Thanks, but no thanks: Goodwill says it is swamped with useless donations

  • Goodwill sales associate Candice Longley picks up a microwave that won’t be for sale at the store behind a corner of a sectional couch at the drop-off area of the store on Wednesday. The couch corner was dirty and the only part of the sectional that was dropped off so Longley said it would not be going out to the floor. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Goodwill sales associate Candice Longley puts on gloves as she prepares to move a portion of a sectional couch onto a pallet to go to the warehouse after deciding it was not going to be put out on the floor of the store on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. That piece was dirty and was the only part of the sectional that was dropped off. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Goodwill sales associate Candice Longley moves a chair at the donation drop-off area of the store on Wednesday as the store opens for business. The chair and other wrapped items were going to be sent to the warehouse as Longley decided that were not up to standards for the floor. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • A sign on the front door window of the Goodwill Store on Loudon Road in Concord asks customers not to dump items at the store while it is closed.

Monitor staff
Published: 4/7/2021 12:30:06 PM

A surge of donations from pandemic-fueled cleanout of basements, attics and sheds has produced too much of a good thing for Goodwill, particularly since many of the things aren’t actually good.

“Our grandparents knew what to donate to Goodwill, but something has changed in the last few years. There’s a new assumption that every item is valuable to someone, and unfortunately it’s not true,” said Rich Cantz, president and CEO of Goodwill NNE, which includes New Hampshire. “People want to do the right thing, but when they donate things like broken furniture or used car batteries it takes away from our programs that need the support.”

Concord’s Goodwill store, one of the biggest in the state, is no exception.

“We are really thankful that people think of us and don’t directly go to a landfill, ” said Amanda Herr, an assistant manager for Goodwill who was at the Concord store Wednesday. “But it does make it tougher for us.”

“Across the state, they’ve all been very, very, very busy – a lot of donations,” said Herr.

Donations are taken when the store at 204 Loudon Road is open, generally from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Herr said she thought the increase in non-usable items was due to a number of factors, including an increase in new donors who are unloading items from their stay-at-home chores.

“I’ve take a lot of phone calls from people, they call and say ‘how do you do this, I’ve never donated before,” she said. “There’s also the New England mindset: ‘Oh, somebody can use it!’ And maybe it’s there by by accident, got mixed up in another pile.”

The problem is similar to “wish-cycling,” in which people put non-recyclable items in their recycling bin because it makes them feel better than throwing something out. In both cases, this wishful thinking not only fails to do good but does actual harm.

Goodwill Northern New England says that in the last year it had dispose of 13.2 million pounds of bad donations – 155 percent more than in 2015, despite the fact that donation doors were shut for three months because of the pandemic.

“The last year of trash bills added up to an astronomical $1,238,004,” it reported.

Specific figures aren’t available for Concord or New Hampshire, but the Goodwill warehouse in Hudson which takes overflow material from stores has been swamped.

University of Maine associate professor Dr. Cindy Isenhour has been studying Maine’s reuse economy since 2017 with support from the National Science Foundation. As part of that work her team has conducted interviews with secondhand shops across the state.

“We are hearing very similar stories from all types of organizations that take donations. They rely on folks to donate, but increasingly very strange things like broken lamps, barbie heads, a single shoe come in that can’t be sold. This is partially a problem of products designed to be replaced frequently,” Isenhour said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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