'One man’s trash is not another man's treasure': Effort, costs wasted to sort, dispose of unwanted donations, say charities
Charities can get trash along with treasure when they accept donations in kind, ranging from mouldy clothes and damaged appliances to sex toys.
SINGAPORE: Trash or treasure? While many charities get a bump in donations around the end of the year, a good chunk of "donations" in-kind can be unusable.
Dirty and worn clothing, broken appliances or toys, and damaged household items or belongings that are inappropriate for the beneficiaries are some examples.
One charity, SiloamXperience Outreach, said that they have also received damaged bags, incomplete sets of puzzles and earrings. Of the items they get, about 30 per cent to 40 per cent cannot be reused.
The not-for-profit organisation (NPO) runs a thrift store under its Trash to Treasure (t2t) project, and tries as much as possible to recycle and refashion items donated to them.
The proceeds from the thrift store go towards supporting its causes, such as improving the living standards of underprivileged communities.
A spokesperson said that the team will think of how to "creatively upcycle and repurpose" items that are donated, even if they may seem unusable at first.
"Someone gave us 16 cartons of mouldy tee-shirts, we upcycled them to grocery carriers or fashion vests ... We turned old bookshelves and donated SIA crew used sheets into changing rooms which saved us about S$400," said the spokesperson.
"We are committed to create less waste thus taking steps to turn trash to treasure."
But that does not mean that it's okay to send your trash to charities. Non-governmental organisation (NGO) It's Raining Raincoats (IRR) just gave out about 10,000 gifts to migrant workers from donors for its fifth annual Christmas drive.
The presents included thousands of brand-new backpacks, snacks, hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste, water bottles and some umbrellas.
There were also used appliances such as rice cookers, kettles, ovens and toasters.
While there have been thousands of good donations, IRR said that it has got some "surprises" since it opened the inspIRRe store, a free shop for migrant workers, in September.
"We have gotten a few ‘surprises’ such as sex toys, clothing smelling like vomit, men’s preloved underwear, women’s lingerie, dirty shoes with holes, missing insoles, worn out treads, female and kids clothes (not appropriate for our male migrant worker beneficiaries), expired N95 masks," said a spokesperson.
It then takes additional time and manpower to dispose of some items. "This taxes on our limited manpower as IRR is almost entirely run by volunteers."
They also do not encourage people to donate clothes as the workers do not have much space in their dormitories for clothes.
"They only take what they need. This means they only really want clothes in pristine condition."
On a recent social media post, IRR said: "We ask that people don’t pass us anything they themselves would not like to receive were they in need of it. This is to respect the basic dignity of our migrant workers."
The spokesperson added: "One man’s trash is NOT another man’s treasure."
Another programme by The Helping Hand and the Central Singapore Community Development Council, called Pass-It-On, does not get as many unusable items, and said that about 90 per cent of what they receive is in good condition.
This could be because it has a system of matching donations to requests from vulnerable groups in need.
A spokesperson said that the organisation has received about 650 items donated by the public in the month of December, some of which were donated in response to requests on its web portal.
Of the donated items, the majority comprises electrical items which are in good condition, such as refrigerators, washing machines and televisions, as well as furniture, such as bed frames and sofas, the spokesperson said.
Donors can also post photos, descriptions, working conditions and measurements of items they want to donate directly on the portal.
The NGOs appealed to members of the public to be more judicious with what they donate as they have lean operations and manpower, and sometimes transport costs should not be wasted on items that do not go to beneficiaries.
SiloamXperience requires donors to book online before bringing in the items.
"Do not bring in bulky items, damaged and not functioning stuff or anything that compromises hygiene," said the spokesperson.
The Helping Hand said that they get a 50 per cent increase in donations from December to February, because people tend to spring clean at this time of the year. But they said that it would be better not to join the "rush" during the festive period.
"This will help maintain a steady stream of donated items to meet needs year-round."
The spokesperson added that on the Pass-It-On portal, there is also a list of items requested by beneficiaries through social service agencies. Donors can then choose to give items which are in good working condition to match the beneficiaries’ needs.
"We appreciate donated items in good working condition so recipients can enjoy the donated items for many years to come – these include home furnishing, electrical appliances, and learning aids to name a few."