Holiday gift-giving is one of my favorite things, but it has its costs for both people and the planet.
Wouldn’t it be great if family and friends would be happy with a gift of trees planted in their honor? Like many of you, however, I fear my family and friends would be disappointed without anything to open on Xmas day, so I try to find gifts they will love. But inevitably some well-intentioned gifts still miss their mark and are just not quite right.
Luckily, consumers, in general, are making a shift away from the overconsumption of the past. BBC News reports that after-Christmas sales have been slower this year as consumers cite the environmental impact of shopping,
environmental concerns were also expected to drive down buying, with shoppers also predicted to spend £200 million less in post-Christmas sales this year compared to last year.
It’s true that there’s a trend worldwide to a more frugal approach to cut down on spending and buy only things you need, or high-quality products that can be used and reused for a long time.
If you are living in or visiting Japan, I hope this article can give you some ideas for what to do with items you no longer want.
The Kamikatsu Model
There are good solutions in Japan and the first place to seek out sustainable living solutions is Tokushima’s small zero-waste town of Kamikatsu. The town of 1500 people is now successfully at 80% diversion from landfill and incinerators- boasting the most efficient rates in the country. Not only do they recycle waste into 45 categories, but they also reuse many items in two KURUKURU (circular economy) ways. The first is a Kuru-Kuru Freecycle shop where residents can freely exchange items. The second is a Kuru-Kuru upcycle shop where they employ local people to Upcycle quality materials into new products in a Kuru-Kuru workshop filled with sewing machines and looms.
Pass it on
There are a lot of great thrift stores to enjoy shopping at in Japan- such as featured on this video by TokyoCheapo, but when you have things you want to pass on or sell, there are a few chains worth seeking out.
The Book-off chain is a popular reuse shop in Japan that will take a variety of electronics, bags, clothing and yes Books too that are in good condition. They will give a small amount of money for donations, but like many second-hand shops in Japan, this chain is notorious for being picky and not taking many items, or offering to take the items for nothing at all. So, it’s best not to expect much even if it’s a high-quality item. If you want a decent payout, it’s better to try selling it on yahoo auctions, at a flea market or at one of the other options below.
For most Japan residents, an easy solution is to seek out the 2nd Street network of secondhand shops which “buy” clothes from anyone who has a resident ID. The larger shops in the 2nd Street chain take almost all clothing (no PJ’s, swimsuits or underwear even if brand new) and will give you a few hundred yen (a few dollars) for your effort.
The 2nd Street chain has more than 600 shops across Japan and some of them will even buy-and-sell outdoor gear as well as standard clothing, shoes, and bags.
I previously wrote about international chain store H&M was a good option as it would take any brand clothing and will give you a 500 yen coupon when you do as an incentive. The Swedish clothing giant, however, has come under fire for not only destroying donated clothing but also destroying usable, new clothing that doesn’t sell. Some positive PR claimed that H&M was able to decrease coal burnt by burning clothes, however, the amount of environmental damage – especially water use- in clothing manufacturing for them to end up in a fire, especially if still usable, is a serious environmental concern. The video below from the Patriot Act is worth watching for anyone interested in the Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion:
Other options are passing it on at one of Japan’s many Flea Markets, or sharing items with your community at a Seeking Sustainability event type Freecycle exchange, selling or donating items via local websites that have Classifieds such as GetHiroshima, Reselling items on Yahoo Auction, Rakuten or Etsy which has a successful Vintage section for high-quality items.
If you have good quality items that are in need of repair, you can find good repair shops in shopping malls and city centers across Japan. I was pleased to recently discover this Shoe Hospital which does high-quality repairs in Hiroshima.
Overall, there are many environmental and societal benefits to buying less and making the products you have last longer. If you have usable items you don’t want anymore, the best option is to pass it on for reuse or to be upcycled and repurposed into a new product.
The key to sustainable living seems to be hidden in our past, going back to the ways of our grandparents who practiced buying only necessary items that would last and fixing them for longer use.