Free love: where to ethically donate your unwanted stuff

Now that Goodwill's gone and KonMari fever has you purging all that doesn't spark joy, where should you donate your unwanted stuff?


Value Village

It calls itself a “thrift store with a community conscience,” sharing “good deeds” and “great deals.” Yes, Value Village donates a portion of proceeds to charity whenever you drop off free stuff at their stores, and much of their wares are purchased from non-profit partners who do the collecting. But a two-year investigation by InvestigateWest (invw.org) found this for-profit “vastly overstates” how much of the proceeds from donated clothing and housewares actually go to charity. While VV doesn’t like to divulge the details, the group’s journalists found that only 8 to 17 per cent of the chain’s revenue flows to its charity partners. Minnesota’s attorney general sued VV’s parent company, Savers, last spring over its stretched charitable claims. The company settled out of court, making a payment of some $1.8 million to charities. Still, lots of charity partners stand by Value Village (see Canadian Diabetes Association, Oasis), and shopping there is still a green act. Value Village says it pays charities per pound regardless of whether those goods are sold, adding that about 75 per cent of items they purchase from non-profit partners don’t end up selling in North American retail centres but the charities are paid regardless. VV reps say that added up to $180 million paid to charities and over 650 million pounds of clothing and goods were diverted from landfill in 2015. Note: unwanted items are sold to developing countries or to textile recyclers (aka rag makers). For more on the ethical debate surrounding selling second hand clothes to developing countries, check out “Where do my clothing donations really end up?” 

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Oasis clothing bank

Parking-lot donation bins have long been a bit sketchy, but a decade ago the city brought in a bylaw mandating that those setting out bins get licensed and declare their charitable or for-profit status with clear signage. Happily, Oasis Clothing Bank bins are run by the award-winning Oasis Addiction Recovery Society. Some clothes go to their clients, but most are sold to Value Village, the revenue from which pays for Oasis’s programs. NOW couldn’t confirm that Oasis is running its own bins. Most charities lend their name to a textile collector in exchange for a cut. Accepts clothing, housewares, toys, CDs/DVDs, some electronics. For full list and locations see clothingbank.ca.

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Canadian Diabetes Association clothesline

Every year, CDA’s Clothesline program gathers 51 million kilograms of clothes and sells them to Value Village to help fund charitable programs. While a couple of U.S. charities have complained about Value Village’s “unfavourable” terms, CDA hasn’t. CDA says Clothesline raises $10 million annually. If you want CDA to get the most bang for its buck, don’t just drop off stuff in Value Village’s bins (though charity partners are given a nominal payment for that, too). Call to schedule a free pickup (1-800-505-5525) or head to diabetes.ca for drop box locations. Accepts clothing, all textile-based items, small household items and e-waste.

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SALVATION ARMY

Looking for a truly charitable thrift shop? Check out this non-profit’s second-hand stores. The money funds programs assisting 1.8 million vulnerable Canadians every year, providing basic necessities, hospice care, shelter for the homeless, rehab and more. Charityintelligence.ca considers it a top-scoring four-star charity, and recent audits reveal that over 80 per cent of all money received by SA goes directly to its charitable programs (the rest to administrative and fundraising). Accepts gently used clothes, housewares, furniture, media and books, plus broken and unwanted electronics. For locations, see thriftstore.ca. Other charitable drop-‘n’-shop thrift stores: Yonge Street Mission’s Double Take (310 Gerrard East) and St. John’s thrift shop (2155 Danforth). 

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SHELTERS/FURNITURE BANK

Want to see your old side table/suit/sweater go directly to someone who really needs it instead of being bought and sold by middlemen? Ask your local women’s, youth or homeless shelters and drop-ins first. Red Door Family Shelter’s (reddoorshelter.ca) moving program, for instance, would love your tables, dressers, desks and the like to make a house a home. For a fee, Furniture Bank (furniturebank.org) takes a longer list of pre-loved furnishings, housewares, electronics, bedding and more that go to over 80 community agencies to help house the homeless, abused women and children, newcomers and refugees. Feeling warm and fuzzy already. 

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ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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