At Goodwill, we were excited to be invited to co-edit this issue dedicated to highlighting innovative solutions for eliminating and reutilizing waste streams in operations. As individuals continue to consume products and companies continue to expand, finding waste stream solutions that keep these products from stacking up in landfills has become an urgent priority.
The companies we’re highlighting this month demonstrate the opportunities organizations have taken at every step of the product life cycle to limit the negative impact they have on the environment. From innovations in how products are packaged to post-use recovery efforts to partnerships that maximize both environmental and financial impact, these agencies are truly leading the way in achieving net positivity.
Significantly, these waste management and recycling developments have the potential to be profitable on more than the environmental and financial fronts – they can also be profitable for people in need.
Giving New Starts with Secondhand Goods
According to the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste, the average American throws away 68 pounds of clothing and textiles each year, resulting in nearly 36 billion pounds of used jeans, T-shirts and other apparel being dumped in landfills annually.
Since 1902, Goodwill’s entrepreneurial nonprofit model of collecting and selling donated goods has helped communities repurpose their textiles and other used goods in environmentally sound ways that prevents them from piling up in local landfills. Last year alone, more than 79 million Goodwill donors in the U.S. and Canada helped divert more than 2.5 billion pounds of usable goods from the waste stream.
This model is not just good for the planet, but for people as well. Goodwill’s founder, Dr. Edgar J. Helms, started our organization with the intent to “save the waste in men and things.” Today, Goodwill uses the revenue from the sale of donated items in more than 2,800 stores and online to fund customized job training, employment placement and community-based services to people with disabilities, those who lack education or job experience, and others who face challenges finding employment. In 2011, the sale of donors’ unwanted items generated $4.4 billion in revenue, allowing us to provide 4.2 million people with employment and training services, and place 190,000 individuals into good jobs.
Encouraging more people to donate instead of dumping their unwanted items depends on educating them about how these goods have the power to make a difference in people’s lives, strengthen communities and create a healthier environment.
In 2010, Goodwill launched the Donate Movement, a global social responsibility platform and public awareness movement that inspires consumers and businesses to join us in promoting the positive impact donating has on people and the planet.
Several prominent brands have signed on as Donate Movement partners:
- For four years, Family Circle and Goodwill have teamed up for an annual back-to-school clothing drive, encouraging families to donate their gently used clothing. To date, Family Circle readers have helped divert more than 20 million pounds of clothing donations from landfills.
As part of the Donate Movement, Goodwill is also using online tools to advance consumers’ education about the impact of keeping their items out of landfills. An industry first, Goodwill’s patent-pending Donation Impact Calculator shows how donations can result in real social impact. For example, donating one bicycle, one coat and one DVD can provide someone with one hour of on-the-job training.
Sustaining Partnerships That Support Sustainability
Two of Goodwill’s longest running partners have also been instrumental in helping us keep waste out of landfills.
Since 2004, Goodwill and Dell have partnered on the Dell Reconnect program, which offers consumers free recycling for any brand of used computer equipment at nearly 2,000 Goodwill locations. To date, the program has recycled more than 253 million pounds of equipment and currently reaches more than 60 million households in the United States and Canada.
On the retail front, Goodwill has partnered with the Bon-Ton Stores for the semiannual Goodwill Sale for nearly 20 years. In exchange for their used goods, Bon-Ton customers receive coupons for exclusive offers. The collection diverts 2-3 million pounds of textiles from landfills every year and continues to bring customers into Bon-Ton Stores. With 83 percent of Americans saying they want brands to support causes, the partnership demonstrates that sustainability can be both good for the planet and profitable for companies.
Meeting the Recycling Needs of Local Communities
Equally important as our national partners is the work local Goodwill agencies are doing to meet the recycling and waste reduction needs of their local communities. Our 165 member agencies in the United States and Canada, and 14 international affiliates, are embracing waste reduction measures and pioneering new methods to ensure as little as possible goes to landfills.
Examples of our member-driven successes include:
- A growing commitment to zero waste: Goodwills are increasingly making strides towards becoming zero waste. For example, while donations have risen by 228 percent since 2005 at Goodwill Industries — Essex Kent Lambton (Sarnia, ON), the total percentage of product diverted from landfills has gone up from 61 to 77 percent. Many Goodwill locations are reporting 80 percent or higher diversion rates, demonstrating their ability to get the most value out of wide variety of goods we they receive.
- Finding new methods to manage hard-to-recycle items: In Duluth, MN, Goodwill Industries Vocational Enterprises has deconstructed more than 120,000 mattresses and box springs since the program was launched in 2004. Over the last two years, it has reached a processing rate of 1,600 units per month, with more than 90 percent of the components being recycled.
- Engaging youth to increase recycling: We want youth from an early age to think “Goodwill, not landfill.” Goodwill Industries of Michiana, headquartered in South Bend, IN, has developed programs to engage youth through schools, 4-H groups and the Boy Scouts in recycling. The programs incorporate competition between groups to increase both recycling rates and enthusiasm for sustainability.
Ultimately, we understand that companies will continue to manufacture products that consumers use and discard. As agencies evolve to incorporate more sustainable measures into their production and waste management efforts, Goodwill will continue to be a landfill alternative for individuals looking to get rid of their goods while having an equally positive impact on the employment situation in their communities.