Roaming the streets of any English shopping area inevitably leads to one of the many chains of charity shops. Charities like Oxfam, Cancer Research UK, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals collect used clothes, dishes, books, bags, linens, and even furniture to sell it back to consumers at reduced prices. This raises money for the charities, while at the same time providing affordable goods to people in the community. It is also a great way to recycle. Buying used merchandise instead of new saves all the energy that it would take to produce a new item.
In terms of clothing, both natural and synthetic fabrics can take a lot of energy to produce. The cotton has to be grown, processed, then woven into fabric. Synthetic fibers are generally made from crude oil and the manufacturing method often creates dangerous byproducts. Even natural fibers like cotton have negative environmental impacts. Cotton requires a high amount of water and pesticide. The US is a large producer of cotton, and a lot gets shipped overseas after growing. Then, processing the cotton into fabric costs energy, and creates unwanted, volatile byproducts. After production of the clothing, it still has to be shipped to retail stores to be sold, using more energy. So, manufacturing a new shirt costs an enormous amount of energy compared to buying one that has already been manufactured. The same theory can be applied to many items beyond clothing. Buying used books saves all the paper that would have had to go into manufacturing a new copy. Used furniture also saves on textile production, manufacturing, and shipping energy. It is always more efficient to buy something used rather than new.
While America certainly has used items available to those who make an effort to find them, it is much simpler in England. Even in a small city like Norwich, there are at least eight different charity shops in the city center. In London there are many more. The location of the shops makes a difference too. In England, the charity shops are located right next to normal retail stores, allowing customers to easily shop at both in the same trip. Often in America used clothing stores do not have enough money to sell in a prime area, so they don’t get as much exposure to shoppers.
The prevalence and convenient locations of charity shops in England make reusing clothing, books, and household items very easy, which translates to energy savings. This system is beneficial for consumers, charities, and the planet.