Re-use is one of the highest points on the waste hierarchy. Charity shops provide everyone in the UK with a sustainable and ethical option when they wish to dispose of unwanted clothes, books, furniture and other household items.
A charity shop’s first choice is always to ensure these items are re-used by selling them on to local shoppers.
The next most sustainable option on the waste pyramid is to recycle. If a charity retailer cannot sell an item in the front of the shop, they will seek to recycle it directly or through a textile recycler.
This is why, overall, charity shops are able to reuse or recycle more than 90 per cent of donated clothing, over 90 per cent of donated books and 85 per cent of donated electrical goods.
By boosting re-use and recycling, charity retail helps to reduce the overall amount of waste that ends up in landfill, the very lowest rung on the waste hierarchy.
In 2018/19, 339,000 tonnes of textiles alone were kept out of landfill as a result of charity retail in the UK.
Saves Landfill Tax
Councils in Britain have to pay £91.35 in Landfill Tax for every tonne of waste they put into the ground.
By reducing this amount of waste, charity shops saved local authorities around £30m in 2018/19 – money they can retain to spend on services for local residents instead.
The reduction in landfill also makes a positive difference to the UK’s carbon footprint. In 2018/19 charity retail helped to reduce the kg CO2e emitted in our country by 7m.
Household recycling partnerships
When local authority household recycling centres partner up with charity retailers this can deliver more efficient sites and more sustainable outcomes.
Hertfordshire County Council’s Harpenden centre hosts a Sue Ryder shop on site. This sells items which have been thrown away but are reusable, and the council and charity split the profits. Meanwhile, the amount of waste being buried as landfill is reduced.
Reduces bulky waste pick ups
It costs local authorities time and money to collect items of bulky waste, such as furniture and white goods, when their residents wish to dispose of them.
Charity retail can help to lighten the load. In one London council, when a local resident calls the council to ask them to take away a piece of bulky waste, the helpdesk will advise them that a local charity shop will collect the items for free instead. This further helps to reduce landfill in the area as well as giving the shop much appreciated stock.
Slows down fast fashion
The average customer transaction value in a charity shop is just £4.05. The charity retail sector is not only built on sustainable principles but it provides clothing to people at a price they can afford.
This provides market competition to “fast fashion” outlets – those who sell mass produced items imported from all around the world – on the high street, and gives consumers the option to buy clothes sustainably, whatever their budget.
Many charity retailers rescue old, broken or discarded items of furniture and “upcycle” them into new and unique products. One of our hospice members based in Berkshire even runs a Home Studio where buyers can help to design the final product which will be made for them from the donations that the charity has received.
Promoting re-use and offering an alternative to a throwaway culture helps to promote a sustainable future for us all.
Keeps it local
House-to-house bag collections have become a feature of British life. Some commercial collectors only give a small proportion of the money they generate to their charity partner. Also, the carbon footprint generated by shipping these clothes in bulk to overseas markets is huge.
However, when charity shops collect clothes on the doorstep they are kept in the area and sold in local shops, with all the profit going to charity. This is a far more environmentally sustainable option.