How I Do the “3R’s” in a Local Store

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

I walked into my neighborhood second-hand shop recently to shuffle through the dress rack, but the owner had a different idea for my visit.

“Amy, what do you think of us becoming a non-profit organization?” the local proprietor asked me.

Her notion of a non-profit thrift store reminded me that secondhand shops are actually one element in national efforts to reduce waste. No longer just destinations for bargain hungry and hip shoppers, thrift stores have a role to play in environmental protection.

Remember the three Rs of environmentalism – reduce, reuse, recycle? Reuse, as in wear other people’s clothes, or use other people’s dishware.

This local owner had no idea I am working on zero waste materials as a writer for EPA. And she had no idea that I have become smitten with the thought of communities encouraging second-hand stores. By the time I finished talking, the poor woman had a glazed look that said, “TMI!” in no uncertain terms.

Thrift stores and consignment shops represent the best of reuse. Shoppers happily reuse each others’ clothes, shoes, mugs and books. That means one less dress, coffee cup or dictionary is manufactured and shipped, and one less product heads for the landfill or transfer station.

Although second-hand clothing has been trendy for a while, these shops are not part of environmental policy in South Berwick, Maine, or anywhere else I’ve been lately. EPA encourages shopping at re-use shops and buying used or recycled when possible.

Yes, we have a small swap shop at the dump, as we call it. And yes, some residents have created a local “swap, sell or give” Facebook page. But, these are still not part of town environmental policy.

Later, I wondered if the next generation has internalized the importance of reuse faster than adults. I asked my son if he knew why it is better to reuse than recycle a bottle, for instance.

“Yes, Mommy,” my son told me. “It is better to reuse than recycle because it takes oil and energy to recycle the bottle.”

Plus, I noted, “It takes energy to transport the bottle to the recycling plant, and then back again to another customer.”

He had heard it all before.

Perhaps the owner of my second-hand clothing shop wasn’t ready to turn her store into the cutting edge of waste management policy. But, I am still dreaming of a thrift shop promoted or subsidized by the town. Maybe she will be ready to see me again next week.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure dog and a great community.