Last week charity bins located on Main Street between West 36th and West 37th avenues were surrounded by junk, including a discarded mattress and box spring and dozens of used books scattered below a blue "Books for Charity" bin, one of many located across the city.
What many donors may not know is that about a quarter of the books donated end up for sale on American online retail sites such as Amazon, eBay, Alibris and Barnes & Noble, with profits going to Thrift Recycling Management, a for-profit company based in Tacoma, Wash. Another 25 per cent of the books, such as old textbooks and encyclopedias, are pulped, while in B.C., the remainder are donated to needy libraries and literacy programs through the Reading Tree, the non-profit arm of Thrift Recycling Management.
The lack of clarity in the manner Thrift Recycling Management handles its donations has come under fire in the State of Oregon. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, the Oregon Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the company's business practices. The Courier contacted the provincial Ministry of Finance to enquire if any similar investigation is ongoing in B.C., but no one returned phone calls.
The Courier also called Thrift Recycling Management. That call was returned by Denise Finch, a local programmer for the Reading Tree, who explained most of the usable children's books donated are used to supply libraries in elementary schools serving low-income populations across B.C. Finch added Reading Tree also supports after-school programs in B.C. such as Boys and Girls Clubs. A percentage of the adult fiction books are donated to the B.C. Cancer Foundation, which sells them for $2 each to raise money. "Rather than dump these books in the landfill, they're recycled," said Finch, who added some of the profit from the books sold online is used to pay for that recycling, whether through a library donation or pulping.
Colleen Dickie, the community schools coordinator for the Vancouver School Board, described the Reading Tree as "very generous."
She explained the Reading Tree often provides books for classrooms that typically would have no books. "And at the end of the year those books go home with the children," said Dickie. "Sometimes the books are just given out to families, because it's nice for them to have their own books."
Dickie said donated books were used at Champlain Heights elementary school to create a small lending library for a literacy program that meets early in the morning, before the school's library is open. "It's a wonderful organization," said Dickie.
A story in Wednesday's Courier explored the fact much of the clothing donated to charity bins across the city ends up at a Value Village warehouse where its sorted for sale, either at a Value Village retail store or for rags.
The for-profit corporation Savers Inc., based in Bellevue, Wash., owns the Value Village thrift-store chain. Charities are paid by the pound for donated goods. B.C. Children's Hospital and the Salvation Army are two exceptions to that practice. Savers spokesperson Sara Gaugl told the Courier in 2010 the company donated $144 million to charities across North America from the bin program. The charities, such as Big Brothers and the Developmental Disability Association are responsible for the boxes and use their own drivers to pick up the donated goods.