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At overloaded thrift shops across the USA, coronavirus is wreaking havoc

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  1. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    If one thing has seemed to unite Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s spring cleaning. With stay-at-home orders in effect, a long-delayed clearing-out of basements, closets, back bedrooms and desk drawers has become a popular way to pass the time. One result is that America's thrift stores are informally reporting unprecedented volumes of donations. And that's creating a problem that goes far beyond finding a loving home for your old sweaters.


    Turning the random assortment of stuff that's dropped at a donation door into that kind of money isn't easy. Roughly half the space of any Goodwill outlet is devoted to sophisticated sorting and pricing operations. Any donations that make it past this cull and to the sales floor will be cycled off quickly to make way for new stuff. What doesn't sell on the floor — as much as 75% of the merchandise, depending on location — is then sent to discount outlets and ultimately onto global markets, where used goods are usually in high demand.


    With economies now seizing up, however, that’s no guarantee. Mexican traders, who account for at least 30% of the business at thrift stores close to the southern border, stopped working when travel restrictions were imposed in March. Kenya, one of the world's largest buyers of secondhand clothes, recently suspended such imports from countries "experiencing an epidemic." Steven Bethell, President of Bank & Vogue, an Ottawa-based used-clothing broker, told me that prices for clothing bound for Africa have fallen by more than half in recent weeks.

    A drop-off in demand plus a surge in supply is creating a storage problem, with thrift stores across the country now looking for additional space or even suspending donations. That, in turn, has led to a rush of well-intentioned spring cleaners dumping their used goods at the doors of closed thrift shops. These informal "donations" don’t help anyone: They create health and safety risks, force thrifts to pay disposal costs for stuff that might otherwise have been a source of revenue, and increase the likelihood that perfectly good products will end up in landfills.


    Even so, the industry remains guardedly optimistic. When I spoke to Lisa Allen, co-president of the Goodwill of Southern Arizona, she was preparing a 20,000 square-foot warehouse that could hold many more tons of donated stuff. Donations are the lifeblood of her organization, and she was clear — as were other executives I spoke to — that Goodwill still wants the stuff. She simply asked that people hold off until later in the year, when donations are expected to slow.

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