by Meghan M.M. Trimm

There are a million ways to save the planet. Reduce waste. Recycle and buy recycled goods. Keep things out of the landfills; reuse what you can. These are all well-recognized ways individuals and industries can make a positive impact on the world we live in. Did you know there is one industry that combines all of those positives on a large scale? Auctions are the greenest local businesses you can support for this one reason—or at least they are near the top of the list.

Second Hand

Often the term ‘second hand’ gets a bad rap. It can be associated with dirtiness or unhealthy problems like second hand smoke. But in actuality, all ‘second hand’ means is that an item was previously owned by a person or entity.  In fact, the words ‘antique’ and ‘vintage’ are really just trendy ways to say something is a particularly valued and interesting second hand item.

So, while it’s true some items are unrecognizable, other second hand items might yet be unused by a consumer. This happens if, for example, the previous owner was a store. Plenty of second hand items are clean, and they look and feel like brand new.

The reason second hand items are important is that they play a significant role in saving the planet.

What happens to an item when the original owner is through with it? Too often these things become garbage. Garbage storage is a huge problem all over the world. Landfills cover huge plots of land, emit greenhouse gases, and can sometimes leach pollutants into soil and ground water. Other garbage ends up in the ocean, and also even in space. Keeping consumer products (and their packaging) such as clothing, house wears, furniture, automobiles, books, and more out of the garbage is a great way to ensure a safe and beautiful planet.

Embracing (selling, donating, and buying) second hand items from resellers such as auction houses, thrift stores, and consignment shops is a great way to do your part.

Auctions are a large and important part of the second hand market. They fulfill their role better than traditional retail. Think about it. Auctions houses collect items from estates, municipalities, abandoned storage units, my house, your house—everywhere. Then, they set a date and sell all of it to new owners. Every single thing finds a new home—and in a relatively short amount of time too.

High Volume

Auction houses that focus on estate consignment, like Beloit Auction & Realty, turn over a huge number of items to new owners every week. If we estimate that one auction house turns over 2000 items per week, that is roughly 100,000 items a year as an estimated average. That is a conservative guesstimate.

If you consider the entire $219 billion industry in the US, it is easy to conceive of hundreds of millions of items per year being saved from garbage dumps.

No Packaging or Plastic Bags

Have you ever bought a bag of candy in which every piece was individually wrapped? Then the store puts your item in a plastic bag so that you can take it home. All of that plastic has consequences. That extra packaging is the kind of bull-hockey that ends up on the side of the freeway. Even more problematic—lots of items are wrapped this way when they come brand new from the manufacturer and are taken home from the store. Plastic bags are notorious for ending up in the ocean; they kill roughly 100,000 sea turtles a year. Who doesn’t love turtles?

Auctions do not wrap items individually in plastic. In fact, most auctions houses sell things as is. That means it’s often up to the buyer to bring recycled newspaper and a reused box or bag to transport their treasures home safely. This is a plus for the Earth all around.


Another green brownie-point is that many auction houses serve their geographic area. Items are shipped tens of miles instead of thousands of miles to reach their destinations. If items in your favorite big box-store come from China, they’ve traveled about 7,000 miles. That means carbon emissions from auctions are greatly reduced when compared to retail stores who sell a comparable volume of the same types of items.

Your Dollar Vote Matters

When you decide to purchase an item—a car, a house, anything—two things happen on an economic scale. First, your money tells the business to try to sell more of the item(s) you purchased. More parts get made to put more of those items on the shelf.  Second, you deprive other businesses with similar items of that profit. After a certain amount of time with no sales, unpurchased items will stop being produced and they will be moved out of circulation. This is your dollar vote at work. Your purchase decisions directly impact the economic decisions of businesses and, ultimately, of entire industries.

Your decision to purchase items that are recycled, upcycled, or second-hand sends a message to business owners and economic decision-makers to do more of that. By supporting your local auction house, you vote for environmentally sound merchandise. And you may just get a great deal while you’re at it.

See you at the auction!