24 January 2024

Don't dump it next to a donation bin! Summer clean-ups could be costing charities vital funds

| Keeli Royle
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Vinnies Clothing Donation Bins.

Charity donation bins can be the perfect place to recycle your clothes if used correctly. Photo: St Vincent de Paul Society NSW.

Decluttering can be the perfect chance to support charities across the region that rely on donated goods, but handing over unsuitable items or dumping them in the wrong place could be actually costing the organisations.

Op shops in the Illawarra are not only a good place to snag a bargain, they can also help divert quality items from landfill while supporting important causes.

Stores support charities such as Save The Children, Anglicare, Australian Red Cross, Green Connect, St Vincent de Paul, Lifeline and the Salvation Army to continue programs which benefit the community and people in need across the country.

And at this time of year many see a boost in donations.

“Our Vinnies shops have experienced an uplift in donations as expected over the Christmas period; we are coping well and welcome further donation across the state,” a St Vincent de Paul Society NSW spokesperson said.

“We know many people use January as an opportunity to clean up, declutter and get organised for the year ahead.”

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But just because it is dropped off, doesn’t mean it can be used.

“We kindly ask that people please donate responsibly – if it’s dirty, damaged or dangerous we won’t be able to accept it,” the spokesperson said.

“Our motto is: ‘If you’d give it to a mate, it’s OK to donate’.

While most organisations ask for quality, each also have individual protocols about accepting donations and what they can use.

The NSW State Retail Manager from Save the Children Ian Moore said that while donating could save more than 3.2 million items from landfill each year, dropping off unacceptable items including things such as mattresses, baby car seats, bean bags and building materials would cost the charity important funds.

“Unfortunately donating broken, dirty, or unsuitable items is counterproductive; not only can Save the Children not sell these items, but we will need to pay to dispose of them, diverting funds from our programs,” Mr Moore said.

“What stores are short on varies greatly from week to week. To check what we are in need of before you start cleaning out your closet or garage, you can give the Wollongong store a call.”

The items charities accept in store can also depend on the space they have to keep them.

Anglicare has four op shops in the Illawarra accepting items such as clothes, but they also have options for larger donations such as furniture.

“Our Dapto and Nowra shops accept furniture donations direct to store, and we also offer a furniture collection and delivery service within the Illawarra,” Anglicare Op Shops Regional Retail Manager Danielle Warner said. “We suggest people call ahead to enquire about furniture donations rather than just dropping in, so we can plan our spaces and volunteer teams to safely receive and store furniture.”

Where you leave your items is just as important as what you leave, with quality items often going to waste or having to be removed at the cost of the charity.

“Please don’t leave donations outside our shops as these can be damaged by the weather or other people,” an Australian Red Cross spokesperson said.

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“If a bin is overflowing it’s best to take your donations to a Red Cross shop during trading hours where one of our friendly volunteers will be very happy to accept your quality donations.”

For smaller organisations like Green Connect, manpower is also an important factor in whether they can or cannot accept items.

The charity has just reopened its doors to donations after a massive post-Christmas boom.

“We received over two tonnes of donations last week and needed some time to process them to make room for more and to also keep our workspace safe for our volunteers,” Green Connect Op Shop coordinator Steph Thackray said.

Although charities turning away goods may be frustrating when you’re looking for a one-stop shop to take things to after a summer clean-out, protocols and safety must be a priority for these organisations to continue to operate effectively.

There are also other avenues for removing goods, such as selling them on Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree, or using local organisations such as Rack and Roll Marketplace which can help you earn a bit of cash.

Hosting clothes swaps or garage sales also provide opportunities to give your items a second life.

And some popular stores like H&M also accept unwanted clothes and textiles to be recycled, with discounts for donating sometimes also on offer.

To find out what items an op shop near you is accepting or in need of, contact your local store.

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