Managing waste wisely

Going behind the scenes at Good Sammy

The Comms & Ed team sorting bags of donations

For many of us, gathering our used clothes, shoes and children’s toys into a couple of bin bags and dropping them off at an op-shop (possibly after a few weeks touring Perth in the back of the car – just me?) is something we do without thinking. We know we have some incredible op-shops here in WA that help provide employment to people with disability while also giving our pre-loved items a second life. But what actually happens to a bag of goods after it lands in an op-shop donation bin? The WMRC Comms & Ed team had a day out at the Good Sammy facility in Canning Vale to find out.

Our first impression as we toured the warehouse was one of amazement – the sheer volume of donated textiles, toys, books, shoes, jewellery and homewares working their way through the facility at any one time was astounding. If you’ve ever dropped off your stuff directly to a Good Sammy store, you might imagine they are simply sorted on-site and put up for sale. That’s part of the story, but in reality there’s a lot more to it.

A warehouse full of crates of toys and piles of clothing donations
Crates of toys and piles of clothing donations ready to be sorted at the Good Sammy warehouse

After arriving at the facility, donations travel around the warehouse on a long, long conveyor belt, where employees sort them into categories and grade them according to whether they can be sold online, in a Good Sammy store, or in their outlet store at Canning Vale, or – failing that – exported for ragging or taken to landfill. Surprisingly, a whopping 27% of items donated to Good Sammy simply aren’t of saleable quality and must be sent to landfill, at a significant cost to the organisation.

After taking a tour and meeting some of the Good Sammy’s warehouse employees (around 50% of whom have disability), we got to work sorting and grading the stock for resale.

Sorting bags of goods and jewellery
Sorting bags of goods and jewellery

It was an eye-opening experience to see the quality and volume of donations first hand. We all had to make some tough calls around what should be kept and what had to be thrown away.

Things we learnt (or, how to be a great gifter):

  1. Good Sammy currently doesn’t have the capacity to wash or repair donated items – if an item isn’t immediately useable it’s not a great donation. Stained, ripped or damaged garments may get exported for ragging but could also be sent to landfill.
  2. Low quality items don’t have a whole lot of potential for reuse either, as it’s hard for an op-shop to re-sell a t-shirt that was only $5 to begin with.
  3. Every item donated to Good Sammy is sorted by hand – so please don’t make the staff deal with your saggy old underwear!
  4. If you’ve wound up with some old library books in your possession (we won’t ask how), these can’t be re-sold as they’re technically library property. Books with names, phone numbers and inscriptions written in them are also harder to sell and will probably end up in their cheaper outlet store.

It’s easy to think that you can pop anything in a donation bin and the op-shop will solve the problem for you, but really, it’s not that simple. Putting your broken or damaged items in a donation bin only creates a headache for op-shop staff (before the items end up in landfill anyway). Repair and wash items before dropping them off so they’re good to go, and if you wouldn’t give it to a mate, don’t donate!

A huge thank you to Good Sammy for inviting us along on their Waste Ed Day Out, and of course for the valuable work they do to reduce waste by giving pre-loved items a second life. Despite the challenges, Good Sammy still manages to recycle a phenomenal 6 million kilos of used goods each year, which is something worth celebrating.

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