Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sayonara Second Hand

From the bean of Green Bean.

My heart was pounding. Was that what I thought it was? I glanced to around to make sure no one was looking and then crouched down, tugging the stuffed bear over. A pair of black and grey snow boots. I gingerly turned the left one over to look at the size.


It was my son's size exactly and, at $3.99 a pair, a total economic and environmental bargain from my local second hand store.

The manufacture, use and disposal of consumer goods has had a heavy imprint on our planet. Anyone seriously considering a lighter lifestyle must, by definition, consume fewer new goods. The easy eco-answer has been buying second hand.

There's nothing more satisfying that finding exactly what you are looking for used and at a fraction of the cost. Not much can describe the thrill of a pristine item in a dirty thrift store, of a fall wardrobe for $40, of a closet-full of second hand games that will find their way back to the resale store once you've outgrown them, or of finding your child's snow boots for $3.99.

Unfortunately, that thrill will evaporate on February 10, 2009 - also known as National Bankruptcy Day.

That is the day that the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (the "CPSIA") goes into effect. The law was designed to protect consumers against the rash of recalls over lead-laced Thomas trains and Mattel toys that we experienced two winters ago. The law, though, is so poorly written that it does much more than simply "protect consumers." It requires extremely expensive independent testing for all items to be sold to children under age 12.

JessTrev wrote here last month about the laws implications for small manufacturers of toys and the handmade toy industry. Short answer: bankruptcy. The law will also prohibit the resale of toys, children's clothes, children's furniture, electronic devices and even children's books. The Smart Mama has been all over this. (Yesterday, the CPSC issued "guidance" for resale stores. UPDATED: The "guidance" is so vague that most children's resellers will still have to close their doors. Moreover, it is only a press release, not law, and does not apply to ebayers, Etsy, and the like. Please see comments).

Everything on store shelves that has not been tested by February 10 will be landfilled - as if we need more trash. All the children's clothing, toys and other items in your home cannot be donated to second hand stores and have no value whatsoever. Say goodbye to library sales. Ebaying your children's wardrobes - both buying and selling - will be a thing of the past. Homeschoolers looking to buy used curriculum books on Amazon? Not any more.

And the fine for disregarding this new law, for selling used children's items without the lead test - a felony charge with up to $100,000 and 5 years in jail.

This is a full scale green super hero alert, people.

If you have any desire to buy a child a handmade or second hand item in the foreseeable future or if you would like to see millions of items saved from the landfill, please don your cape and take action.

1) Email or call the CPSC Small Business Ombudsman - Contact information is here. Comments can be left here through January 30, 2009.

2) Contact your local representatives. For their contact information, just enter your zip code here.

3) Make your voice heard by voting on this issue! The top 3 in each category will be presented to President-elect Obama through

4) Sign the petition.

5) Spread the word! Forward this post. Send an email. Post about it on Twitter or Facebook. Write about this on your blog. Tell others about this issue and encourage them to do the same.

Obama has said that he wants a country full of involved citizens. Let's give it to him.


JAM said...

Wow. I never buy anything second hand since where I live there aren't any stores, but I donate TONS of stuff to Vietnam Vets when my kids are done with things. I wonder if rummage sales and garage sales will evolve to be more like freecycle. And I sure would have liked to be able to score kids things used, since so many things are so expensive for such a short life. Sometimes I'm wishing I had a "do-over" on my life when I think back to all the things I've bought and gotten rid of, or wished I'd never bought in the first place.

Tameson said...

Day late and a dollar short on this one...Used items are EXEMPT per your own link...

3rd paragraph.

JAM said...

I just asked my husband (residential computer consultant and fact checker about this and he sent me this, so I guess this is one thing we don't have to worry about after all: (the same link that Tameson provided but I have included the full text here).

CPSC Clarifies Requirements of New Children’s Product Safety Laws
Taking Effect in February
/Guidance Intended for Resellers of Children’s Products, Thrift and
Consignment Stores/

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In February 2009, new requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) take effect. Manufacturers, importers and retailers are expected to comply with the new Congressionally-mandated laws. Beginning February 10, 2009, children’s products cannot be sold if they contain more than 600 parts per million
(ppm) total lead. Certain children’s products manufactured on or after February 10, 2009 cannot be sold if they contain more than 0.1% of certain specific phthalates or if they fail to meet new mandatory standards for toys.

Under the new law, children’s products with more than 600 ppm total lead cannot lawfully be sold in the United States on or after February 10, 2009, even if they were manufactured before that date. The total lead limit drops to 300 ppm on August 14, 2009.

The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children’s products made after February 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban.

***Sellers of *used* children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.***

The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that *do* sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.

When the CPSIA was signed into law on August 14, 2008, it became unlawful to sell recalled products. All resellers should check the CPSC Web site (
for information on recalled products before taking into inventory or selling a product. The selling of recalled products also could carry civil and/or criminal penalties.

While CPSC expects every company to comply fully with the new laws resellers should pay special attention to certain product categories.
Among these are recalled children’s products, particularly cribs and play yards; children’s products that may contain lead, such as children’s jewelry and painted wooden or metal toys; flimsily made toys that are easily breakable into small parts; toys that lack the required age warnings; and dolls and stuffed toys that have buttons, eyes, noses or other small parts that are not securely fastened and could present a choking hazard for young children.

The agency has underway a number of rulemaking proposals intended to provide guidance on the new lead limit requirements. Please visit the CPSC website at for more information.

Kellie said...

While the CPSC did recently (just within the last two days I believe) exempt resellers, I don't think any provisions have been made for crafters, ebay and etsy sellers yet. (For example, if an Etsy seller purchases fabric that hasn't been tested, then makes a child's dress out of it.) So keep those letters coming!

Green Bean said...

Per this article, thrift stores are NOT NECESSARILY SAFE. See last two paragraphs. Resale stores are now "exempt" but are still told to avoivd selling items that might have lead in them (in the language quoted by JAM as well). As a result, many stores will likely get out of the children resale business.
This means that there is still a need to contact your representative, sign the petition, etc to preserve the second hand market.

Moreover, as Kellie notes there have been no provisions for ebayers, Etsy sellers and small manufacturers of toys or children's clothing. This is still a very damaging law, will have huge implications on the greener industries of naturals toys, small business AND resellers. Everything is in flux right now so it is important to take action.

Green Bean said...

Here's another article from yesterday indicating that resellers of children's items are still seeking clarificaton from the CSPC on this matter. This was only a press release and not a ruling. Action is still needed.

Monica said...

I was happy to see the CPSC finally acknowledge the secondhand market pertaining to this law but not satisfied with the vagueness. I think they are trying to leave it up to the businesses to use common sense when reselling children's items. However, common sense isn't going to help when they could still be heavily fined. I've received no response from my state's lawmakers nor a local consumer reporter I contacted.
Maybe it's time to poke them with a stick. :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this. families in my homeschool group are beside themselves... so many of us rely on second hand everything from clothing to school materials. many in the homeschool community face the prospect of losing their only source of income when this law goes into effect. by the letter of this law, if i make an adorable homemade blanket for my baby that's ok. if i make one to sell to my neighbor for her grandbaby and it hasn't been certified, i'm breaking the law. under this law, even books are subject to testing. so much for vintage children's books. they will now have to be sold as "not for use by children." the language of the law is ambiguous and contradictory. it's typical of the government's ability to ignore a problem and then swing so far in the opposite direction that they make a bad situation worse. my own representative's response to this was that "as a mother" she felt "bound to protect our children." how protected are they when their family's sole means of support is regulated out of existence?

Lori said...

i hope this ends up resolved in our favor, because buying used is, in my opinion, the best way to recycle!

Anonymous said...

I hope, if sellers are truly going to landfill items, that they pack them up and send them to Congress instead. Several thousand freight trucks loaded down with brand-new "trash" ought to send some kind of message.

Stacie said...

Resale is NOT PROTECTED. Read the law and opinions. They can sell without testing, yes. However, if they sell something that is over the limit on lead, they can still be fined $100,000 and serve 5 years in jail on FELONY charges PER violation. Does that sound like the freedom to resale?

JessTrev said...

Thanks for the much-needed update on the CSPIA madness. With the economy in such a sad state, we need more flexible businesses, not less. Like I said before, I'm happy to see Congress focusing on product safety and toxins -- and I want indy crafters to pay attention to this issue, too. Just don't want the whole industry crushed in the process. My 2 favorite sources of consumer products (indy crafters + 2ndhand) can't go down in one fell swoop!

Green Bean said...

Please, everyone, continue to contact your representatives and take action. Here's another post on the same topic.


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