Everybody is likely aware that you can buy things used as an alternative to new and save a few bucks. But until now, few of us realized that the second-hand economy significantly contributes to Canada's GDP, creates jobs and reduces the environmental harm of rampant consumerism -- and the potential for further contributions is as easy as it is vast.
I recently participated in the first-ever major study of the second-hand economy in Canada, together with a group of researchers from the University of Quebec, to better understand the size and impact of the second-hand economy. The independent research, sponsored by Kijiji to mark its 10th anniversary in Canada, reveals that second-hand sales of durable goods are worth about $30 billion per year. This is a lot, but still just 15 per cent of what we spend on new durable goods. We need to increase this second-hand spending, and here's why:
Currently, the average Canadian family saves about $1,150 annually by shopping second-hand, and extends the life of about 76 products through buying, selling and donating. These savings could easily climb if we paused more often before hitting the mall. Moreover, the second-hand economy as a whole creates a large advantage for the country because the vast majority of consumer goods -- about 80 per cent -- are imported from other countries.
"Buy Local" enthusiasts should celebrate the second-hand economy, because shopping used keeps money in the local economy where it can be used to pay for locally-produced services and goods, instead of flowing out to pay for imports. In fact, our study estimates that the second hand economy adds $34 billion to GDP and sustains about 300,000 jobs in Canada. And while buying used reduces the amount of tax collected at retail, the taxes gained from second-hand economy income and spending easily outweighs the losses at retail. This is in spite of the fact that HST is not payable on most private sales of used goods (with the exception of cars).
Let's not forget pragmatism. The reality is that many second-hand items are nearly as good as new -- the owners have simply gotten tired of them. This is particularly true with consumer electronics and clothing, but also applies to a wide variety of other items regularly traded in the used market. Free online classified services such as Kijiji have made these exchanges far more convenient and efficient, to the point that finding a high quality used item online is virtually as easy as finding the same product new on a retailer's online site, and often easier than finding a parking spot at the mall.
Finally, buying and selling used stuff provides some respite for our fragile planet, and this matters to Canadians. Our research revealed that those who participate in the used marketplace are almost equally motivated by personal financial savings and because they want to help the environment. Re-using items is the ultimate in conservation, and far better than recycling, which is good, but requires considerable resources to convert materials. When a used item is given an extended life, it stays out of a landfill. Further, the person who buys the second-hand item did not have to buy a new one, which would have required scarce resources to manufacture and distribute.
The message is clear and the solution is simple: next time you need something or don't want something anymore, think about the second-hand economy first. Your bank account, your country's economy and your planet will thank you.