How to shop more sustainably

by Justin Ho
Justin is an Industrial Design student and volunteers as a Sustainability Ambassador with Humber’s Office of Sustainability. He is interested in learning more about and exploring recycling and waste management topics.
You can connect with him via email.

Shopping can be fun but it is often easy to get carried away. It is common to buy things we don’t need only to keep them for a short while or never use them. We should be careful of what we buy because it takes a lot of effort and energy to make an item. From the natural resources to the transportation from the factory to your house. Overconsumption is quite damaging for the environment because the things we buy will be sent into landfill as few things are fully recycled or composted. Impulse purchases happen to all of us but there are ways to prevent them from happening. Here are some tips on shopping more responsibly!

Person online shopping with laptop on their lap and holding a credit card
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Stop shopping for fun

Much of the time I spend shopping online is not because I need to buy something but rather I want to window shop and look for things. Instead of spending time shopping for or looking at things you are never going to buy, consider picking up a new hobby. Spending a lot of time in shops, whether online or in person will eventually tempt you to buy things that you don’t need. Some great hobbies that you can replace shopping with could be reading or learning a new skill like a language or a software program. Visiting your local library is a great place to get started for free, they often have resources to learn skills such as access to online courses or workshops. They also have tons of books, movies and music. Not only will this be a better use of your time, but it will save you money too!

Many people shop for fun or use shopping as an activity to spend time with friends. It is fun to try on clothes and explore new stores but we often buy more things than we need. If this is often an issue, instead of putting your hard earned cash into things you are only going to wear once, try to put that money into an experience. Maybe go with your friends to a trampoline park, rock climbing or an arcade. There are even some experiences that are not as cost prohibitive like going skating or taking a nature walk. Experiences tend to be more memorable and are a great opportunity to try something new. If not shopping is not an option, consider shopping at a second hand store. It is fun finding hidden gems in thrift stores and there are many unique stores: from ones that calculate the prices by the weight of clothes to others that only sell designer brands. You are sure to find something interesting!

Vintage shop storefront filled with colourful items.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

Get the most out of what you buy

When shopping for an item that you know you need and will use regularly, chances are that you would prefer that the product can last a long time. A product that is in use and remains functional is a product that is not in landfill! If you don’t have use for it anymore, as long as it is still functional, you can sell the product or pass it onto someone else. Buying a product that lasts a long time not only saves you money, but it also saves you time in dealing with broken things and finding a replacement. There are several ways that you can spot a product that is likely to last a long time.

  • Try not to buy the cheapest products. Even though you could probably get several cheap products for the price of one average priced product, and just replace them as they break, buying one product with decent quality is usually ideal. This reduces the amount of waste that might be created as lower quality items break more easily. Also, buy the products that have only the features you need. The more unnecessary features, the more potential points of failure.
  • Look at the product’s warranty. Products with longer warranties tend to last longer. A warranty can be seen as an estimate of how long a manufacturer expects the product to last. Some companies don’t honour their warranties so do your research on the company to make sure that the warranty experience is simple and hassle-free. Ensure the company is reputable, regardless of the warranty. Some good companies will even offer to replace products after the warranty if there is a genuine issue.
Pile of ten phones
  • Look at how long a product is going to receive support for. Pay special attention to short-term manufacturer software support for products like low-end Android phones, smart devices, and Chromebooks. If connected devices are not receiving updates regularly, security vulnerabilities will not be patched making it risky to use your devices. Storing a lot of sensitive and/or personal information on your devices like your phone, is a strong motivator to replace the vulnerable device for a new one. If there are no official commitments from the company on how long they will support devices for, try to look online at their reputation.
  • Get products that are popular and easy to fix. Many common issues with everyday products have a simple and inexpensive fix, preventing the product from going in the dump. However, if there are no adequate parts to complete the fix, it may not be possible. I used to have a cheap tablet bought from China. When I accidentally dropped it, I wanted to fix the tablet, but I could not find the necessary parts and no repair stores could fix it. If you expect certain aspects of a device to eventually need repair, it may be worth it looking at the price of common replacement parts before buying the device. If you plan on learning how to repair it yourself, consider looking at how difficult those repairs may be. Simple plastic brackets or shapes can be replaced with 3D printed models. There are many online search engines for free 3D models and libraries often have 3D printers that people can use for free or at a low price. Humber has its own 3D printers which anyone can learn how to use. If you think you may need help learning how to repair, look for events happening around your community like mending stations or repair cafés.

Now fully equipped with knowledge of making wise purchasing decisions, not only will you be able to prevent environmental damage from impulse purchases, you will also save a bit of money!

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