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How buying secondhand or used items can help save the environment


Whether you’re looking for back to school clothing for the kids, electronics or even some appliances, buying used may be the way to go. 

Whether you’re looking for back to school clothes for the kids, electronics or even some appliances, buying used items may be the way to go.

“If you buy something that’s used, it means a company doesn’t need to manufacture something new for you and ship it out. And also, it keeps that used item out of landfills,” Kevin Brasler, Consumers’ Checkbook executive editor.

The market for secondhand stuff is getting more and more popular, according to Brasler. But he said you can prevent used purchase snafus by inspecting the item before you buy it.

If you’re shopping online and your item arrives damaged or not in good condition than what was advertised, you may not get your money back.

It all depends on where you bought it and how you paid.

“Even when you’re buying used from major retailers, check and see what the return policy is and check to see whether or not you get at least a short-term warranty. A lot of used items are sold as is,” Brasler said, which makes checking the return policy and warranty information crucial.

And paying with a credit card is best if you need to dispute a charge.

Online marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon, offer dispute resolution services. PayPal also lets you discuss problems directly with the seller and, if necessary, allows you to file claims, but eBay decides if you deserve a refund, according to Consumers’ Checkbook.

But if you pay a private seller using cash (often the only payment they’ll accept), or via a payment app, such as Venmo that does not allow disputes, you’re likely stuck.

Another precaution: If you’re meeting up with a private seller you found online, bring a friend. If possible, meet in a public place and keep your phone handy. Trust your instincts, as well. If you get a weird vibe or a deal seems too good to be true, don’t be afraid to bail.

It will take a bit more work to seek out, evaluate and purchase used. But for many products, it’s definitely worth it.

Brasler pointed out that big retailers, such as Amazon, have gotten engaged in selling used merchandise but warn that you should be careful.

“Some items, though, you really just want to avoid buying used because of safety issues. So, don’t buy a used bike helmet, you have no idea whether or not that old helmet has been compromised or is damaged in some way,” Brasler said.

Another thing you should not buy used or secondhand are car seats for children, Brasler said.

“Car seats have an expiration date on them, and you just don’t know whether the car seat is damaged or not.”

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, readers can see all of Checkbook’s ratings and advice for a limited time.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.