Goodwill, Badwill, Questionable-will — A Throwaway Mentality

by Katy on December 11, 2016 · 57 comments

My sister and I ended up making two stops during my week in NYC to the New Rochelle Goodwill, which is conveniently located between The Bronx and her favorite Trader Joe’s just north of the city.

She had a couple of things to donate, so we walked around the side of the store to the attended donation area and were met with this sad site. Yes, an overflowing dumpster filled with unsaleable donations and straight up garbage:

Around the back of the dumpster was a shopping cart filled with vintage dishes. When asked, the employee confirmed that everything was destined for the landfill.

Look how pretty it all is!

Had I been in Portland I would have loaded these dishes into my car. I know that not everyone enjoys a vintage aesthetic, but at least I could have donated them to one of my local charities that helps domestic violence victims or recent immigrants to set up their new homes.

My sister ended up choosing one pretty plate to bring home, as it’s impossible for one person to save everything from the landfill.

It would easy to fault Goodwill for not selling every single donation, but the store was already stuffed to the gills. The problem is not with an organization that’s working to resell our unwanted goods, the fault is with our society’s throwaway mentality. We’re encouraged to buy new clothing, toys and decor each and every season, as well as to donate to those in need in order to create space in our closets for exciting new stuff.

House too cluttered to accommodate your new purchases or gifts? Just gather up your unwanted stuff and donate it to Goodwill! It turns out that Goodwill can only do so much to find buyers for your donations. Thrift stores are burdened with the straight up tonnage of fast fashion, which includes household goods beyond the closet. People don’t want to buy vintage quality necessities, when it’s cheap or even cheaper to pick up trendy new stuff at Kohl’s, Walmart or The Dollar Tree.

We aren’t bonding with the things we own, because it’s so cheap to replace. Although the wealth of used Lord & Taylor, Talbots, Anne Klein and other high end brands at particular Goodwill demonstrated that people are also quick to donate their expensive clothing as well.

I took approximately three minutes to find expensive brands to photograph and easily came up with these examples:

Considering that a Lord & Taylor cashmere sweater sells for $140, it’s not just H&M or Old Navy clothes that lose their luster once they’re no longer new.

What’s the solution? Choose to buy used, as it spares our landfills, and then simply buy less. You likely own almost everything you need, and you can step away from the “yay, new stuff!” mindset. Irresponsible manufacturing of consumer goods is only supported when people like you and me spend our dollars on this stuff.

Spend mindfully. Buy quality timeless items that won’t go out of style. Choose local businesses that support your own community. Make a stand and join the buy-nothing-new Compact.

Be a citizen, not a consumer.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Betty Winslow December 11, 2016 at 11:55 am

That is so sad – our church helps newly arrived internationals furnish their apartments, and those dishes would be fallen on with cries of delight. I know when my daughter worked at GW, she said mugs were tossed by the dozens every week, due to too many cluttering the shelves. Such an awful waste, when there are people in need everywhere.


Celina boulanger December 12, 2016 at 4:45 am

Maybe take a few mins to call the local goodwills and offer to have your organization come pick up free house wears.


A. Marie December 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Holy cow, those photos blow me away. I mean, really, folks are getting rid of stuff like that…and a lot of it ends up in Goodwill’s dumpsters? I’m with Betty W on this one: Why not donate stuff that can’t be sold but is still obviously usable (like those dishes) to organizations like Betty’s church?


Sharon December 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm

I had my cashmere sweaters taken in by a seamstress when I lost weight. But there’s no way to fix my heavy overcoat or raincoat, so those will go to a charity shop, where I’ll be looking for their replacements.


Kara December 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Why doesn’t Goodwill give this to people in the community? Instead of putting it in dumpsters, they could place it outside with a sign that says “FREE”. The reason they don’t do that is likely because they want people to come in their store and spend money instead…

Here is a better idea: stop donating to Goodwill.


Katy December 11, 2016 at 12:40 pm

It’s a mystery, that’s for sure. But of course they want people to come in and spend. That’s how their support their mission to help people with barriers to employment.


Vickey December 12, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Not donating to Goodwill (or at least another secondhand store) means less efficient re-distribution of secondhand goods. So even more of it would wind up in the landfill.
It’d be great if we could just drop these things off at a reuse barn at our local transfer station or landfill, but then the hours for “shopping” would be very limited, and the costs of staffing, winnowing, and maintenance would fall to taxpayers. (I don’t mind that last bit. But others might.)


Marcia December 11, 2016 at 1:06 pm

My understanding is that they pay their help only minimum wage. Is there a non-profit side to Goodwill? I am sure that Salvation Army is non-profit, and I prefer to give donations to them or another agency that is. Don’t worry–my donations don’t add up to dumpsters full, but still–I want them reused which is why I donate them in the first place.


Katy December 11, 2016 at 1:14 pm

I address that issue in this blog post:

“Before I could ask about the controversy surrounding employees being paid less than minimum wage, I was given the full story and told that not one employee of GICW is paid less than minimum wage. None. (I also need to point out that each regions’ Goodwills are run completely separately, and the trainee whose family was upset was from a different region.) Also, GICW pays their job training participants. And because there are strict wage restrictions on persons receiving state or county benefits, training wages can result in diminished benefits. Each trainee does have an Individual Service Plan. And training wages are decided as a group and in accordance with Oregon Labor recommendations. (I imagine that paying a caseworker to put in the time to cut through all this red tape is extremely time consuming, and thus is not done as a cost cutting measure!)”


Kara December 11, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Why do you constantly promote Goodwill? There must be some reason….what is it?


Katy December 11, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Great organization that does good in my community.


Ruby December 11, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Katy, in my neighborhood, it’s the Salvation Army that’s my main thrift stop. Although I’m not particularly religious, I love to support all the good done by local “Sally Ann” and appreciate the kindness of the staff, who I’ve seen hand a bag to a mentally disabled young man who needed socks and underwear and let him fill the bag up for free.

Susanne g December 11, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Agree. It’s on US that there’s too much stuff. They help people who would be unemployable. That’s huge. They can’t do everything.

Trish December 11, 2016 at 5:49 pm

It’s my understanding that the Salvation Army is very unsupportive of the LGBTQ community


Su Mama December 11, 2016 at 7:20 pm

We spent Thanksgiving out of town with my husband’s family, some of whom are members of the Salvation Army. After dinner, I had a private conversation with a young woman who works for the Army full time, and I broached the subject. She was horrified, and said that of course they offer services to the LGBTQ community needing help. If someone working there feels otherwise, they’re told to never, ever let it affect their dealings with the public. If they do so, they are OUT. I’m a writer, and in the past have written extensively about the Salvation Army. I was then, and remain so, a great admirer of their work with the homeless, and write a check to them each year.

I realize that some blog members may have experienced or witnessed what they deem negative behavior toward needy members of the LGBTQ community. But this is what has been my experience, and continues to be so.


Vickey December 12, 2016 at 3:33 pm

Any word on whether or not they preach straight lifestyles or otherwise attempt to “pray the gay way”?


Vickey December 12, 2016 at 3:30 pm

It’d be interesting to ask your local Sally Ann what they do with the stuff that doesn’t sell. A local faith-based poverty outreach org I know dumps oodles of stuff in the dumpster. Anything imperfect is considered to send “the wrong message” to their clients.


Jody December 13, 2016 at 4:36 am

Goodwill is a non-profit organization.


Bee December 11, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I think that it is sad that GW ditched the dishes. I look at the contents of those bags, and I can imagine a table dressed for spring in very vintage pink, green and yellow. 🙂 It is unfortunate that theses items met such a fate. Such waste!

But seriously, the resources that we use to produce all this “stuff ” are finite. It makes me wonder when we all will collectively say, “Enough!”. I walk through the stores this time of year ,and they are bursting with merchandise. It makes me feel a little sad. After all, this should be the season of peace and goodwill not a time of excess and consumption.

I hope that I have not been too preachy. The consumerism has really gotten to me this year. I am trying to distance myself from the excess. So in the coming year, I will definitely join you , Katy. I will continue to buy primarily secondhand items as I have for more than 20 years. There is already enough stuff to go around.


Marilyn December 12, 2016 at 6:24 am

Bee, I had the same thought about the dishes in a pretty setting. I wish GW had the space to display the dishes on a table with a pretty tablecloth. I’m sure they would have been sold if displayed that way. I know it’s a matter of space which is a shame.


ouvickie December 11, 2016 at 2:11 pm

I get the “Yay, new stuff!” when I buy used items at my Goodwill, because it’s “new” to me.
You’re right it is a throw away mentality. It’s very sad to see those pretty dishes going to the landfill. I give household items like that to my local shelter. They provide their clients with items to set-up a household. I can’t bear to throw out useful stuff and I already know GW gets too much dumped on them.

I picked up a book of “Best Loved Poems” by Longfellow a few weeks back it was printed in 1949. I plan to read through them and later will end up gifting or selling it.
This is part of why it’s hard to get my house decluttered. I take a long time deciding where to donate or who to gift things to, because I can’t bear to throw out useful things. I have 3 trunks of things to go through that belonged to my Mom. I hope to donate a lot of it to two of the shelters I like to support.

Quite honestly, I’ve never been into most of the stores you mentioned. My Mom was a garage sale queen, when we were young (60s) and when Thrift and Consignment stores became popular, those were her favorite places to shop. She was always well dressed too, she had very good fashion sense. I’m glad she passed her frugality along to me.


Deborah December 11, 2016 at 2:38 pm

This is just heart breaking. I so agree, just too much mindless purchasing.


Bonnie December 11, 2016 at 2:55 pm

A ‘buy only used goods” credo depends upon a robust consumer economy. A truly frugal person/society/economy does not dispose of useful goods. A “buy only very good quality goods and keep them until they wear out, even if that takes a few generations” credo is actually a frugal one. But you don’t buy much, and you don’t get to brag about it.


ouvickie December 11, 2016 at 4:36 pm

I believe the U.S. had a “use it up” economy through the 50s. It seems consumerism was rampant beginning in the 60s. We had a lot of consumer goods being mass manufactured here and disposable everything became very popular. I remember all of those commercials on TV growing up.
As baby boomers, we raised our kids that way, especially if you lived in cities where your trash was picked up once a week. Out of sight out of mind makes for unconscious consumerism. In order to turn things back to a “use it up” economy, we have to become conscious consumers. I hope that’s possible, but it takes teaching that to kids so they grow up and become conscious consumers.


Lorraine December 11, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Just like everyone else, seeing those lovely, vintage dishes tossed into the trash made me sad. I work at keeping clutter to a minimum, but I have a weakness for vintage dishes and linens. Hopefully, someone came along and rescued them before the garbage truck came. It’s coincidental that you focused on cashmere sweaters to photograph. I just talked to a friend who said she goes to GW specifically to find cashmere sweaters for her and her daughter. It is truly a sad commentary on our society.


Kay December 11, 2016 at 3:52 pm

I donate to the Mennonite thrift store near me instead of Goodwill because I feel that they work harder to find homes for things that are donated. I agree it’s not Goodwill’s fault, but wish that they wouldn’t accept things like that that they can’t sell so that the donor has the option to donate them elsewhere.


Vickey December 12, 2016 at 3:39 pm

It’s possible they didn’t realize the dishes wouldn’t sell, or chose the slowest moving dishes to dumpster when their shelves got too full.


Effie December 11, 2016 at 4:23 pm

People think it is good to give to thrift stores, but when unsalable items are donated it costs the organization money to get rid of them. Dumpsters are not free. There will be less money to help their clients.


Cindy in the South December 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm

I am sad about the dishes. I live in a very poor area and folks need dishes and food here……sigh. I hope someone dumpster dives them. It is the age old problem of wealthy areas having an overabundance, and poor areas being in need. It is hard to match up abundance and needs for various reasons. I already buy everything except panties, bathing suits, and shoes at thrift stores, if possible. I would buy shoes but I can never find Dansko shoes at our thrift stores.There is not a piece of furniture I bought new in my house, except my futon, and that is new because of a horrible experience with bedbugs in a used sofa several years ago.


Mrs. Picky Pincher December 11, 2016 at 5:41 pm

This is a great message. 🙂 We donated to Goodwill this weekend and we were also greeted by a similar sight. I’m trying to be better about buying quality clothing in the first place so there’s no need to continue the cycle of fast fashion. At least you were able to salvage a plate. 🙂


tia December 11, 2016 at 6:07 pm

I’m sure if GW thought they could sell any of the stuff in the dumpster it would have been on the shelves. The problem is getting vintage items to people who like vintage things…even if you find people via the internet, dishes are heavy and shipping is expensive. GW does a pretty good job with clothing that doesn’t sell in the stores, they bundle them up and sell huge blocks to other countries. Some stores even sell stuff with rips, holes, and stains to be recycled. They do the best they can but they also have to make money to stay in business. There probably needs to be some brainstorming done to figure a larger network to get stuff someone doesn’t want to people who do want it. It probably won’t happen until stuff is so piled up everywhere that it’s a health hazard because landfills are full and desposing of stuff gets too expensive.
Businesses do so much research to figure out how to get you to buy things that its not surprising people buy stuff. People are being manipulated and those companies are making lots of money saddling everyone with stuff. And now there are going to be those big businessmen roaches in charge of government so it’s probably going to be a big consumer wet dream. It might get interesting.


Teri December 11, 2016 at 11:15 pm

You say the store was “stuffed to the gills”. Maybe there would have been room for the dishes if Goodwill’s pricing wasn’t so high and people were buying more. That is the case with the Goodwills in my area. When they all “went corporate” (to quote a worker) a few years ago the prices went up significantly and I and many others shoppers would not buy like we used to. I remember their $10 bag sales to clear the racks, and buying several bags of items for less than $20…not anymore.


Savannah December 12, 2016 at 5:43 am

Agreed – the prices are a little steeper now (specifically in the clothes section) than they have been in the past.


Bee December 12, 2016 at 7:30 am

My GW has a Blutique. Nicer and new clothing that have been donated is pulled out and displayed in a different area of the store. Jeans are as much as $30 a pair. Dresses are $69. Shoes are around $20 a pair. Few bargains here.


Diane December 12, 2016 at 4:32 am

I toured the Goodwill Last Resort in Austin and it is remarkable how very little they send to the landfill. Their recycling program is amazing and almost everything they don’t sell in the stores here or at the Last Resort gets sold to vendors or recycled. I was very pleasantly surprised to see this.

Austin, itself, has a goal to become Zero Waste by 2040.


Mariana December 12, 2016 at 4:34 am

I stopped donating using the drop offs as I found out they do go directly to landfill. Whatever (good quality and clean) clothing I have T. packs into a car and gives away to gas station attendants etc. No one ever said no!


Hana in Prague December 12, 2016 at 5:59 am

It’s killing me to see the top plate on the pile. I have a set of those (from a thrift store) and they are actually pretty valuable. Hard to find though. They were made in Germany


Joyce December 12, 2016 at 6:50 am

My daughter-in-law and I would kill for a chance to dig thru those plates! Our Goodwill and ARC stores have sales each month and Senior discounts but still seem to have lots of stuff. It can be pretty overwhelming but .I am heading over to ARC this afternoon to use my $5 in ARKY bucks.


erin December 12, 2016 at 8:41 am

That’s so sad! Those plates are gorgeous!


Gina in KY December 12, 2016 at 10:20 am

I think what bothers me, at least in my locality, is the shortage of quality stuff for sale IN the store vs. what I, at least, know I donated. The stores in my city have very little vintage and mostly low-end dollar store stuff for sale on the shelves. I wonder where the good stuff I see in the donation bins are heading to if not kept local. I do visit another near-by city every other week and always hit up the GW Outlet (where, oddly enough, I find more vintage and high-quality items than the stores in my city). I wonder if NYC area GWs have an outlet they use or is just so much *stuff* even that is not feasible. I’ll also add one more point to your excellent suggestions: Rock your own style! You’ll have more selections if you do thrift!


Bee December 12, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Rock your own style is great advice! If you buy what you love, you will always be “in.”


Nancy from Mass December 12, 2016 at 10:40 am

I am so sad to see the dishes in the dumpster! I have been looking for a few larger bowls (for pasta, soup, etc) to replace the 2 I broke in 24 hours. I have been to 5 different thrift shops in the last month or so and am surprised by how few dishes each one had. like, seriously, hardly any dishes on the shelf! I still have not found any bowls.
my cousin buys dishes sometimes at auctions, for a few dollars a box. When she hosted her daughters bridal shower (for 30) she brought them out and we ate on china dishes that were all different. it was very lovely!
I tend to buy old linens – i love real tablecloths. Most of the ones i have were purchased for $1 each. they are beautiful and the fabric is incredible to the touch.


JD December 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

Nancy from Mass, I’ve been looking for bowls, too. My husband has developed a problem with dropping and breaking dishes, so I wanted a few Corelle bowls and plates for him to be able to microwave leftovers easily, as my current husband-proof plastic dishes shouldn’t go in the microwave. Corelle bowls are rarer than hens’ teeth around here. I’ve been looking for a year and have found — one.
It’s hard on me to see those dishes in the dumpster. I have a dish addiction that I must control at all times, and those are pretty…… It seems like there should be a better place for them that wouldn’t incur cost to Goodwill at the same time.
Anytime I’ve replaced dishes I’ve sold the old ones at yard sales. I’ve always had a buyer, even though I’ve always been upfront and honest about what pieces are missing.


Nancy from Mass December 12, 2016 at 12:14 pm

i can’t believe you’ve been looking for a year and have only found 1. That makes me wonder if i’ll ever find bowls!

I’ve even looked on the Pfaltzgraff website at the clearance bowls (I love Pfaltzgraff and try and find anything of theirs in shops). I figure, if i end up buying new, i might as well buy a brand i love.

but i keep stopping and looking at thrift stores – i hope to find bowls (of any brand) in one soon…..


Karen December 12, 2016 at 11:08 am

I have thought all year about joining the Compact, and after reviewing the few times I bought something I might have been able to buy used but didn’t, I don’t think this is going to be a big stretch for me. I’m in for 2017.
We’ve noticed the premium labels and exceptional quality of thrift store offerings as well and have been “upgrading” our wardrobes with cashmere and merino wool. My daughter, especially, has done well building a work wardrobe of high quality classics mixed with some amazing “statement” pieces on a very limited budget while attending college this year. We look up our purchases and estimate we pay 10% or less of the retail price. The incredible selection makes coordinating pieces pretty easy, so fewer are needed, which suits her minimalist tendencies. I could only dream of that wardrobe when I was her age.
Zero packaging waste (if you bring a reuseable bag), keeping useful items out of the landfill and 90% “savings”? What’s not to like? And there is STILL stuff like that china and so much more going to the landfill. That’s so many kinds of crazy. My cheap, old, better-as-plant-saucer dishes have suffered a high rate of attrition over the years, I’m not averse to a coordinated, but mismatched set. Next week…


Connie December 12, 2016 at 2:18 pm

I try hard to buy used specifically from Goodwill but am hard pressed to find what I need at a reasonable price. For instance, I need a “new” crockpot. I found one at Goodwill but it is priced at $19.99 whereas I can get a truly new one at Target for $24.99. The Goodwill one is a tad less than clean and comes prescratched, so it will be harder to clean. This scenario discourages me from buying used at Goodwill.


Jody December 13, 2016 at 4:40 am

I work for Goodwill Great lakes in Ontario Canada. In my area one of the things we as an organization are working towards is to have very little of the donated goods go to landfill


Is it a need or a want December 13, 2016 at 7:04 am

A volunteer run consignment shop for the arts runs an amazing yearly garage sale. Last year I picked up and put down lovely,lovely casserole dishes. They were bone china and edged in gold. Can’t put them in the microwave so no was purchasing them. They have also put a halt on china sets of dishes being accepted for consignment. No one is purchasing them in the volume to move them through the store to be profitable and this is a volunteer run shop.


Jose M. Medellin December 13, 2016 at 7:24 am

Especially at this time of year, thoughtful giving is so important. As one of many non-profits who support the very neediest of our city, Goodwill Industries is thankful for the many donors who contribute to the work we do through their generosity. We also want to assure our customers that we value your donations. Unfortunately, as was the case in New Rochelle, sometimes donors leave goods outside, which not only do the items not make it to the sales floor, but the donor is missing an opportunity for a tax receipt. When items are not sold in the store, they are not thrown away, but sent to our outlet. So there is another opportunity to keep items out of the landfills. We also depend upon the feedback of our many customers to make us and our communities better and we are going to put some things in place that make it easier for donors to distinguish dumpsters from donation bins. We hope you will keep Goodwill on your holiday list as a charity of choice and celebrate in the good work we do – last year serving over 86,000 individuals. From all of us at Goodwill, have a wonderful holiday season! 

Thanks – Jose, Director of Communications,


Katy December 13, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Thank you so much for your thoughtful clarification of the work the NY Goodwills do to keep donations from the landfill. I realize that I forgot to mention that maybe 1/3 of the plates were dirty as if they’d been under potted plants. I know that Goodwill donation centers do not have the facilities to wash soiled donations.


Lynn D. December 13, 2016 at 8:40 am

I noticed that a lot of the discarded plates had gold rims. I avoid those because you can’t put them in the microwave, not sure about the dishwasher either. They’d be nice hanging on the wall though.


Ainsley Jo Phillips December 13, 2016 at 5:14 pm

My take on this is that there are two sides to every story.

Having said that…When I donate something to an organization, I don’t want it ending up in a landfill just because the charitable organization doesn’t have room for it. I might be donating something very precious to me that I visualized making somebody else happy. If I were going to throw it away, I would have done it myself.

Some perfectly-good things get thrown out in our throwaway society in order to provide tax write-offs.

Throwing out beautiful china like that shows poor stewardship.


Heather December 15, 2016 at 7:51 pm

This dumpster makes me sick to my stomach!! I would have posted this on Craigslist so that other “pickers” could pick to their hearts content. Or I would have put these street side and posted. Waste is so unneeded!


Rhonda December 20, 2016 at 1:15 pm

This is sad, and also the fact that goodwill/salvation army and other thrift stores spend a FORTUNE having the trash taken away! This keeps the prices higher, and serves no good purpose 🙁
People donating should throw away items with holes, stains, and items that are just worn out to prevent this.


Virginia Rolley August 26, 2020 at 8:51 am

I use to absolutely love the Goodwill. Well use to. I worked across the street and would go there on my lunch break. My daughter and I was in one afternoon, she worked at the same place, and saw a beautiful lamp she wanted for her room. I told her after we got off wed stop in and get it. So after our shift ended we stopped in to grab it and it was gone. Not surprised it was a beautiful lamp, so I thought I’d ask before leaving to see if it sold or they cleared shelving for newer items. But I go everyday just about and this lamp was new to the collection. So I asked a worker about it. Thought maybe it was in the back and I could still buy it.
What I found out next literally made me sick.. like seriously about lost my shit right there.
They not only throw away items in my area they run them through a compacter first!! Crush everything before it goes to the locked up like fort Knox 10 ft gated dumpster!!! Not even lying or making this up!!
My reaction got a little attention that day..
Goodwill receives all items donated, free, turns around and makes profit, jacks up pricing but then has the nerve to destroy the unwanted items before tossing them?!!
All that could run Thru my mind was domestic abuse victims having to start over from dropping everything and fleeing, people who’ve lost everything from house fires or other natural disasters, homeless, immigrants or people who are just down on their luck..
Why? Just why?
Could they not be shipped to another store to see if their location has better luck?
Then so kindly donated back to shelters, churches, schools, anything?!
Greed. Selfishness.. I just can’t wrap my head around crushing everything first..


Katy August 26, 2020 at 11:27 am

Unfortunately, thrift stores get more donations than could ever possibly be sold. Many Goodwill regions, including mine send unsold goods to a pay-by-the-pound “bins” outlet store and then parcel all unsold stuff off to be sold in other countries. The problem is truly with consumers who buy too much stuff. Without stores like Goodwill it would ALL go to the landfill.


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