The Reuse Revolution

Trends / Sustainability
Michael Blann
Reya Sehgal
Dec 17, 2021
“Reduce, reuse, recycle” was the catchy eco‑mantra many of us learned growing up. Reduce your consumption, reuse objects instead of buying new things, and recycle what you want to get rid of. While the advertising industry has long been a proponent of increasing rather than reducing consumption, helping products fly off the shelves and companies meet their ever‑more‑competitive bottom lines, calls to mitigate the human effects of climate change are necessitating a new reality for shoppers around the country. How can we tackle our global waste problem with our consumption choices? One increasingly popular way is simply to reuse and recirculate the objects that are built to last.

With the growth of online reseller platforms like Depop and ThredUp, younger Americans—90% of Depop’s user base is under the age of 26, and Millennials are the group most likely to say they primarily buy used goods—are turning their attention to the secondhand economy.1 Between the "Marie Kondo Effect" encouraging people to donate or recirculate the wares that no longer serve them, the ease of online entrepreneurialism in the reseller market, and the importance of value to people of all demographics, used goods offer a sustainable model for conscious consumers.2  ThredUp reports that the sharing economy is second‑nature to Gen Z: they are more likely than Baby Boomers to believe that ownership is temporary, and accordingly are 165% more likely than Boomers to consider the resale value of clothing before making a purchase.3  And good economic sense is not the only driver of this behavior. 80% of Americans believe that donating or giving away clothing is a sustainable practice, and 59% say that reselling their goods is sustainable.4  
Textile waste is a huge environmental problem, not only in the United States but all over the world; 85% of textiles are thrown away in the United States—many of these being shipped overseas for other countries to deal with—and less than 15% of all clothes and shoes that are thrown away are recycled.Buying secondhand instead of new reduces one’s carbon footprint by 82%, and used clothes require less than 2% the amount of water than the amount required for creating a new clothing item.6  For this reason, the fashion industry has been moving more towards circularity and the resale economy, with big brands like Levi’s launching secondhand initiatives, and others committing to using recycled materials in their new goods.7

VisualGPS data confirms these trends toward reuse. More than a third of Americans reuse, repair, or purchase items second‑hand instead of buying new. The scales have really tipped for younger people over the course of the year—Gen Z and Millennials are 66% more likely to reuse and purchase second‑hand today than they were at the beginning of 2021, showing the speed at which behavioral change can impact the retail sphere. And while Getty Images customers also have a growing interest in the thrift and second‑hand economy, searches related to reuse, clothing donations, thrift stores, and the circular economy are not rising to meet consumer demand. Less than 2% of visuals related to consumerism and retail are focused on forms of ethical consumption, and just 1% highlight sustainable fashion through buying second‑hand items, reselling clothes online, or upcycling existing goods into exciting new objects.
Reuse exists beyond the world of fashion, too, from antique stores to yard sales to refurbished tech to used bookstores. The used car market, for example, saw a boom in demand over the course of the pandemic, and because of supply shortages prices have jumped by 24%.8 Brands like eBay and Mattel encourage people to resell their objects and recycle their toys.9 Vinyl records, which have also skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, are 1.5 times more likely to be sold second‑hand than new.10 Importantly, the secondhand market is available to people at a wide range of price points, offering financially and environmentally sustainable options for people of all income levels.

Including visuals of the second‑hand economy can speak to both big brands and conscious consumers, tackling the challenges of textile waste in everyday ways, and promoting choices that are kinder to the planet.
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