It’s no secret that we’re big proponents of recycling, reusing, upcycling, and buying secondhand whenever possible. From furniture to clothing to home decor, you can extend the life of your things, give them a new purpose entirely, or let them go in the most sustainable way possible.
Among these options for sustainably giving up old goods, donating is one of the most popular and easy choices. It’s a practical and usually uncomplicated process for the donor, and there are many charitable organizations whose work makes donating as convenient and accessible as possible (such as by offering local pick-up services).
Utilizing donation-accepting organizations like Goodwill, Dress for Success, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society, you can prevent your used items from piling up in the landfill and help philanthropies carry out their mission in the process. But is there such a thing as too much of a good thing?
What Not to Donate to Goodwill and Other Nonprofits
It's possible to have too much of the wrong things, and that's why learning what not to donate to Goodwill and other nonprofits is so important.
According to NPR, Goodwill—among other nonprofits—receives literally millions of pounds of unusable, unsellable waste from people each year. Some patrons’ come-one-come-all approach to donating can resemble taking out the trash. The workers describe receiving items like "a small table missing a leg, cracked purple food-storage containers, and a used sponge."
Items to Avoid Donating:
- broken electronics
- unrepairable appliances
- large household appliances
- clothing with rips, tears, and broken zippers
- damaged shoes
- glassware with chips and cracks
- baby cribs, car seats, strollers, and other baby equipment
- CRT televisions and computer monitors
- air conditioners
- exercise equipment
- damaged furniture
- encyclopedias and textbooks
- bed pillows
- pianos and organs
- cosmetics and haircare products
- anything broken, gross, or unsellable
As with wish-cycling, having good intent doesn’t necessarily mean there's any positive outcome to the act. When well-intentioned patrons handoff mounds of household junk, this isn't only treating philanthropic organizations like garbage collectors, but it also makes individual staff members’ jobs harder (many of whom are volunteers), and makes operations more costly for the nonprofit overall.
“All this trash adds up to more than $1 million a year in a trash bill, and it’s been growing every year for the past five years,” said Heather Steeves, spokesperson for Goodwill locations in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Last year, Nicholas Calandra, CEO of Hearts from the Homeless, told Buffalo News all that trash is preventing them from using their funds for the important things. "It’s staggering, just paying to dispose of stuff, with resources we could use elsewhere,” he said. And it’s not just Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Many nonprofits, large and small, are experiencing the same deluge and have been for years.
Compounding the issue currently is the inordinately high volume of donations that organizations are now receiving, after many temporarily suspended donation acceptances from the public as a pandemic precaution.
How to Donate Responsibly
So, how do we prevent adding to the pileup and reduce this burden on philanthropic organizations and their employees and volunteers? The answers are fairly intuitive.
Mainly, donation collectors stress the importance of thoughtful, intentional giving. Think before you toss that item in the “donate” pile. Is it still entirely functional? Is it in good visible condition? Lastly, would you consider it worth purchasing if you saw it on the shelf or rack?
Common sense will get you a long way in this process. But you should also always check the organization’s listings of accepted items. They're often posted right outside the storefront of donation center entrances, and almost certainly can be found on their websites, too.
And when in doubt, ask an employee. It’s much more thoughtful to confirm that what you’re planning to donate can be accepted, rather than guess and have it potentially make someone’s job harder.
Additionally, just a few minutes of research could save you and others tons of time. A quick online search will probably give you more information than you ever needed, whether you’re looking for a compilation of places to donate used clothing or a guide to donating furniture.
Plus, sites like greatnonprofits.org and donationtown.org offer directories of verified places to donate to based on your location. The online Yellow Pages or your city government website might also have helpful resources listed.
And if you’ve gone through these steps and realized that what you’ve got doesn’t make the cut, there are other alternatives.
What to Do With Items You Can't Donate
Just because something can't be donated doesn't mean it needs to go in the trash. First, ask yourself if it can be repurposed as something else (like this DIY pin board made from an old rug) or unexpectedly upgraded into something like-new (like creating DIY fabric dye using food scraps).
If there's no way to upcycle it and continue to use it in your own home, look into recycling it. Textile recycling centers accept worn-out clothing and other textiles, and you can recycle other worn-out items like shoes. You can also recycle electronics (like phones and laptops). Always call your local recycling center to see if something can be recycled before tossing it out.
Ultimately, if something is nothing more than trash, you can treat it as trash and dispose of it. We’re all imperfect environmentalists over here, after all.