decisions, is a vital way of tackling waste, pollution and climate change – and it’s something that everyone can do.  

Charity shops are not just another thing to add to the check list of sustainable living, but also essential to any comprehensive guide on living as student. So, next time your visiting your local high-street, avoid Topshop and Primark, and visit a charity shop instead.  

Header Image: Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

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