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Boreal Community Media

Unusable donations given to Grand Marais thrift stores have large impact on volunteers, resources

Nov 09, 2023 09:00AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Three days' worth of donations unusable by First and Second wait for a trip to Goodwill in Duluth. Photo submitted by Ann Mershon.

By Sammie Garrity for Boreal Community Media - November 9, 2023

Grand Marais thrift stores are places where you can find everything from necessities to treasures you never knew you needed. I know whenever my family needs a new piece of furniture or household item we immediately start by going to First and Second or Oddz and Endz. Thrift stores are meant to provide people with a place to find and donate quality items that are objectively reusable in order to make things more affordable and better for the environment compared to their “new” counterparts. However, these treasures that we often find are actually a product of hard work and dedication on behalf of the volunteers and owners of these establishments. Often, however, this hard work doesn’t need to be so difficult. There is a large misconception that everything donated to a thrift store gets tagged and placed on the shelves, but there is much more effort that goes into it. Volunteers have to sort through each and every item, determine if it is sellable, price it, tag it, and then put it out for sale. When people use thrift stores as a type of dumping ground for unwanted items, this task becomes even more monumental. “I’m really angry. Too many people are just dumping their rejects on us, and because of it we spend all our time sorting through junk and we don’t have time to price things for the store,” said a First and Second volunteer who wished to remain anonymous. Sorting through items that are clearly trash puts a strain on workers who are already generously donating their time and efforts. Instead of being able to efficiently put out items for sale, volunteers have to spend an immense amount of time on avoidable tasks. 

Ann Mershon, Manager of First and Second Thrift Store, recalled how they are “logging between 50 and 60 volunteer hours a week between the intake and store clerks. We actually have 36 shifts, but we’ve been doubling up to stay on top of the donations.” Whatever items they can’t sell or fit in storage have to be driven to Goodwill in Duluth which takes up an immense amount of time, and isn’t a cheap task. The stores have tried to make it very clear that they can’t take clothing that is dirty or has ripped, nor can they justify selling items that are broken or missing parts. However, that hasn’t deterred people from dropping off unwanted items. 

Dale McIntire at Oddz and Endz outlined the criteria he believes people should use to determine whether or not their item is donatable. He said: 

“Look at the item you are wondering about that you want to move along. Would you buy it in the condition it is in? Does it need to be repaired to be useful? Would you want your children to sit in that chair, eat from that pan, or touch that pillow? If the answer is no, then your item needs a different future than being donated to a local charity thrift store.” 

There are many options to try and declutter your homes while simultaneously helping thrift stores stay functional and running smoothly. When people donate unusable items to thrift stores it then becomes their responsibility to dispose of the items. Instead of taking the time to actually sell the items that are worth anything, volunteers have to make expensive trips to the dump, and this hurts the community as a whole.  

“Please consider carefully that the small dumping fee you pay for your things is taken from someone in need served by local non-profits when the local thrift stores have to dispose of unusable items for you. Don't steal from your community. Donate responsibly and we'll all be better served because of it,” said McIntire. 

The problem doesn’t just lie in unusable donations, either. Any items that aren’t able to be sold are just thrown out which creates a huge environmental impact. According to the US EPA., “85% of all textiles are thrown away or burned.” This is a massive issue because landfills all over the country are filling up at a rapid rate, and once they reach capacity there won’t be many places for discarded items to go. If new landfills are created this will further deplete habitats and the quality of living for both animals and for humans. If the garbage gets burned, the toxic chemicals they obtain get released into the air and exacerbate the effects of climate change. With fast fashion becoming such an issue, manufacturers overproduce clothing that is in line with trends. Once these trends fade out, people no longer have a use for the clothes and either toss them or get rid of them. It then becomes a cycle that results in literal tons of clothing going to waste. 

Dale talked about options that people can explore to try and combat the amount of waste homes produce: 

“Learn to upcycle; adapt an item for a use not originally intended for it (Google or Pinterest are great resources for inspiration). Learn to live with less stuff. Offer your stuff to your friends or family earlier when they still need and might want it, rather than after they've accumulated all their stuff already and don't need or want yours. Consider purchasing good, functional, previously loved goods from thrift stores rather than buying new. Thrift store finds often have stories to go with the functionality that make them the more special!”

We have all been taught from a young age: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. To do this, however, requires mindful consumption and donating. For the sake of the volunteer's time and energy, as well as for the good of the planet, it is the responsibility of consumers to make smart choices about what we buy and what we give away. It is critical to make analytical choices about what you purchase and to think about if you really need it. Overconsumption can create long-term effects on the planet and on the communities we live in. It is important to be smart decision-makers and when we do find we have excess, to have general respect for the livelihood of local businesses that are trying to help combat waste and give back to the community. 

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