By Liam Mannix
Australia’s op shops are confronting a perfect storm as the rise of online auction sites, increased recycling and landfill costs and the possible loss of a key government subsidy hit them all at once.
Every night, piles of waste are dumped on the doorsteps of Victoria’s 650-odd op shops. It costs millions to recycle those items or send them to the tip.
“We get old tyres, bumper bars, gear boxes,” says Matthew Richardson, business manager at Lifeline Geelong, who estimates only 15 per cent of everything dumped can be resold. “What are these people thinking?”
The quality seems to be getting worse. There was a time when 70 per cent of everything donated could be resold, according to Save the Children’s head of retail Wayne Edis. That’s now fallen to 40 per cent, meaning more is being thrown away than resold.
“With the advent of Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree and eBay, people are trying to sell it first at home. And then whatever’s left over that they cannot sell, they are sending it to the op shops – rather than dispose of it themselves,” Mr Edis said.
That means lower earnings coupled with higher waste costs.
On top of that, the sector fears the recycling crisis will send those waste costs skyrocketing.
A global crisis was catalysed when China, where we export most of our recycling, announced in January it would stop taking the world’s garbage.
That has led to waste companies dramatically ramping up their fees to collect waste paper and plastic, a cost that has been slowly rippling through the economy.
Save the Children’s 59 op shops send about two million items to landfill or for recycling a year. Those costs are steadily increasing – from about $65,000 in 2016, to about $100,000 in 2017.
“And we’re expecting prices will continue to increase,” says Mr Edis. “Every dollar that goes to a waste company is a dollar that is not going to kids.”
The National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations (NACRO) says other charities are also reporting significant increases in the price of sending junk to recycling.
To partially offset those costs, op shops have relied on the state government’s landfill levy relief program.
The $800,000 a year program helps cover some of the $64.30 the government charges on every tonne of waste buried in landfill. It works out to about $2400 per charity per year.
“It’s nothing, right? But this couple of hundred bucks helps tiny charities keep going,” says NACRO chief Omer Soker.
But the program, which has run since 2015, was not renewed in this year’s state budget. It is set to expire on June 30.
“The charities would be really hurting if they lost this,” Mr Soker said.
Opposition environment spokesman Nick Wakeling criticised the government for pulling the funding despite finding $225 million to redevelop Etihad Stadium.
“Op-shops are not dumping grounds, and these funding cuts are just mean spirited and take money away from those who really need it,” Mr Wakeling said.
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio is believed to have given an in-principle pledge to renew the funding, following pressure from the opposition and op shops, although a spokesman declined to confirm this.
“We appreciate the vital role charitable recycling organisations play in the management of waste in Victoria, and we continue to engage with them and support a sustainable waste management system across Victoria,” Ms D’Ambrosio said in a statement.
Save the Children’s Wayne Edis is hopeful the government and the sector can come to a compromise. In the meantime, Mr Edis issued this plea: “If it should go to the tip, please take it to the tip.”