How about an ecological amazon for second hand goods? (an ongoing thought)

I don’t mean ebay, I don’t mean goodwill. Those are both great places with plenty of upsides and downsides. I’m interested in a place that is ecologically and socially minded in most aspects: shipping, production of goods, energy used (including servers), recycling of waste, treatment of workers.

I often want to buy something second hand, but going onto facebook marketplace, several thrift stores, ebay, etc, all is time consuming and often a bit of a gamble. Will the printer work?! Will I even find this thing? It is usually easier to just go to amazon, click buy, yes do refurbished if possible but that is a tiny fraction of what is out there.

How about a centralized place that you can search for your item, know that it has been checked and repaired if needed and then sent out to you in a hurry if you really need it, and slower if you don’t. Your shipping price is also based on the carbon footprint of your speed, you are rewarded for letting it come slower.

You also know that the people repairing and shipping your items are well compensated and treated fairly. Do I think the workers need to be located in the USA only? No, while it does make sense for this business to have most parts located here (for people ordering from here). Not everything need be. Used goods will mostly be from here, so the repair and reshipment of them should be as well, but for high demand items, it could be more affordable to have it repaired in a 2nd country where you can contribute a strong living wage to workers without too many environmental impacts. We live in a global world, we need not ignore that. We can have training programs in many local centers that teach people to refurbish and repair products (much of this knowledge already exists in other countries so our US staff could be trained here to do it too). These local centers can also refurbish and repair items that you don’t want to part with. I mean have you tried to get anything repaired in the US lately?!

Where do we get all the used goods? Anything broken you want to throw away!? Send it to us instead. Moving? We’ll come and go through the stuff you don’t want! You can either be reimbursed with funds or you can get more credit for our repaired products. If what you sent is TOO broken, we’ll recycle it. If an item is working but isn’t good for resale, we’ll try and donate it to someone in need.

This idea isn’t totally new, it borrows a lot on my experience leaving Dubai. There was a service that came to your house and took basically anything you didn’t want to ship. They’d recycle, refurbish and resale, or redistribute most of your stuff, tossing anything that couldn’t be utilized one of these ways. The repair idea is fully in place in other countries. I had my flipflops fixed on a street corner in Hanoi, it probably doubled the life of them. I was ready to throw them out that day before the repair.

Vietnamese man repairing a flip flop on the street

Street flip flop repair in Ha Noi


How can we do this in a way that is fair to all including those damaged by historical and ongoing settler colonialism? I know it isn’t as easy as opening a new big internet company, but the ecological, economic, and human rights issues are all too big to just continue ignoring (by those of us that like fast and cheap, not just by those already doing the work).

I also know that a lot of this is tied up in the right to repair and there are some efforts to do this at small scale. But let’s get to fixing things!

update: I have found a lot more used things on Amazon since we are trying to stay out of stores as much as possible including thrift stores.

pile of used cameras

Used cameras at a large open air market in Beijing

Sculptural works arranged around a gallery spaceMy version of a secondhand market, this one in the year 2178 in Beijing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *