Undercover Investigation: Donation junk dumps

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
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Action News Hidden Camera Investigation has uncovered the dirty truth behind donation junk dumps.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Tis the season of giving and while our local charities are hopeful for your donations, an Action News Hidden Camera Investigation has uncovered the dirty truth behind donation junk dumps.

On Sunday, November 8th an Action News undercover camera rolled at this Salvation Army site in Philadelphia's Tacony section.

The site had been closed for just one day; and in just 24 hours it looked more like a garbage dump than a donation center.

A dirty mattress, empty food containers, and even a death certificate were all left behind after a weekend of uncharitable giving.

"Sometimes people use our donations bins as, for lack of a better term, trash bins," Major Philip Ferreira, the Director of Operations for the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia, said.

Action News once again placed hidden cameras at Salvation Army's Tacony location on November 15th. This time, bags of personal belongings left behind including family photos, used makeup, and just plain old garbage.

"We have to pay to get rid of those things," Ferreira said.

In fact, the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia told Action News they spend around $180,000 a year to discard of garbage. They said that is money that would otherwise go towards rehabilitation programs in our community.

"It's a problem, it really is a problem," Ferreira said.

Action News also visited the Goodwill processing center in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

We watched as workers sorted through donations.

CEO Mark Boyd says old computers, clothing, books and plastics all get resold, recycled, or repurposed.

Torn or stained clothing is bundled and brings in money as rags.

Old toys are sent to Africa.

"We try to maximize that donor value," Boyd said.

Goodwill shared with Action News surveillance video from their Front Street location that showed people dumping waste.

"People donate half bottles of lotion, I can't sell that. We have had people donate loved ones ashes," Boyd said.

Goodwill told Action News it hauls out twelve tractor trailer loads of trash a month costing them nearly $500,000 a year.

"We don't want tires, we don't want old paint, we don't want appliances, we don't want nuclear waste," Boyd said.

That message was apparently missed a few years back.

"A live hand grenade was donated to the Pennsauken store; we had to have the bomb squad in," Boyd said.

And even more troubling Action News found donations left after hours may not reach those who need them most because of thieves and scavengers.

"Unfortunately, other people come along and they see that it is not all junk, and they think it is better to take it for themselves or take it and sell it on their own," Ferreira said.

Both Goodwill and Salvation Army are in need of good donations, especially clothes.

A good rule of thumb they say is, before you leave it, ask if someone else could use it.

Salvation Army Statement:

While every effort is made to recycle every last bit of donations that cannot be used to support our programs, some items must be disposed of at considerable cost. Last year, in the Greater Philadelphia area, The Salvation Army was forced to spend just over $180,000 on disposal fees. Because even a single dollar spent on unusable items is a dollar not spent on our programs, we ask donors to only give new and gently-used clothing, shoes, furniture and other household items, such as those listed at https://satruck.org/Home/DonationValueGuide. We encourage donors who have any doubt about the usability of their gift to call us at 800-SA-TRUCK or visit us online at SATRUCK.ORG.

Goodwill Information:

Good will is always looking for clothing, accessories, toys, books, shoes, household items, furniture that is not broken or stained and home medical equipment. You can find out more information on how to donate to the Goodwill here: http://www.goodwill.org/donate-and-shop/donate-stuff/