October is Buy Nothing New Month, which asks Australians to borrow, swap or buy second-hand items instead of purchasing them new, except essentials like food and drink.
It encourages us to rethink our consumption habits and consider the whole lifecycle of the products we buy: where the materials come from, where they end up when we dispose of them, and what the alternatives are to extend the product's life and make the most of the finite resources we have.
In other words, it's about shifting to a circular economy mindset to reduce waste, prioritising reducing, reusing, repairing and recycling quality products over buying new, cheaply made items and disposing of them quickly. It's the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with your local Illawarra Op Shops - like Green Connect's two Op Shops in Unanderra and the University of Wollongong (UOW).
They're treasure troves of high-quality, affordable, second-hand items waiting to be found, and they offer numerous benefits for your wallet, our community, and the planet.
Most of us love to shop, whether it's in a physical retail store or online. In fact, Australians spent a record $353 billion on retail goods in 2022, 9.2 per cent more than in 2021.
Looking at clothing alone, the Australian Fashion Council's 2022 Clothing Data Report found we each buy 14.8kg of clothing, or 56 new items, on average per year, making Australia one of the highest consumers of textiles per capita in the world.
But this uptick in shopping behaviour also means we're wasting more; we have an 'out with the old, in with the new' mentality. Our clothing, furniture, books, toys, and other household items end up in landfill when they're still in good condition and could be repaired, reused, or recycled, extending their life indefinitely. As a result, Australia generated an estimated 75.8 million tonnes of waste in 2020-2021, up 3 per cent from the year before, and over 200,000 tonnes of that waste was clothing sent to landfill.
The problem isn't our love for shopping, it's our love for new. By donating items you're no longer using and shopping at Op Shops instead of reaching for the add to cart button, you can fill your home with high-quality products at a fraction of the price, reduce your footprint, and support local businesses and people all at once.
Op Shops sell high-quality second-hand items like clothing, shoes, books, kitchen utensils, tableware, and more at affordable prices.
They rely on community donations and purchases, and they're built on a sustainable, circular economy model, where repairing, reusing and recycling are the priority to keep products and the raw materials they were created with in circulation and out of landfill.
The benefits for the planet are clear: they reduce waste and maximise our natural resources. Op Shops value what has already been created, extending the life of products and materials for as long as possible.
At Green Connect, we have 55 recycling streams at our Op Shops, keeping 91 per cent of our donated clothing and products out of landfill.
They're also an accessible and increasingly popular way to shop as the cost of living continues to rise. At our Unanderra and UOW Op Shops, we stock a wide range of quality products to suit different budgets, so there's something for everyone - from students living out of home for the first time, to growing families with children on the way and seniors looking to redecorate their well-lived-in homes.
As a not-for-profit social enterprise and registered charity, all of our proceeds are invested back into the Illawarra community.
So, by purchasing from one of our Op Shops, you're not just buying something for yourself; you're directly supporting us to create employment opportunities for local people experiencing barriers to employment, including young people, refugees, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
Boiling it down, the major point of difference for Op Shops compared with a regular retail store is that they're community-driven, not consumption-driven.
They encourage you to have fun and spend a little time perusing the shelves, discovering treasures you may never have found online or in a traditional store.
At the same time, you're making your dollar go the extra mile and doing good for your community and the planet.
Op shopping is an experience with far-reaching benefits; you may not go home with something brand new, but you'll have gained and contributed so much more.
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