Are thrift stores really a "zero waste" option?
Thrift shopping is great, but there is some wastefulness that potentially occurs when donating your items to thrift stores.
The bottom line: thrift stores can only take in so many items. Whatever they can’t take has to go somewhere and that is usually a warehouse packed to the top with donated items or they might even just end up in the landfill.
Another issue arises because people sometimes donate literal garbage. Some things you can’t donate (to most stores) include:
· Broken or dirty items
· Items that have been recalled, banned, or meet safety regulations
· Paint, cleaning supplies, or hazardous materials
· Mattresses, box springs, pillows
· Construction, plumbing, or building materials
· Automobile parts
· Hot water heaters, furnaces, or water softeners
· Inoperable or damaged appliances
· Cribs and car seats
· Used beauty products (some locations might not even take unused)
· Oversized appliances like ovens and refrigerators
· Carpets and rugs
*of course this is not the case for every store so check your local facility for their rules and regulations on what you can and can’t donate
For these items that can’t be donated, don’t donate them to prevent them from going to landfill. Instead, donate or sell them to someone who is genuinely interested in the item so that it will get more use out of it.
Most big chain thrift stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.) will only put about half of their donations on the shelf and only about half of that will even sell. In fact, the Salvation Army only has four weeks to sell an item before it is to be thrown out and replaced by the next donations.
Some thrift stores and clothing donation bins don’t even sell or sort their clothes. Instead, this clothing is sent to other countries to be used as rags or sold in local markets. Clothing is baled, shipped, and reprocessed in places like Toronto, Houston, or India to be sorted. Here, our clothing might have a chance at having a second life such as:
· Being re-purposed as rags
· Ground down to be used as insulation or car seat filling
· Sorted and sold in other countries
But, exporting our clothes is another issue in itself. We just get rid of our burden and place it on someone else’s shoulders. This waste will now either end up in someone else’s landfill or they will have to find something else to do with it. They don’t want to be responsible for our waste.
So, what can we do?
Buy less and if you need to buy something, buy it second hand. Buying new items and getting rid of them after a few uses contributes mass amounts to the waste cycle. This continues to create a demand for these new items, using raw materials and resources that should be preserved and is attributed to the wastefulness that is the fashion industry. Buying second hand limits the demand for new products and let’s these items have a new life instead of being thrown
When you have to get rid of an item, consider your options before donating to a large scale thrift store that will more than likely throw your items away or ship them to another country to do the same:
1. Re-gift or donate: but, the best option is to gift or sell your item to someone who actually wants and needs that item and will put it to good use, not a store that will throw it away if it won't make them a profit. Ask around, you never know who might need something you don't need anymore.
2. Sell it on an online thrift store: places like Facebook marketplace, ebay, depop, and more. Again, your item will then go to someone who will actually want your item and reduce its risk of ending up in the landfill.
3. Donate to a homeless shelter: here, the item is sure to get plenty of use. They will likely also take items that thrift store won't like appliances or things with small holes (but still in good condition, obviously).
4. Upcycle: find your own way to upcycle the item and give it a new life. Turn old socks into dog toys or scrunchies, turn old shirts into rags and hankies, use old bowls and containers to organize crafts or junk drawers. The list can go on and on, get creative!
5. Avoid the big stores: as a last resort, find a smaller, non-chain thrift store. These stores don’t get as many donations and are more likely to keep every item you donate instead of throwing them right into the garbage.
6. Get educated: of course, do your own research, educate yourself, and spread the word. Encourage others to do the same and to shop less. After all, the fashion industry/consumerism is one of the leading causes of CO2 emissions.
Thanks for reading! Leave your tips and tricks about thrift shopping down below.
For more research, see: