When a thrift store cleans house | SummitDaily.com
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When a thrift store cleans house

HARRIET HAMILTONsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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DILLON – When Leti Diaz opened the storage room door at Dillon’s Summit Thrift and Treasure Wednesday morning, plastic grocery bags stuffed with discarded clothing spilled onto her feet. The mountain of bags represented three weeks worth of unsold soft goods collected at Dillon’s Summit Thrift and Treasure, and assistant manager Diaz was there to move the pile into a recycling truck outside the back door. Two Summit County employees, Drew Greer and Trang Doan, were waiting with their truck to transport the unwanted items to a company in the Front Range to be recycled into rags, which will then be sold in other countries. This collaboration between the county’s recycling program and Summit Thrift and Treasure is a godsend for the store, manager Melanie Sloan said. Before the arrangement was made, dealing with the sheer volume of clothing donations threatened to overwhelm the store operation. For the past several months, the county’s recycling department has sent a truck to the secondhand store on a regular basis to keep literally tons of discarded clothing from ending up in the local landfill.”It’s really an amazing volume of goods,” Sloan said. “We rotate everything in the store every three weeks.”Up until fairly recently, Denver- area thrift stores made regular trips to Summit County to pick up excess from the Dillon store. When the practice was discontinued last summer, the piles of clothes started to stack up. Several times Sloan and her staff rented a trailer and carried clothes to the dump.”We were really stuck then,” Sloan said. “We had a lot of waste.”A chance encounter with Carly Wier, executive director of what was then Summit Recycling Project, gave Sloan the idea to explore recycling options for the store’s unused clothing. “We discovered they were throwing away clothing that could be used in Denver,” Wier said. The two nonprofit organizations made an agreement to work together to salvage as much of the wasted soft goods as possible.Collaborative effortWednesday’s pick-up of thousands of bags of clothes turned into a true example of team work. A human conveyor belt consisting of staff, volunteers and county employees took nearly an hour to fill the recycling truck.”It’s like a medicine ball,” volunteer Doug Abrams said, as he caught and tossed bag after bag to the next person in the line. Sloan sees the arrangement with the recycling program as vital to her store’s operation.

“We were really stuck then,” Sloan said. “We had a lot of waste.”A chance encounter with Carly Wier, executive director of what was then Summit Recycling Project, gave Sloan the idea to explore recycling options for the store’s unused clothing. “We discovered they were throwing away clothing that could be used in Denver,” Wier said. The two nonprofit organizations made an agreement to work together to salvage as much of the wasted soft goods as possible.Collaborative effortWednesday’s pick-up of thousands of bags of clothes turned into a true example of team work. A human conveyor belt consisting of staff, volunteers and county employees took nearly an hour to fill the recycling truck.”It’s like a medicine ball,” volunteer Doug Abrams said, as he caught and tossed bag after bag to the next person in the line. Sloan sees the arrangement with the recycling program as vital to her store’s operation.

“If this stops, we’re really in trouble,” she said. “If we couldn’t do anything with excess goods, we’d have to shut the door.”The problem of wasteAs an area of great affluence and high levels of transience, Summit County generates more than its fair share of waste.”A lot of people who are just here for the season purchase and leave everything behind when they leave,” Sloan said. Spring is the time when high volume of donations at the store can really stress the system, she added.Dealing with Summit County’s waste is a primary focus of the High Country Conservation Center (HCCC), the new nonprofit formed when the Summit Recycling Project reorganized in January.”Part of our mission is waste reduction,” HCCC’s Wier said. ” We’re involved with the thrift store specifically around the reuse component.”

Although appreciative of the recycling efforts of Summit Thrift and Treasure, Wier bemoaned the area’s overall lack of available options for thrown away items.”Our reuse infrastructure in the county is very minimal and behind the times,” she said. “There’s nothing here for used appliances and building materials, for example. I can blow your mind with the amount of appliances that are working that get dropped off at the landfill.” People renovate their condos, or just change the colors in their kitchens and have no option but to discard perfectly functional appliances.”Instead of having a place to bring working appliances, it goes immediately to the scrap pile,” she added.In the absence of a viable reuse infrastructure, Summit Thrift and Treasure ends up being the default destination for unwanted household items such as clothing, small appliances, electronics and furniture.Dumping, particularly of furniture, remains an ongoing problem for the Dillon store. Although they’d like to be an outlet for affordable furniture, because of lack of space, most donated furniture ends up in the Dumpster, Sloan said.”The biggest problem we have is respect of donation hours and guidelines,” she added.Despite the problems, usable donations to the store are greatly appreciated. Because it is primarily staffed by volunteers, the vast majority of the store’s proceeds go directly to community services provided by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), including parent education and general assistance.”We’re fortunate to have a community that’s very generous,” Sloan emphasized. Coping with the waste of Summit County’s affluent, however, has given her an appreciation of reuse efforts.

“Working at the store has opened my eyes to the amount of waste in our community,” she added. Occasionally, the sheer volume of items no one wants is too much for Sloan and her staff.”There will be times when we have to close the donation doors when we’re full, she said.According to Wier, HCCC wants to help organizations such as the Dillon store manage the flood of used items.”We’re hoping to coordinate reuse: rummage sales and consignment stores,” she said. “Summit Thrift and Treasure does a great job, but they can’t be the county’s only reuse facility.”Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at hhamilton@summitdaily.com.


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