Charity store worker reveals sad truth behind Australia's growing problem

The Victorian woman said she's 'so tired' and is 'over' dealing with the huge piles of donations.

Unsightly piles of abandoned clothes and broken household goods are becoming frustratingly familiar as Australian charities struggle to cope with the seemingly endless amount of donations.

But it was a sign at the entrance of an op-shop over the weekend that offered a glimpse at what's unfolding behind the scenes, with a worker detailing the "exhausting" reality she faced with daily.

"We are not taking any donations at this time," were the words written in chalk on the a-frame board outside the store. "We are full at this moment. Sorry," it concluded. The image was shared on Facebook by an avid thrifter out of frustration with the charity sector's supposed rise in prices.

The woman, who didn't reveal the shop's location, said it's not the first time she's seen it that it's happening more often — and many more shoppers agreed. "Often the kitchenware is hugely overstocked and the clothes are packed in so tight you can't move the hangers. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a sale just to clear out the older stuff?" she questioned online.

Donation sign outside charity store (left) piles of clothing bags inside charity shop (right)
Charity stores are getting inundated with donations forcing some to refuse any more. Source: Facebook/Supplied

Sorting piles of donations is 'exhausting'

But the floor stock isn't the problem, claimed several op-shop workers who said it's the "back room where the sorting's going on" that's the issue. In a photo shared with Yahoo News Australia on Wednesday, mountains of bags can be seen piled on top of one another. But that's just three days' worth of clothing donations, says a charity store manager from Gippsland, Victoria — and it'll likely take two weeks to sort.

The woman, who asked to stay anonymous, said it's happening all over the country as they're getting inundated with donations, and while Christmas and New Year is their busiest season, it's now happening year-round.

"I'm so tired and so over it," the exhausted staffer told Yahoo. "It's that manual labour, the sorting and handling of stock. You're exhausted by the end of the day."

But it's not just clothing, "it's broken furniture, it's damaged homeware, it's everything" she says. "Stuff that has to go straight in the bin," because it's often unwearable or unusable.

Vinnies store with various items dumped outside (left) Red Salvation Army clothing bins with piles of items scattered on the ground (right)
Often people just dump donations that cannot be used. Source: Facebook

Rise of fast fashion a huge factor

In her experience, only about 50 per cent of the clothing that's donated can be resold in the store. And those statistics speak to other items too. The rise of fast fashion is contributing to the problem, the worker claims and the quality of the items left are sub-par.

"You're not getting the quality that we used to get. It's usually a matter of 'wear it a couple of times then donate it' because it's all so cheap," she said.

Behind the US, Australia is the world's biggest consumer of textiles per person per year, with each Aussie disposing of a whopping 23 kilos of clothes annually, Yahoo previously reported. According to environmental group Clean Up, each of us purchase almost 60 garments every year — most of which are made from non-sustainable, non-durable materials — and much of it ends up in landfill.

"Previously we'd be told to just keep taking and taking, but then it became such a health and safety issue," the anonymous worker explained. "It'd be a trip hazard and you couldn't move in the back room.

"I think we're more conscious of that aspect now. So that's why some stores can't take anymore. It's because of the safety of the volunteers."

T-short sold at Vinnies with $350 price tag.
Aussies have criticised some prices found in various charity shops, with a T-shirt found for $350 in Sydney last March. Source: Facebook

Charity shop prices criticised

In recent times, charity shops have also been called out for some 'ridiculously expensive' second-hand finds. The anonymous charity worker agrees she's seen this happen, but mostly in city stores she said.

"We're still relatively cheap because we are country, but I do know the city stores do get higher priced" she told Yahoo. "And I know some stores have KPIs (key performance indicators) of pricing averages and stuff that you had to hit," she claimed.

Charitable Recycling Australia, which acts on behalf of the industry, did not directly comment on these claims when approached by Yahoo. "Charity shops will assess and sell suitable items," CEO Omer Soker said.

"Staff and/or volunteers will price them according to what they feel is a fair price, and saleable to Australian consumers".

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.