What Happens To The Junk Donated To Charity

May 15, 2014
Originally published on May 16, 2014 8:58 am

Donations of unwanted clothes keep hundreds of millions of pounds of trash out of local landfills. But, in the end, a lot of the contributions that charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army receive are basically garbage.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Peter O'Dowd of KJZZ tells us what happens to the stuff that doesn’t sell in thrift stores.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Sacha Pfeiffer. It's HERE AND NOW.

It feels good, doesn't it, to drop off unwanted clothes at a local charity instead of throwing them in the garbage. Those donations keeps hundreds of millions of pounds of trash out of local landfills. But in the end, a lot of the contributions that groups like Goodwill and the Salvation Army get basically are garbage. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, KJZZ's Peter O'Dowd tells us what happens to the stuff that doesn't sell in thrift stores.

PETER O'DOWD, BYLINE: So here we are at the St. Vincent de Paul, what is this, an as-is auction?

ED DUBIEL: This is our auction. It's done daily, 7:00 in the morning, and helps us sell off some of the items that are not sellable in the stores.

O'DOWD: And you're name?

DUBIEL: I'm Ed Dubiel, the director of retail sales.

O'DOWD: All right, so come show me what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Here you guys, five, anyone? Nobody? Five?

DUBIEL: We've got right now our auction of benders, or bin buyers as we call them. They visit every morning from all over the state, some are from Mexico, and they--like "Storage Wars" they look over all the different items here and we go from pallet to pallet.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I have 10 on this sofa. Can I get 15? Quince? Nobody? No one? Nadie? Ten going once.

O'DOWD: So this is an old pink sofa sold for $10.


O'DOWD: Sir, what are you going to do with that thing?

ROBERT WILLIAMS: Go ahead and sell it.

O'DOWD: Because there's a market for it?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I've got some people that come and they like the antiques.

O'DOWD: Yeah, and so what do you like about this thing here?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's got the wood on the bottom.

O'DOWD: Why is that nice?

WILLIAMS: Well, to show that it's old. And it's got the coil springs.

O'DOWD: Great, what's your name?


O'DOWD: Robert, what's your last name?

WILLIAMS: Williams.

O'DOWD: Williams says he can sell this sofa for $100 as is. Now St. Vincent de Paul says ten moving trucks move through this lot every day. Tons of t-shirts, appliances, old luggage and bed frames, ten percent of the load won't sell at the store or at auction. It's put in a trash compactor and hauled away to the landfill. And this operation is tiny compared to what's going on a few miles away.


O'DOWD: We're in this big, goodwill warehouse in Southwest Phoenix. What's here?

MIKE DIZZINO: Everything.

O'DOWD: 130,000 square feet of everything. Goodwill's Mike Dizzino stands near piles of shoes, piles of books, piles of I don't even know what that is. None of it sold after five weeks on the shelves at Goodwill, so it ends up here, ready for one last chance.

DIZZINO: For the most part we have a buyer that will buy just about everything. Luggage, baseball caps, pots and pans, utensils. The list goes on and on. We sell everything. Some of it's baled and some of it we sell in sacks.

O'DOWD: Now, let's look--let's take this thing for example. This is an old, plastic VHS tape, "Without Evidence." I don't even know what year that is or what that is. What could you do with this so that it doesn't end up in the landfill?

DIZZINO: Well, currently right now we are looking at a process where we're going to actually remove these five screws and we'll be able to take that film out. The local recyclers won't purchase these from us right now because of that film.

O'DOWD: You know, I know I've had these conversations with my wife before saying, oh, there's no way anyone's going to want that. Like, don't give that away.

DIZZINO: Well, the best example I have is I have a poker shirt I've been wearing for 14 years. I've never washed it. You give it to me, I'll get it sold. I guarantee you. It won't sell in the store though. I know that for a fact. But if you get it to me and we'll find a buyer.

O'DOWD: So hey, newsflash, that old pit stained shirt in your closet is worth something after all. Dizzino says 41 million pounds of junk each year is salvaged at this final stage, four cents a pound for plastic, five cents for cardboard. It adds up.

DIZZINO: You know, five, six years ago, this recycling plant wasn't even in existence.

O'DOWD: That means not so long ago, all this money was on its way to the dump.

For HERE AND NOW, I'm Peter O'Dowd in Phoenix.

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