A row of used clothes on sale.

Your guide to buying second-hand

Give items a second life and save money by buying second-hand.

6 min read

There are plenty of great reasons to buy goods second-hand. For starters, it extends the life of items that might have otherwise wound up in landfills. It also means that fewer new goods have to be produced—always a plus from an ecological standpoint. But the environment isn’t the only winner when people shop second-hand—consumers also benefit by saving money. In fact, second-hand goods are often a fraction of the price of their brand new counterparts.

The trend is catching on in Italy. The Second Hand Economy Observatory collected data in March 2021 as part of a study which BVA Doxa conducted for Subito. They found that in 2020 more than 23 million Italians sold or bought second-hand items—with a cumulative value of around 23 billion euros. The research paper Second Hand Effect 2020, produced by the Swedish Institute of Environmental Research (IVL) for Subito, calculated that in 2020, second-hand purchases generated environmental savings of approximately 5.4 million tons of CO2. 

That’s all great news—but what do you need to know if you want to try your hand at entering the second-hand market in Italy? We’ve rounded up some tips and pointers for you to keep in mind. Ready? Let’s go!

Vintage, used, and second-hand—a growing trend

The word “vintage” comes from an old French term “vendenge”—meaning "harvest." It was originally used in the context of wines—vintage, therefore, valuable. By extension, it’s now used to describe refined, exclusive objects of at least 15–20 years of age, especially in the field of fashion. The terms "used" or "second-hand" simply refer to any item that’s not new, and is therefore sold at a reduced price. Used or second-hand items aren’t necessarily sought after or exclusive, so the prices between these and vintage items can differ greatly. 

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) and Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010) are leading the trend of second-hand shopping online. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options to pick out used goods in person. Shops such as Humana Vintage and others are great places to buy books and second-hand items like clothes and home furnishings. 

For previous generations, second-hand shopping often came with a certain stigma—especially that the goods might be “dirty” or otherwise inferior. For that reason, shopping second-hand wasn’t so popular. But today, things have changed. This new generation’s concern for the environment, coupled with the fact that they tend to earn less than previous generations, has turned second-hand shopping into a widely accepted practice.

Help the environment by shopping second-hand

Plenty of shoppers that choose second-hand items recognize that the quality of manufacturing, especially when it comes to clothes, has diminished somewhat in recent years. For that reason, a vintage blouse made during the ‘80s that has stayed in decent condition until today might very well outlast a comparable top from a modern fast-fashion retailer.

According to estimates, the amount of clothing purchased has increased by 50% in the last 15 years. The fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of global pollution (making it the second-largest cause of pollution, globally). It emits more CO2 than the aviation and shipping industries combined, and causes irreparable damage to the environment every year. In fact, here’s a breakdown of the resources used every year to keep up with the demand for new clothes: 

  • About 1,500 liters of water consumed
  • Industrial water pollution is produced—around 20% of the global total
  • About 200 thousand tons of microplastics are produced per year when we wash synthetic garments. These microplastics then pollute our water supply.
  • Almost 70% of the garments produced ends up in landfills or incinerators, causing around 92 million tons of textile waste.

Given this, shopping second-hand is a great way to save money while avoiding the fast-fashion industry and other mass-manufactured items. While limited purchasing power often causes people to opt for lower prices, as well as cheaply made garments or goods, the same amount of money can often be stretched just as far when you opt for pre-used items. 

The second-hand car market

Clothing and small goods aren’t the only areas where you can shop second-hand. Producing new cars requires the procurement, transfer, and processing of raw materials, as well as the transport of the vehicle around the world. As far as combustion engines are concerned, a new car will probably produce fewer CO2 emissions and consume less fuel than an old one, but it’s important to consider the impact that the purchase of a new vehicle will have on demolition and disposal operations compared to the purchase of a car that’s already in circulation and still has a long life of usability ahead of it.

In the case of an electric car, production will have a much heavier impact on the environment than that of a combustion car because the batteries require special materials such as cobalt and lithium. These minerals are mostly mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chile, areas with reported human rights abuses and child labor exploitation. The extraction of lithium, in particular, requires enormous amounts of energy. In Chile in particular, this has caused the pollution of the underground aquifers in the Salar de Atacama area—a saline lake in the north of the country—forcing shepherds to abandon these lands.

In most cases, a new car depreciates in value very quickly. In fact, depreciation already stabilizes at 25% after one year from its registration, reaching 63% after four years and 71% after five years, up to approximately €3,000 per year. Buying a used car is therefore a great environmental choice, and an excellent way to acquire a quality vehicle at an affordable price. Wondering where to find the right car for you? Try websites like Quattroruote or Automobile, which publish ads for second-hand cars all over Italy.

Environmental tip—can you live without four wheels? Why not buy a second-hand bike instead! Websites like Tuvalum offer a wide variety of used bike options, some still under guarantee. Biking is a great way to cut back on expenses, since you won’t need to worry about the costs of fuel or expensive car repairs.

Save on your expenses with N26

Buying second-hand is a great way to help the environment while saving yourself from overspending—a cause N26 cares about a lot. Our bank accounts are packed with features that make saving money simpler. For instance, a premium account gives you access to up to 10 Spaces, sub-accounts that sit right alongside your main account. Assign each space a unique name and savings goal, then create a Rule to start setting money aside automatically. Turn on Round-Ups to round up every card purchase to the nearest euro, and transfer the difference to your chosen space. Compare all our bank accounts and find the perfect plan for you today.

By N26

The Mobile Bank

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