Charity Shops Reveal Thousands Spent On Sending Damaged Donations To Landfill

"Charity shops are not an alternative to the bin."
Are your charity shop donations causing more harm than good?
SquishyDoom via Getty Images / HuffPost UK
Are your charity shop donations causing more harm than good?

British charities are being forced to shell out hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to send damaged donated items to landfill.

Homelessness charity Emmaus told HuffPost UK that in 2018, one of its local communities spent £47,000 on getting rid of items that people had donated to its charity shops, as they were not fit for purpose.

Meanwhile the British Heart Foundation (BSF), which has 732 charity shops across the UK, said fees charged by local councils to dispose of unsaleable items can cost the charity “up to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year”.

The charities urged customers to be aware that not everything can be resold.

Items that are broken or in poor condition will either be sent on to be recycled or go to landfill. However the cost to do so falls on charities – and it’s money that could otherwise be spent on “life-saving research” or to help more people.

Emmaus has 29 communities across the UK which provide a home, work and experience to people who were formerly homeless for as long as they need it.

Its 85 charity shops and 10 superstores prevented 12,924 tonnes of items going to landfill between July 2018 and June 2019, the charity says. However 810 tonnes of donated goods were sent to landfill during this time because they were not fit to be sold on.

It wants to highlight how charity shops are “often used as an alternative to landfill” and urges customers to think twice before donating certain items.

“It’s important [to] educate donors and supporters that charities are not an alternative to the bin.”

“Our communities and shops are grateful for the items that are kindly donated,” said Simon Grainge, CEO of Emmaus UK.

“Without these donations, we would be unable to sustain the communities and continue to offer a home for as long as it is needed to formerly homeless people, however, do think twice about whether the item you are donating can be resold or reused.

“If it can’t, and you donate it anyway, it means a cost to our communities and a trip to the tip, pulling away essential funds that could have gone to building more rooms to offer a home to more homeless people.”

Referring to the £47,000 spent by one community sending items to the tip, he said: “This amount is unsustainable, and it is therefore important to remember that charity shops are not an alternative to a landfill.”

The charity retail sector diverts over 327,000 tonnes of textiles away from landfill each year, while reducing carbon emissions by about 7m tonnes.

Leigh McAlea, head of communications for Traid, said charities are responsible for educating people about this: “It’s important that charities educate donors and supporters that charities are not an alternative to the bin, and it’s up to us to provide clarity about what kinds of donations we will and will not accept.”

So what should you be donating? Before you stick your unwanted goods in a binbag, ask yourself the following: Is my donation clean and functional? Can it be sold on? And would you buy the item in the condition that it is in?

If you are unsure whether a shop will take a donation, call them beforehand and ask. This is always worth doing because while some charities do accept electrical goods (if they can PAT test them), others don’t.

Most charities have a list of items they do and do not accept online.

While some charities were reluctant to say how much they spent on getting rid of items they couldn’t sell on for fear of putting people off donating, others were more willing to raise awareness.

The British Heart Foundation works with local councils to recycle or dispose of any waste from unsaleable goods, however it can prove costly.

David Roman, sustainability manager at BHF, which saves 74,000 tonnes from landfill each year by reselling items in shops and stores, told HuffPost UK: “Council charges for the disposal of unsaleable items, including furniture, can vary significantly.

“Although some councils take care of the items free of charge, in many cases we must pay a fee, which can add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

“This is money that could be spent on our life-saving research and may jeopardise the long-term future of some of our stores.”