Nonprofit thrift stores and charitable organizations are lowering their standards for accepting donations in order to raise more money.
The Star Tribune reports that charities such as Goodwill are taking more damaged clothing, books, appliances, furniture, and other donations than ever before as the less-than-stellar economy drives down consumption. Rising homelessness and poverty are also contributing factors. The city of Philadelphia alone, for example, currently has 440,000 or so residents who fall below the federal poverty line.
Troy Isaacs, the director of donations at Goodwill Easter Seals of Minnesota, believes that his organization and others are taking unusable items they would have previously discarded or rejected outright. Up to 20% of charitable donations these organizations receive cannot be sold commercially. That fifth can be turned into cash that can go toward charitable work, the logic goes.
Charities are focusing on the little things in an attempt to squeeze every possible penny out of severely damaged goods. Goodwill, for example, now pairs its unsold shoes after having mixed them all together hitherto, getting 15% more in the process. Cardboard boxes can be sold for three cents a pound to paper companies. Unusable furniture can be sold to electricity companies for use as fuel. Even broken appliances such as a coffee maker or an alarm clock can be stripped apart for gold and other valuable metals embedded in their circuit boards.
“If it doesn’t sell on the retail floor, we sell it to the ‘de-manufacturer’ to chip it,” said Tom Canfield, an employee of the Salvation Army in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In addition to selling broken products to manufacturers, charities are also selling them to individuals for “do-it-youself” (DIY) projects.
“Crafters find thrifty supplies and shoppers realize that they can often buy used items for DIY projects,” said Laurel Hansen, the director of the Arc Value Village stores in Minneapolis. Hansen will launch special sections in their stores called “DIY Community” for such a purpose.
Clothing, typically the most popular kind of item in thrift stores, can be used to make rags, insulation, carpet padding, and more. Clothing also happens to be one of the most heavily discarded reusable materials in the country. Nearly 85% of recyclable textiles end up in landfills — much of which does not get retrieved for recycling.