NIRN Perspectives: Buy Nothing New Month

A note from our Executive Director, Eimear Montague.

We often associate January with new beginnings, and certainly the concept of ‘newness’ took on a deeper meaning in Northern Ireland this New Year.

In January, the UK campaign ‘Buy Nothing New’ was introduced in Northern Ireland for the first time, spearheaded by environmental charity and NIRN supporter member, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. The Buy Nothing New campaign is a national awareness campaign encouraging citizens to resist the urge to buy new items throughout January, and instead to celebrate the items they already own. The introduction of the campaign sparked a lot of conversation and media interest. 

Genuine concerns from Northern Irish retailers towards Buy Nothing New Month were raised and should not be dismissed. Instead, we should lean into legitimate fears expressed by some stakeholders, using this as an opportunity to open a conversation about how we can drive forward action for a circular economy in a socially and economically inclusive way. There are many learnings to draw, not least the importance of communication and how we position environmentally positive messaging in a way that empowers rather than disenfranchises. 

Going forward, the campaign could promote alternatives to buying nothing new, such as embracing reuse and repair, to bolster public support. There is no doubt that consumer patterns are shifting and that retailers will have to review their business models, and there are many positive examples that can illustrate a path forward. Big retailers like Selfridges are leading the way here, with the UK department store wanting 50% of transactions to be reuse, repair, resale or rental by 2030. Patagonia also promote repair over buying new, offering customers a repair service free of charge in their stores for broken items. 

January may have come to an end, but we hope the spirit of borrowing, lending, mending, renting and sharing can continue well beyond Buy Nothing New Month. And where the campaign has raised the profile of our consumption habits, as part of the Network, all of us should continue this conversation into 2024 by offering new and imaginative models for ethical production and consumption that don’t cost the earth.