Dumping after hours a problem for local thrift stores
One person’s trash can be another person’s problem. And in some cases, the problem can prove costly.
The nonprofit Rifle Thrift Shop knows all too well about this reality. It and other area institutions catering to the second-hand needs of neighbors, regularly are left footing the bill when people dump unsellable items outside of operating hours.
For the Rifle Thrift Shop, a cluster of old televisions and other items recently amounted to a $90 disposal expense, despite having $15-off vouchers for the Garfield County Landfill.
While the expense might not seem that great, $90 can represent roughly one day of sales for the Rifle Thrift Shop, which uses its proceeds to cover operating costs and fund scholarships for local students seeking continued education. Earlier this year, the store distributed $8,000 in scholarship funds.
The occurrence is more a routine than one-time event, which makes the landfill fees a recurring cost.
“It happened within a week,” Kathy Snyder, with the Rifle Thrift Shop, said of the trash accumulation in June. “And it’s not every week, but it’s pretty often that we have to take things to the landfill.”
After returning from the extended holiday weekend Tuesday, volunteers found more unsellable items, including a flat-screen TV that didn’t work and a dirty couch. The discovery meant several more trips to the landfill.
The store is not unreasonably picky when it comes to items left after hours — most of it is literally garbage.
“If anything is usable at all we do make use of it,” Snyder said. “We aren’t careless about throwing usable things aways.”
The thrift shop has a sign asking people not to dump items after hours, but it does little to deter people.
As Snyder and people at other thrift stores point out, many of the people dumping after hours are likely attempting to avoid the cost and hassle of taking things to the landfill.
The problem is far from unique to the Rifle Thrift Shop or Rifle in general.
In June, the PI reported on similar issues faced by Community Thrift & Treasures Inc., a nonprofit in Glenwood Springs. The considerable increase in trash left outside the store led to a discussion on whether or not Community Thrift could keep its doors open. Along with providing affordable goods to lower-income residents, Community Thrift and other nonprofits frequently donate proceeds to charitable causes.
Since the original story, the dumping problem has worsened, Kimberly Cabeceiras, director of Community Thrift, said on Friday, just hours after alerting the police to a massive amount of unsellable items left outside the store.
Overall, Community Thrift is doing better and members of the community voiced support following the story in the PI — five or six new volunteers stepped up in the last month, according to Cabeceiras.
Still, the grind of running the store has not eased, and Cabeceiras said they will decide whether or not to continue operating on Aug. 28. Unlike many of the other thrift store, Community Thrift does not discourage donations after hours. However, that does not mean people are welcomed to drop off garbage.
“It happens to us daily, but we take donations 24 hours a day,” Cabeceiras said. “We just don’t want absolutely unsellable furniture, unrecyclables … “
In the last year, Cabeceiras said her expenses tied to disposing of those items has quadrupled.
However, the issue has been a persistent problem for local thrift stores for some time.
“It is an issue, it’s always been an issue,” said Kimberly Loving, executive director of LIFT-UP, a nonprofit that operates thrift stores in Rifle and Glenwood, in addition to seven food pantries from Parachute to Aspen. “It’s something we’ve always just dealt with.”
Many of the things dumped after hours are perfectly fine, at first. However, items such as clothes and furniture can quickly become unsellable when exposed to weather. The sight of items sitting outside the store also acts to attract people, who dig through the things and cause a mess.
That is a regular problem for the Near New Store in Carbondale, which also awards scholarships and makes charitable contributions, said Louise Holgate, volunteer with Near New.
“We try to tell people ‘please don’t bring stuff at night or on the weekend because then people think stuff is free and they go through it,’” Holgate said.
It also sends a signal that the practice is OK. One small pile of clothes can quickly turn into a much larger assortment of unwanted items.
For those reasons, Brent Buss, owner of Thrifty Thrills Thrift Store, a business with locations in Glenwood Springs and Rifle, said he generally tries to make sure nothing is left outside.
While Buss said Thrifty Thrills does not have as significant an issue as other thrift stores, it does happen every once in awhile, particularly more at the Glenwood Springs location, a point Buss attributed to the Rifle location’s spot in a “more retail looking” strip mall.
Unlike some of the other thrift stores, Thrifty Thrills is a for-profit business, but it donates to local student organizations, nonprofits and other causes. Money spent disposing of unsellable items subtracts from those charitable contributions, Buss said.
When LIFT-UP has to pay to dispose of items, its money not spent on furthering the nonprofit’s mission of “providing essential humanitarian assistance in the communities” it serves. And items that were once fine but ruined by the weather can not go to people in need.
“It’s like ‘newsflash, somebody is going to have to incur that cost,’” Loving said.
The LIFT-UP employees are accustomed to keeping their eyes on the store when passing by during the course of regular life. But, as Loving said, there’s no way to police it.
However, they have certainly tried.
LIFT-UP has a sign stating it is illegal to dump after hours, and the Rifle location saw some improvement after repairing lights in the front parking lot.
But LIFT-UP, much like the others, has yet to find a solution.
“There’s just nothing that we have found to get people to quit,” Loving said.
All of those with local thrift stores hope increased awareness will lead people to think twice before leaving items after hours.
“You’re taking away from the things we would like to give to,” Holgate said.
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