EXCLUSIVE: Charges paid by some charity shops for disposing of unwanted donations at local authority CA sites/HWRCs will be the focus of a government summit this summer. Joshua Doherty reports on some of the issues under discussion.
The Charity Retail Association (CRA) – the trade body representing charity shops – argues that its members sell 95% of all donations they receive, either over the counter or through textile traders.
It insists that as the remaining 5% of unusable donations originate from households, they should be classified as household waste and therefore be exempt from civic amenity site/HWRC charges, which it says are in place across the country.
The CRA also explained the 5% of donations is largely made up of textiles which are either damaged or soiled, and so are taken to a CA site. The Association points out that alternative routes exist for the disposal of other items but that it is seeking to stop shops being charged for disposal of this textiles “waste”.
It reasons that charity retailers generally expect to be exempt from charges for the textiles waste. The CRA will now meet with Defra and the Local Government Association (LGA) at a summit in June, which will examine the issue.
Regulation 4 of the Controlled Waste Regulations 2012 defines waste from a charity shop as household waste if it originates from a domestic property, i.e. if it stems from a donation from a member of the public that is clearly from their home.
However, there may be situations where this does not apply, such as waste derived from donations from non-domestic properties.
The legal definition of household waste is also muddied when taking into account the process of sorting within a charity shop. Some have argued that it is only through the shops processing (i.e. sorting and selling the good quality/valuable items on through the charity shop or merchants) that they end up with waste that they cannot sell on and should therefore be classified as trade waste, and charged accordingly.
Other councils have also said that they feel the larger high-street shops, because they operate on a national basis, should have a full waste management system in place, and the burden shouldn’t be passed to councils.
Speaking with letsrecycle.com, the CRA’s chief executive Robin Osterman said: “As the remaining 5% we don’t sell originates from households, we feel it should be free to dispose of it as household waste.”
Mr Osterman added: “The issue is by no means just with textiles however, but the vast majority of things donated are clothes. 5% isn’t a massive figure, and this is only material that can’t be sold on either over the counter or through textile traders. If it wasn’t donated to shops this would end up being thrown away elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t want to pre-empt anything, but the summit in June will look to discuss how we can work with local authorities and help all parties involved.”
A spokesperson from Defra said: “Charity shops play an enormous role in supporting good causes and we are keen to support them and reduce any burdens on them, where possible.
“We all have a role to play in reducing waste and increasing recycling rates and we will continue to work closely with the CRA and LGA on this.”
Some national charity shops have complained that when disposing of some of the unwanted donations, they have been hit with charges which could otherwise have gone to a good cause.
David Roman, sustainability manager at the British Heart Foundation explained to letsrecycle.com that the charity prevents 78,000 tonnes of landfill a year, and the charges impact on their work.
“We already work with some local authorities to divert re-usable items from the waste stream into our stores and are keen to expand these partnerships. Not everything however can be resold, as some items donated are broken or not in good enough condition for us to sell on. In this instance we work with local councils to recycle or dispose of any waste as economically as possible.
“Where we are charged for disposal of unsaleable household donations there is substantial cost impact. This is money that could be spent on research into heart disease and could jeopardise the long term future of some of our stores, resulting in an increase in the volume of tipped items from householders.”
A report by Hillingdon council in 2017 further examined the issue of disposing of charity waste, which they provided for free but had to pay £130 per tonne to dispose of. Trade waste was charged at £160 per tonne.
This noted some of the issues with providing free of charge services, which included charity shops from outside the borough using its facilities, and centres closer to shops receiving more waste.
The report included a range of responses, which included Surrey county council, which did not accept waste from any of the large national/international charities, because of the large number of them throughout the county with a view they should have a system in place.
The majority of other authorities, the Hillingdon study found, accepted charity waste free, but had limits on either the tonnage or number of visits.
From an LGA perspective, Cllr Martin Tett, chairman of the Environment Board, said: “Charities occupying commercial premises are eligible for 80 per cent mandatory relief on their business rates, and any discretionary top up to this is the decision for the individual local authority.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to waste disposal. This is why one authority might have a different system to others. What works in one area might not be the most suitable method for another part of the country.”