Founder of Buy Me Once, Tara Button, who is also a long-time eco-activist and the writer of the best-selling book 'A Life Less Throwaway' has launched a petition to challenge retailers who destroy or throw away perfectly good stock from 2022. We caught up with her to find out just how much this is impacting the environment and what we can do to reverse the problem. 

Tara Button, founder of Buy Me Once

Tara Button, founder of Buy Me Once

I never realised (and I'm sure others don't either) just how wasteful retailers are with their old stock, so how did you find out about the fate of last season's pieces? Did you have any inside intel, or was it just from the news reports?

As a retailer ourselves, we are aware of the challenges of stock returns, but have always looked for sustainable and ethical solutions. I had also heard from my personal network, rumours of wrong-doing. There are many people working in sustainability too who jumped ship from large retailers because they are disgusted by what they are seeing there, not just in destroying perfectly good stock but in the manufacturing processes themselves. We have to give credit to the investigative journalists and whistleblowers who have shown the shocking truth of what happens behind the scenes of many of the brands we would hope would act better.

Why do retailers feel the need to destroy perfectly good items?

It will, of course, come down to money. If the people running a retail business feel that it makes more financial sense to destroy their stock and don’t have strong ethical leadership (or care enough about people or the planet), then they make these terrible, criminal decisions. It’s pure greed, and completely ignores both the environmental damage it causes and the disgusting waste in the face of so many people who are struggling and could really use donated items. The other reason is to “protect their brand”. These companies survive because they charge huge sums of money for their products - they are expensive, often not because the quality is better but because by being very expensive, it gives the wearer status. I find destruction of stock for this reason particularly abhorrent as it stems from an attitude that people with less money are somehow less valuable, less worthy of respect and beauty. It’s unforgivable.

What could retailers be doing with the old stock they insist on destroying at present?

There are so many options - ALL of them better than purposefully making stock unusable, burning it, or tipping it into landfill. Ideally a product can be resold, or discounted, if not, it can be donated or gifted to people who have need of it. If it’s broken, it should be repaired, sent to a place who can repair and resell it, or it could be used to inform better manufacturing. If it can’t be fixed, can the materials be salvaged to make new products rather than wasted? If you’re making something that not even the charity shops want you to donate, which is the case with some fast fashion, then I think it’s time to look at the trash you’re bringing into the world.

What impact does this mass throwaway culture have on our planet?

At the moment the equivalent of a rubbish truck load of clothes gets dumped in landfill every day. People are buying a wheelie case full of clothes each year, and within 12 months, half won’t be worn again. Planned obsolescence in technology and appliances means that people have been trained to replace things rather than fix them. Appliances now break at double the rate that they did in 2004. Every time a product fails and needs to be replaced, that means more of the earth dug up, more oil pumped, more air miles, more plastic waste, more pollution in the air. Most people haven’t made this connection between how long products last and how much damage we’re doing to our planet, but it’s huge. If you can get a t-shirt to last just 9 months longer you save 20-30 on pollution, water waste and CO2. Imagine if we could get everything lasting DECADES longer!

MORE: Review: A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button

How can we help to fix the problem?

Buy Once and buy well. This is the simple change that sits behind everything we do at Buy Me Once where we find the longest lasting items. First though it’s important to get off the trend treadmill where you’re constantly being nudged to buy something new. A key part of this is getting to know yourself and your true long-term tastes, the things that haven’t changed over time. The colours, textures, shapes and styles that you could see yourself still enjoying in years to come. 

For those who want to make small changes at home first - which brands do you feel are worthy of consumer's money?

Look for brands who are openly trying to do things differently, B-Corp brands have to go through checks too. If you’re short on time, download The Beagle Button, it’s a free clever shopping tool which sniffs out the most sustainable brands. You just shop as normal and if there’s a more sustainable product, it will appear on screen.

Please tell us about your journey to becoming the founder of Buy Me Once- what kick started your passion for investing in long lasting pieces in your own home?

I was a rather miserable advertising copywriter, working on chocolate brands - essentially my job was to persuade parents that it was okay to give their kids more sugar… I hated that my impact on the world was so negative. Then, on my 30th birthday, my sister gave me a Le Creuset casserole pot - it’s a beautiful, lifetime guaranteed piece of cookware and when I started using it, I got this huge realisation. EVERYTHING ELSE I OWN IS CRAP. Up until then, I had always been a terrible impulse shopper and had filled my home with stuff that “would do for now”. I went looking for a place where I could find other products like this pot - things that I could pass down to my grandchildren, and that they might actually want! I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a website that focussed on finding these long lasting products - it felt like a no brainer! Over the next few years I started to research into these products and the more I found out, the more passionate I became. I realised that if people bought for the long term - e.g. buying one durable frying pan instead of 5 shoddy ones over the years, the environmental benefits would be huge. This really lit a fire under me, I went part time at work so that I could concentrate on building the website “Buy Me Once” which was starting to form in my mind. From the very beginning the mission was clear - we need to change the way the world shops and throw away our throwaway culture. I had about 100 products on my blog-site when a journalist found me on Twitter, wrote about me in the Telegraph and the article went viral around the world. It was crazy, hundreds of thousands flocked to the site, my inbox filled with too many emails to open, let alone answer, some were asking me to go on TV, some were offering me book deals, some were telling me that my idea was a no brainer! I quit my job the next day. Since then the company has grown from me in my garden shed, to a team of 13, researching and selling hundreds of products and campaigning for change.

After six years of campaigning to make the world a less wasteful place- what positive changes have you noticed in this time?

The world has really started to wake up to this issue. Fast Fashion has come under more and more pressure to change its ways and new laws have been brought in about appliance longevity. I’m particularly proud when I hear that Buy Me Once has influenced brands to design longer lasting items or helped people to change their shopping habits. This is how we can make the most impact. There’s also been some amazing product innovation - for example our new virtually indestructible tights by Sheertex have launched on the site this month. I have been wearing them every day for a month to test them (lots of handwashing) and I’m blown away. They are as tough as trousers… but they’re tights!

Please tell us a little bit about your book A Life Less Throwaway, which reinforces your work over the last few years.

Marie Kondo taught the world how to declutter. I was more interested in how we ended up with so much crap in the first place, and how we could make sure it never came back. The book is a step by step guide on how to be more mindful about the products you bring into your life and why it’s important for your home, mental health and the environment to buy for the long term. It sets out to solve clutter, waste and help people get off the trend treadmill where they constantly feel like they need one more thing to be happy or attractive. It also teaches how to judge the quality of an item and how to take care of it once you’ve brought it into your life.

What is next for you?

My focus is to continue to spread the Buy Me Once message that the most environmentally friendly thing you can do is to buy once and buy well. It also doesn’t hurt that it saves you money and time! I’ll be putting more pressure on companies, brands and governments to move away from throwaway practices. There are a couple of projects that I’m really excited about. The first is our plan for Buy Me Once to start making its own products. We’re scoping what that might be right now so watch this space! The second is my new free online shopping tool The Beagle Button which allows people to shop online as normal but will automatically pop up with a more sustainable, ethical or long lasting alternative if there’s one available.

MORE: Tara Button discusses BuyMeOnce and her accompanying book A Life Less Throwaway

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