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Week Thirty-Five - Buy Less, Buy Better, Don't Fly It In

Three simple changes save 505 kilograms CO2e per person per year

Me

- I'd love to buy this but I don't want it to fly, because flying wrecks the climate. Can you post it using sea and road freight?

Overseas Etsy retailer

- Why worry? The plane is going there, with or without your package.

Household stuff = carbon

In Week Thirty-Two, I found that the average Australian householder throws out around 234 kilograms of toys, clothes, furniture and other stuff each year. This represents around 832 kilograms of embedded carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions (CO2e). The average householder could easily slash 200 kilograms CO2e by buying 75% of their clothes from used or recycled sources (or by buying 75% less clothing). How can we cut back on the rest?

Why do we buy?

Our basic physical needs for food, water, air and shelter haven't changed in millennia, but what we buy has transformed over the past 50 years. From planned obsolescence to cheap manufacturing to solving problems that don't exist, marketers and manufacturers are expert at getting us to buy their stuff. We buy more and we buy it faster than ever before. This brings consequences for people and the planet.

Apparently 2-5% of Australians are hoarders, which means there's a hoarder house in every street. I'm fascinated by hoarding, having had personal and professional experience with it. Having seen the extreme end of too much stuff, I'm highly conscious of my shopping behaviour. Or so I thought until I audited six months of my non-food purchases and found 90% of it completely unnecessary.

Hoarder house with paper, newspaper, rubbish bags and appliances

This is what hoarding looks like. Still feel like a shopping spree?

Buy less - reduce purchases by 50% to save 282 kilograms CO2e

From Tidying Up to Tiny House Nation, anti-clutter chatter is ironically increasing. The first step for most of these self-help gurus is to pile up all your stuff and take a good, honest look at it. While I don't have 160 pairs of shoes like one Tidying Up schmuck, my pile of clothes is far bigger than I imagined. I recommend everyone do this at least once.

The next step is to curb your acquisitiveness. Cutting purchases in half saves 53 kilograms CO2e for me and 200 kilograms CO2e for the average Australian each year. Try these ideas.

- Find out the real reason you buy stuff. Is it out of boredom, loneliness or the false belief that an SUV will turn you into the rugged outdoors type? Spell it out and see how silly it looks.

- Get rid of all hired storage space. Reduce the storage space in your house.

- Keep your stuff on display and in easy-to-see places so you don't duplicate it.

- Ask Dazed's 6 questions before buying anything. (Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it?)

- Borrow instead of buying. My library's search & order system is better than online shopping.

- Salvage craft supplies from op shops or the bin.

- Use Secret Santa or time together instead of giving rubbishy gifts.

- Don't watch ads. Unsubscribe from commercial mailing lists. Don't maintain a watchlist.

- Put a one-month hold between wanting something and buying it. The urge often wears off.

I've set up a Snarky Nana book. Before I buy any non-food item, I write it down and imagine explaining the new widget to my dead nana. She lived her entire life as if the Great Depression never ended and it's a remarkably sobering experience. Only one in three proposals pass the Snarky Nana test.

The Snarky Nana book helps curb impulse spending

Before clicking 'Buy Now', imagine explaining the purchase to a frugal 100-year-old.

Buy better - choose 50% secondhand or recycled to save 72 kilograms CO2e

Used goods are almost always better than new ones unless it flies (see below) or plugs in (pick the one that uses the least power). Goods made from recycled material usually have a lower carbon footprint, too. Try buying half of your remain stuff secondhand or made from recycled material. This saves another 26 kilograms CO2e for me and 72 kilograms CO2e for the average Australian each year. It will also grow the circular economy.

No air freight - save another 151 kilograms CO2e

I've been doing it wrong for years. I used to source vintage goods from overseas dealers because recycling helps the environment. But guess what? Flying fries the planet.

I ran scenarios on buying a new item from an Australian retailer versus a vintage item delivered internationally by plane. In almost every case, air freight killed any carbon savings. In one instance, the air-freighted item had 13 times more impact. I asked three overseas couriers for road and sea freight and none could do it. Ordering direct from an overseas vendor usually means it flies. Buying online or from a shop in Australia usually means it drives, particularly if you avoid express delivery. If in doubt, ask how your goods will be freighted. If they'll fly, don't buy them.

When I put my dilemma to an American jeweller, she responded with the famous 'Drug Dealer's Excuse'. She said the plane would fly anyway, with or without my package. This is like saying kids want to buy drugs and they'll get them from someone, so it might as well be me. I don't buy this argument and I didn't buy that necklace. Instead, I recommend not selling crack to kids and not using air freight for your luxury trash. Cutting out overseas air freight saves 20 kilograms CO2e for me and 151 kilograms CO2e for the average Australian each year.

Click-and-get versus brick-and-mortar

There's a big carbon footprint to transport stuff to your house. This might reduce with online shopping and efficient home delivery. Then again, it might not (particularly if you pick express delivery, see Notes section). I'll come back to this when I look at transport. Until then, buy less, buy better and get it delivered slowly.

What about packaging?

Packaging and plastic get a bad 'wrap' (haha). I think it's because we can see the packaging (unlike the invisible carbon) and we don't value packaging (but we still want the goods). I found food packaging was fairly benign and sometimes reduced carbon. I suspect the same is true for goods. Think less about the box and more about its contents. Even better, get your craft fix by upcycling the wrapping.

Junk Bots from RePsyched show you how to make art from recycled rubbish

Candice of Repsyched says don't buy craft supplies, make art from junk instead.

Calculations, notes and data sources in the 'Notes' section for Week Thirty-Five.

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