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 residents, regularly are left footing the bill when people dump items, often unsellable, 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 unsellable items are likely attempting to avoid the cost and hassle of taking things to the landfill.
At the Rifle Thrift Shop, the situation slightly improved when the store moved to its current location at the corner of East Avenue and First Street almost a year ago.
Yet, the problem, which is not unique to the Rifle Thrift Shop or Rifle in general, persists.
In June, the Post Independent reported on issues faced by Community Thrift & Treasures Inc., a nonprofit in Glenwood Springs. Director Kimberly Cabeceiras told the PI that the nonprofit was likely closing its doors due, in part, to expenses stemming from people using the store as a dumping ground.
“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. 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, such as Community Thrift & Treasures, 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 detracts 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 the lights in the front parking lot. People are less inclined to drop items off with parking lot “lit up pretty bright.”
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.
From a code enforcement perspective, the number of complaints received from Rifle thrift stores is fairly sparse, said Sara Flores, Rife community services and code enforcement officer. Surprised to hear of the ongoing issues, Flores said she has not received any complaints recently. There needs to be some assistance from the Rifle stores when law enforcement is asked to investigate, she added.
For the local nonprofits, most of which do not have security cameras, that can be an issue.
And, added Snyder, volunteers cannot constantly patrol the thrift stores, nor do they expect law enforcement to constantly keep their eyes on the locations.
Buss, whose stores do have cameras, said the issue is not a big enough problem to warrant the effort of trying to prosecute illegal dumpers.
For Snyder and Loving, they are hoping increased awareness will lead people to think twice before leaving items after hours. They also point to other resources, such as special trash pickup days in Rifle. Trash customers can dispose of certain items on the first four Wednesdays of the month. Customers only need to check which date specific items are collected — information found at http://www.rifleco.org/431/Special-Trash-Pickup — and call at least 24 hours ahead of the pickup.
Those wishing to donate to any of the stores should make sure they are open before heading out.
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