February 2011

Where the recycling ends

By David Feela

Many people donate their discards to area thrift stores, and believe me, the stores are grateful. Donations are their inventory.

But what most people don’t see, especially the ones who don’t shop there, is the mountain of useless junk that gets dropped off — goods that can’t be sold, not by any stretch of the imagination. Clothing so worn, so filthy or odorous, so laced with mothballs or mouse droppings, that volunteers literally swoon when they open the bag.

And the thrift store has to pay to have this garbage hauled away to the dump, where it should have been sent in the first place.

I would like to propose an alternative to business as usual, especially since most thrift stores serve a greater mission, one that directly assists their communities. Offer to purchase a reverse extended warranty. Simply double whatever price the thrift store asks for this item and say very loudly, “A reverse extended warranty, please.”

Normally, an extended warranty allows you to purchase a false sense of security, that when your new product fails to function, which often occurs just beyond its official warranty period, you can still have it repaired. Never mind that the extended warranty is just another cheap marketing device, a gimmick to increase the cost of your already inflated price tag. Many warranties today (if you read the small print) also require that you pay the return shipping costs — which often amount to half the price of the product itself.

A reverse warranty, however, is a better deal, at least in the recycled world. It guarantees the thrift store (and the public that shops there) that if you find, for any reason, the product you are purchasing to be defective in any way, you will toss the damn thing in the trash, where it belongs, and not donate it once again out of some sense of misguided altruistic responsibility.

A lady at the checkout counter of one of my favorite thrift stores had her arms full of some very good bargains she’d culled from the racks. I wasn’t far away, browsing through the books, listening to the checkout chatter.

“Oh, that’s pretty,” the cashier cooed as she removed a hanger and examined the price tag.

“Wait!” the customer shouted, “don’t ring that one up!” She sounded desperate at first, then she lowered her voice, as if embarrassed. I had to move closer toward the jewelry counter just to properly overhear what came next.

“Is three dollars too much?” the cashier asked.

“Oh, no, the price is fine.”

“Then is the sweater torn or stained? Sometimes our volunteers miss things before they put clothing out for sale.”

“No, no. It’s practically new, but it looks so familiar I’m afraid I might have been the one who donated it.” I can’t think of a warranty to cover that, but believe me, it happens.

Not too long ago I purchased a book that was touted to be a riveting read. When I sat down at home, I noticed my own signature scrawled at the top of the title page. And I know for a fact that the book wasn’t all that interesting.

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.