Goodwill barely needs an introduction. A non-profit which provides community-based programs and facilities like job training and placement service, Goodwill is primarily known for its being funded by numerous retail thrift stores. A place where anyone can buy apparel and accessories at cheap prices, Goodwill thrift stores are just one of the ways which aid in making the lives of the community better.
But what happens to all the stuff at retail thrift stores that does not sell? As per Goodwill’s official website, the stuff that does not sell is put into what they call their ‘salvage stream’. These salvage streams sell the unsold stuff to textile factories or other recycling services. The money collected by selling to these vendors provides Goodwill with hundreds of millions of dollars. They then mention that this money would be used to help people to find employment opportunities.
The Goodwill Donation Cycle
Goodwill accepts donations in the form of clothes, books, accessories, toys, furniture, home decorations and small household appliances. The only condition is that these donations should be in good condition as they need to be appealing enough for them to be resold. These donations are then sorted through by Goodwill Retail Stores Workers.
The Goodwill Retail Stores Workers work so that the items that hit the shelves in thrift stores are usable, in good condition and non-toxic. Once the stuff hits the shelves, it has four weeks in which it is either sold or left behind. The stuff that does not sell is then taken off the shelves.
Goodwill explicitly has a policy of accepting only donations and not trash that cannot be recycled and sold. Goodwill does not pay anyone for their donations and sometimes that is the reason why people give away their worn and unusable clothes to Goodwill thinking they are helping the community. Since this stuff is unsellable, it has to be done away within a different way.
Textile Recyclers to the Rescue
The clothes that are not sold at the thrift stores are collected and sold in bulk to textile recyclers. As per Goodwill’s website, about 2.5 billion pounds is saved from landing up in landfills by textile recyclers. While this is a good initiative as most of the clothing is recycled and used again rather than being wasted and tossed into the trash, the clothing left becomes a problem for Goodwill.
Since a large proportion of used clothing does land up in landfills, it becomes both an environmental concern and expensive disposal for Goodwill as they have to pay a greater amount of trash bill. If Goodwill chooses the option of disposal, the trash bill amounts to over $1 million per year. And this figure only concerns the statistics of two states. This figure is steadily increasing with increasing trash and would be significantly higher if taken for the entire country.
Reselling them to other Countries
Another option can be to send the unsold clothing abroad. Abroad here means third-world countries where there is greater demand for these clothes. This is primarily seen as charity but looking closely, one can deduce that if this used clothing creates a market in these countries, it eventually damages the country’s economy. It would also adversely impact the textile industry and business of the native country.
As per the report of BBC, U. S. is the leading exporter of second-hand garments worldwide. While a great proportion of these ends up in Canada, it is the third-world countries that receive over $300 million worth of unwanted clothing to fill their markets. These countries include Chile, Tanzania, India, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Honduras, and Guatemala. The problem gets out of local charities’ hands and ends up affecting the businesses of these countries.
These clothing items can formulate a niche market of their own and provide tough competition to local business owners. The textile industry and the businesses who are already barely scraping by are seriously jeopardized by this trade. This one act of sending over the clothing overseas turns the practice from charity to a business. Many experts advise caution when it comes to choosing a non-profit organization to donate to. Among the list of countries who receive this second-hand clothing, the economy of sub-saharan Africa is most adversely affected.
Landfills as the Last Resort
Goodwill tries hard to sell the stuff they get. After the stuff is removed from the shelves of thrift stores, Goodwill takes these items to auctions. In these Goodwill auctions, bins filled with unsold stuff are bid upon by individuals. The bids are not too high and one can get a bin of clothes for about $35 which is a great deal. The only catch? The bidders have no idea what is inside the bins.
In case something still is not sold in these auctions and is not picked by textile recyclers, only one option remains. They end up in landfills. But this is not the only way landfills fill up with unusable clothes. There are chances that even textile recyclers find clothing that is riddled with mildew or otherwise contaminated. These clothing items then join other trash in landfills. These items then contribute to environmental deterioration and add to the problem of landfills being overfilled.
While Goodwill tries its best to give a second life your donations, there is only so much that can be done. After sorting through piles and piles of donations, there is already a huge part of donations that is nothing but trash. To that pile is added stuff that is not sold at auctions or to textile industries. This amounts to a colossal amount of trash that needs to be dealt with whenever new donations come in.
The stuff Goodwill does not sell therefore, ends up either getting recycled or in a bin which is bid upon in a Goodwill auction. But in some unfortunate cases, given the quality of the material, the stuff that doesn’t sell or that the textile recyclers reject, ends up in landfill. It becomes an environmental hazard and amounts to a large bill for Goodwill.