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February 13, 2007

Shopping Greener, Buying Used and Refurbished

Categories Energy Shopping 

So this entry isn’t really a “They should do that” as it is a “You should do that.” Like most people, I love getting new stuff. But it’s crossed my mind a few too many times that buying stuff has an environmental cost. After all, everything has to be manufactured, consuming raw materials and energy, and then shipped, consuming more energy. However, there’s a simple way to make shopping a little greener that also saves you money: buy used or refurbished. In particular buying used or refurbished electronics, books, CDs, and DVDs, is a great option. Apple and Dell sell refurbished products directly to customers. And buying used stuff on Amazon couldn’t be easier. Read on for tips about buying refurbished stuff.

When it comes to electronics and other pricey stuff, only buy refurbished direct from the manufacturer. In many cases, refurbished products have same warranty as new products when purchased directly from the manufacturer, but it pays to double check.


Buying refurbished from Dell is really easy. Just go to Dell.com/outlet and shop away. It helps to know what you're looking for before you shop so you can use the regular store to configure your system and then find a refurbished PC with the same specs. The other great thing about buying a refurbished computer from Dell is that it ships really fast because it's already built, no waiting for parts and no waiting for assembly. Also, if you don't need the "latest and greatest" hardware, which most people don't, refurbished computers are a great way to find previous generation stuff at dirt cheap prices. One piece of advice though, refurbished Dells move fast, so when you see that perfect computer come up be ready to buy it. Refurbished Dell stuff offers the same warranty as the new stuff and even the same extended warranty options.

Refurbished Apple Products


Apple also sells refurbished products direct to customers. Just go to http://store.apple.com (or go to apple.com and click store) then click the red save tag on the lower right of the screen. Again the inventory turns over really fast so be ready to buy. It's not uncommon to see 30GB iPods for $179 (normally $249) or MacBooks starting at $799. Like Dell, Apple offers the same warranty on refurbished stuff that they offer on new stuff.

Amazon.com Marketplace

So you know that link on many Amazon product pages that looks like this.
Click on it! It will take you to a listing the same product available used, refurbished and even new sold by individuals or small retailers. Often times it's just regular people unloading extra stuff. It's important to mind the condition rating (Like New, Acceptable, etc) and the seller's rating. Buying is really easy, just like buying direct from Amazon. There are a couple caveats though. If you need something fast, you might not want to buy it this way. I think the most common complaint among buyers is that the seller ends up being sold out of something and doesn't notify the buyer right away.

Other Manufacturers that Sell Refurbished Direct

  • Philips - LCD TVs, electronics
  • Iomega - External hard drive, computer storage products
  • Lacie - External hard drives, DVD burnerst, computer accessories
  • Sony – choose “Outlet Online” from any of the drop down menus
  • Know any more? Leave a comment.


I really love buying used goods, and even yesterday bought a used book on the internet for startlingly cheap. However, if we're talking about greening-up our purchasing, don't you think that ordering stuff by mail (ie accompanied by lots of packing materials) is the wrong solution?

Abe that's such a great point! Probably the greenest option is buying locally person-to-person. Which basically leaves mail order and stores fighting for second place. However, stores are not without the environmental impact. Stores consume energy (lights, heating/cooling, equipment, etc) and materials (building/renovation, in-store displays, etc), and obviously the bigger the store the greater the impact. Between mail order and small stores, there's probably no simple answer. However, I would point out that lots of packaging materials (envelops, cardboard) are made from recycled materials, and stuff like bubble wrap, and big plastic packets (like Amazon uses) really don't use that much material. Also, I tend to re-use most of the packaging materials I receive.

I'd say if you do have access to stores that sell used book, music and movies definitely shop there. But, for electronics, and just about anything, over $100 I'd still recommend refurbished direct from the manufacturer because you usually get some kind of warranty.

But there's a third option for stuff like books, music and movies that I forgot to mention: digital downloads. Most of the music I buy these days comes from eMusic; there's no shipping, no packaging, and no materials. I'd love to be able to buy movies and books this way, but unfortunately the technology isn't quite there yet (for me at least).

Thanks for the reminder...I'll look for refurbished when I buy a new tv next year.

By the way, I'm still loving my Dell Outlet laptop!

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