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.MORE ON HUFFPOST:
With this baby you get all-wheel drive, 165 horsepower, a 2.5-liter flat four (a boxer engine like the Subaru unit in the hot Scion FR-S I’m testing), and 25 mpg on the highway (not hugely different from the 27 mpg of the current model). It’s also very space-efficient without being big on the outside. Foresters have a stellar reliability rating and they keep their value. I’m seeing them advertised between $2,600 and $6,500. Don’t worry so much about mileage — it’s more important that the car was well cared-for and got regular oil changes.
Now here’s a bargain. How about a nice CX hatchback with the 1.6-liter engine? A more reliable powerplant you won’t find. I can recommend these unreservedly, though they’re more like appliances than cars. But who cares, really? I practically need a kidney belt to drive that sporty Scion FR-S. A five-speed manual will help fuel economy, which was 30 mpg combined. There’s also an HX model that’s worth finding, because it got 34 mpg. And $2,500 to $3,000 will definitely score one of these.
I admit to having a total jones for the Miata, and am scouting cars of this vintage. The Miata is bulletproof, though you do have to be careful of rust, bad tops and a few other minor maladies. Get the manual version, because otherwise what’s the point? The MX-5 of 1990 was rated at 24 mpg combined. I haunt the classifieds for Miatas, so I can say with confidence that they range from $1,500 for a ratty one to $5,000 for a really nice example. Avoid rodded-out versions with lots of add-on accessories and roll bars if you want reliability.
Admittedly, the Korean-made Aveo is nowhere near in the league of the Spark or Sonic. If you have the money for those, by all means buy one. But for commuting, an Aveo will get you around. And it’s very cheap! The Aveo 5 hatch had 27 mpg combined. Plenty of $4,000 examples around, maybe $5k for a really good one.
My friend bought one of these, and I really like it. A solid, versatile ride from a company that, alas, is no longer with us. The Vibe, with a 1.8-liter power plant, could manage 29 mpg combined. The Vibe is basically the same car as the long-lived Toyota Matrix, but it never sold as well — consumers actually had prejudice against the American-badged version, but their loss is your gain. And since Pontiac is an orphan brand, you should be able to get a good deal on one now. (Along the same lines, an SX4 from no-longer-in-the-U.S. Suzuki is also worth considering.) You may not be able to find a good Vibe for less than $8,000, but it will be a great car. (And just for fun, I looked up used car prices on Hummer H3s. They weren’t as giving-them-away priced as I’d thought, but $12,000 should buy a pristine example from 2006 or 2007. Fuel economy of the 2007 model? 15 mpg combined.)