Billions worth of unsold clothes, furniture and consumer goods will end up in landfill due to the pandemic and recession, unless retail recyclers get support to expand their operations.
- Every year, it is estimated nearly $2 billion of usable retail products go unsold
- Some charities redirect those products from ending up in landfill to those in need.
- There is movement to develop a circular economy to repurpose and redistribute unwanted items
Retail waste recyclers have not been able to access funds to grow their operations during the coronavirus shutdowns, just as the retail downturn has generated a larger than normal amount of excess stock for Australian retailers.
In a normal year, Australian charity Good360 estimates usable retail products worth $1.92 billion go unsold each year, but that figure is expected to skyrocket due to the lockdown.
Stopping the landfill solution
Good360 founder and managing director Alison Covington said many of these goods could be diverted to charities who supported Australians in financial distress.
Good360 connects Australian retailers with local charities, so excess and end-of-line stock can be distributed to Australians in need, rather than going to landfill.
More than 2,000 charities and schools across Australia can access products directly from retailers in their area.
Ms Covington said retailers such as Big W, Harvey Norman and Lego needed a better way to deal with excess product and the charity had now distributed more than $130 million in consumer products.
“There was no hesitation because nobody was solving their problem. They couldn’t wait to give these goods to people,” Ms Covington said.
Ms Covington said most government financial support had gone to food relief after a summer of bushfires and the pandemic.
The services provided by Good360 are not seen as emergency relief despite orders via their platform increasing by 388 per cent since April 2019.
“People need warm clothing and they need blankets and they need school supplies. All we’ve done is essential to keep people moving on in life,” she said.
End to ‘take, make, dispose’ model
Good360 is part of a larger movement hoping to encourage the development of a circular economy which redistributes and repurposes waste items, rather than the “take, make, dispose” model where excess products end up in landfill.
While Good360 deals with new products, Brisbane-based social enterprise World’s Biggest Garage Sale tackles the problem of consumer goods that are no longer fit for sale.
It restores and repairs damaged office furniture sourced from retailer Officeworks. Chairs and desks are then given to charities or sold to support the enterprise.
WBGS chief executive Yasmin Grigaliunas said the organisation recently donated furniture to homelessness services charity Orange Sky Australia who had 20 staff sitting on milk crates.
“The team was so incredibly appreciative of the product. They are sitting on nice comfortable chairs now,” Ms Grigaliunas said.
“It’s not all about necessarily making money [from the unwanted goods]. It’s just about ensuring that they don’t sit idle and dormant in warehouses.”
Circular economy needs support
According to Good360 and WBGS, government funding is needed to encourage the development of a circular economy that would not only divert millions of tonnes of waste from landfill, but also provide employment in an economy reeling from the effects of the coronavirus.
Ms Covington said her organisation might have to refuse donations from retailers because they did not have the capacity to handle the volume on offer.
Without government funding those products may be buried in the ground.
“We hired eight new people,” she said.
“We could hire dozens. I’ve been asking for funding to hire people to take this stock off these businesses, to give to these people who need it,” she said.
Regional garage sale concept
Ms Grigaliunas wants to expand the World’s Biggest Garage Sale operation into regional areas and said governments needed to see the benefits of developing a circular economy and provide support for the sector to grow.
“It is the new economy,” she said.
“No longer can we live in an industrial age, we will need to move into circular economies.
“It’s really the way of the future. There is untapped opportunity in this market.”