A new report – The Second Hand Effect – attempts to estimate the environmental advantage of the second hand market. In 2016, the Swedish digital marketplace Blocket alone contributed to carbon savings equivalent to Stockholm’s transport emissions for one  year.

Second hand markets save millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, says Lena K Samuelsson, Schibsted Media Group. Photo: Schibsted.

In spring 2017, Schibsted Media Group released their second annual international report on the environmental advantage of second hand marketplaces. By buying used items instead of new ones, the users on Schibsted’s marketplaces contributed to 16.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions in 2016.

”We call the report The Second Hand Effect and we want it to tell the story of the great environmental effect arising from the combined efforts of our users. They are all environmental heroes, and we have now calculated how much difference their actions actually make”, says Lena K Samuelsson, EVP Communications and CSR, Schibsted Media Group.

60 million unique visitors per month

This year’s The Second Hand Effect contains data from eight of Schibsted’s 30 international marketplaces: Vibbo in Spain, Leboncoin in France, Subito in Italy, ófogás in Hungary, Blocket in Sweden, Finn in Norway, Tori in Finland and Avito in Morocco.

”Every day, millions of people come together to buy and sell items and services on our digital marketplaces. Altogether, these marketplaces engage more than 60 million unique visitors each month. Thanks to a unique method of calculation we have been able to convert the environmental benefit from our users’ trade and reuse into numbers. We call the result potential savings.

The Second Hand Effect is now launched as a campaign across social media and our own channels, with a globally accessible website. Throughout 2017, the participating marketplaces will run their own campaigns to raise environmental awareness and promote reuse”.

How much is 16.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide?

An ordinary sofa contains wood, steel, plastic, textile and other materials. The IVL assessment considers the climate impact of different materials in a life cycle perspective. Photo: Schibsted.

”Imagine all traffic in Paris standing still for almost six years. That would save 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). That is equivalent to the emissions from manufacturing 66 million sofas”, Lena K Samuelsson says.

”According to our calculations, Blocket’s users contributed to 0.8 million tonnes of potential CO2e savings in 2016. That is the equivalent of all traffic in Stockholm standing still for one year, or 923 019 flights back and forth between Stockholm and New York. The users in France made the largest impact: the Leboncoin marketplace has 22 million unique visitors each month and their potential emission savings amounted to 7.5 million tonnes of CO2e. This is equivalent to the aggregated carbon footprint of 917 528 French citizens”.

”The most significant environmental advantage comes from reuse of products such as jeans, mobile phones, bicycles and leather sofas. Trade of domestic appliances can save a lot of emissions as well, as long as one avoids items that are more than ten years old; older items are often less efficient in terms of energy and water consumption, and sometimes contain harmful chemicals”, Lena K Samuelsson says.

Unique estimation method

To calculate the climate savings, Schibsted collaborated with IVL The Swedish Environmental Research Institute. The calculations are built on a best case scenario based on the question: ”How much pollution can potentially be saved annually through second-hand trade, if each used product replaces the production of a new one?” In practice, whenever someone decides to buy a used sofa instead of a new one, the old one is not wasted and there is no need to make a new one.

The method behind the calculation is based on these assumptions:

  • Each sold used product replaces the production of a new, equivalent one, so the emissions from manufacturing the new product are avoided.
  • The used product is not discarded, and the emissions from waste management of the old product is avoided.

The product categories that were included in the calculations were those that had substantial volume in terms of marketplace listings, put up by individuals, that ended with a sale. Furthermore, the categories had to contain products reasonably similar to each other, to produce material and emission data representative of the category. Product categories such as pets, services, event tickets and travel and accommodation were excluded. Altogether, the calculation was based upon approximately half of the trade taking place on the eight marketplaces.

For every product type, emission data for material extraction, material production, and waste management was developed through a life cycle assessment. An average product in category ”Sofas & Chairs”, for example, consists of 30 percent wood, 11 percent steel, 18 percent polypropylene, 20 percent polyurethane, 10 percent polyester, 7 percent cotton, 3 percent leather, 1 percent wool. Average material partitions for the other categories were calculated in the same way. The impact of the transportation of goods between seller and buyer was also added to the calculation, as well as climate impact from the operation of marketplace data centers and offices.

A number of simplified assumptions are built into the calculation, such as the estimation of what materials there are in a certain product. It’s difficult to be certain that the reuse of an old product leads to environmental advantage; old refrigerators and freezers, for instance, often contain dangerous substances and consume more energy than new ones. Nevertheless, according to IVL, the method provides a reasonable estimate of the potential climate benefit of second hand trading and reuse.

The article was published in May 2017.