WASHINGTON, Pa. — Old tires. Dirty mattresses. Broken televisions.
Those are some of the unwanted items people have dumped at local nonprofit thrift stores.
The problem: Thrift stores, which raise money to help people in need by selling donated items, end up spending time and money to dispose of the unusable junk.
“It happens all the time,” said Janet Ammons, manager of Goodwill in Washington. “We have generous people who donate very nice items with price tags still on, and then there are other people who leave garbage. Literally.”
In addition to garbage bags filled with rotten food, people have dropped off half-burned candles, worn underwear, hazardous chemicals and broken glass.
“It’s definitely an issue, and at certain stores it’s a bigger issue than at other stores,” said Andrew Marano, vice president of donated goods for Goodwill. “We’ll get used mattresses dumped after hours, or hazardous chemicals, and people understand we can’t get any value for them, but it’s easier for them to drop it off at the Goodwill and leave it to us to dispose of because we have to comply with environmental regulations.”
Goodwill’s rule of thumb is, “Donate to the Goodwill what you would give to a friend.”
Other thrift stores offer similar advice.
“Our mantra is, ‘If you wouldn’t give it to a friend, don’t give it to us,'” said Rachel Willson, manager of Country Thrift, a thrift shop in Centerville operated by the Greater Washington County Food Bank.
Willson said the thrift store usually receives gently used items.
It is the after-hours drop-offs that have become a problem.
“Nighttime is the worst. It’s usually when people are dropping off items they’re trying to get rid of,” said Ammons. “They’ll drop off broken furniture and couches that are torn up and stained. We then have to pay a fee to get rid of them.”
Goodwill Industries operates two stores that sell items by the pound, so unwanted goods are transported there.
Unusable items have to be taken to landfills or recycling centers, said Marano.
The more money thrift stores spend hauling off unwanted trash, the less money they can spend helping people.
Sister Audrey Quinn, director of the Salvation Army Service Center in Waynesburg, said a large appliance, supposedly in working order, was left on the grounds, but it actually was broken.
“We had to pay $30 to get it disposed of, and that’s $30 we could have used for something worthwhile,” said Quinn, whose organization provides social services, including help with utilities, food, clothing and disaster response.
In addition, usable donations left overnight have ended up stolen or destroyed.
“There are some awesome donations that get exposed to the weather and, unfortunately, there are people who make after-hours rounds and end up picking up those great donations, so the items don’t have the value the donor intended,” said Marano.
Many thrift stores, including Goodwill and Salvation Army, have installed security cameras, and both Goodwill and Salvation Army have posted signs warning violators that dumping fines can run as high as $300.
Marano said Goodwill has extended hours in order to make it more convenient for donors to drop off items – and to reduce the likelihood of dumping.
“We’re open seven days a week, from 9 to 9, to try to make it convenient,” said Marano. “Our whole mission is based on the generosity of donors. Our donors are incredibly generous. We just ask people to keep in mind that you wouldn’t give a friend something that is ripped, stained, torn or broken, so think before you drop it off.”
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com