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Reuse centres fill up after the holidays – what not to donate

Finland’s generous network of recycling and reuse centres accepts donations of gently used household items that they then sell or donate on to others. Each year at this time there is a rush of new donations as people clean up for the holidays, but two centre managers remind people that the centres are not dumps, and not all donations are welcome.

Seinäjoen kierrätyskeskuksessa lajittelu menossa.
Seinäjoen kierrätyskeskuksessa lajittelu menossa. Image: Pasi Takkunen / Yle

The end of the year is a busy time for people moving home and preparing for the holidays. For many, there is a strong urge to fill a car with all of their extra junk and drive to the closest reuse centre (Kierrätyskeskus) and donate the items for free.

They may be disappointed however, as the centres are not obliged to accept everything, especially items that they know won’t sell.

“I would hope that people finally understood that this is not a place to bring their rubbish. Disposing of items that won’t sell is just an added expense for us, so we can’t accept things that should just be thrown away. We are not a waste reception centre,” says Pirjo Salonen, manager of the Kierrätyskeskus department store in the Nihtisilta district of the southern city of Espoo.

“We don’t want to be branded as some kind of flea market anymore. We are a network of reuse centres and department stores. We chose our wares carefully and display them nicely. No one is rummaging through cardboard boxes at our locations,” she says.

No to ratty sofas and large bookshelves

So what kinds of items are regularly rejected as donations? First on the list are sofas that have seen better days. If the sofa is dirty or ripped, no one is going to want it, Salonen says, but sofas that are still presentable are one of the centre’s hottest selling products. The same goes for kitchen tables. Massive bookshelves are also out of style.

Next on the list of banned donations are VHS cassette tapes. They belong in the trash, as they have fallen entirely out of use. Conversely, even though old tube televisions are no longer manufactured, the centre still takes sets that are operational.

Same for old books and sports gear

Unfortunately, many books are also going the way of VHS tapes. Encyclopaedia sets are useless in the internet age. These and textbooks are now rejected at the reuse facilities.

“Perhaps people don’t have time to read, or they don’t like the books gathering dust on their shelves. School curriculums are changing all the time, so there’s no demand for old textbooks,” Salonen says. “Only 30 to 40 percent of the books donated to use are sold. Some we can’t even give away. They end up in the paper recycling.”

Several kinds of sports equipment have also made the list, as older biking helmets no longer meet safety standards, and yesterday’s downhill and cross-country ski and boot models are out of vogue. Sports equipment is a top seller at this time of year, but the items should be relatively new models if they hope to interest buyers.

Up to 800 customers a day

The Kierrätyskeskus in Nihtisilta is Finland’s largest reuse centre, and caters to between 700 and 800 customers a day. Every year the number of customers increases.

The Finnish Red Cross also runs several Kontti reuse centres throughout the country. In these shops, the sales of the donated goods are used to support the charity’s activities. Kontti welcomes gently used clothes, dishes, household items and furniture.

“We have been fortunate to receive a lot of donations. Recycling household items is popular right now,” says Tiina Risti, manager of the Kontti location in southwest Turku.

Salonen says the objective of the non-profit Kierrätyskeskus chain is to circulate usable items to those who need them, in addition to saving decent items from the landfill.

Something you would give your friend

Both reuse centre directors give potential donors the same advice: Bring things that you would gladly give to a needy friend. Then you know it will be something other people would like and need.

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