David Roman: Charity shops help to save lives while saving the planet

Over the past 50 years, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has funded many of the breakthroughs in research that have helped bring about huge improvements in the diagnosis, care and treatment of people living with heart and circulatory diseases. Thousands of families and individuals across the UK and beyond have benefited from our work.

NEW BHF store in Livingston

But what’s less well known is the wider benefit to society that we ­provide. Last year alone, BHF shops and stores saved 74,000 tons of items from ending up in landfill. That includes furniture, electrical items, books, toys and 14,000 tons of ­clothing.

As a result, we prevented 146,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere. We also helped local authorities to save money. Councils have to pay landfill tax for every ton of waste they put into the ground.

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By reducing the amount of waste that local authorities across the UK have to get rid of, charity shops saved them around £28 million in 2018 alone, according to the Charity Retail Association website. That’s money that can be used for community services for local residents instead.

Last year, our home stores helped to recycle and reuse more than 42,000 tons of furniture and ­electrical products, including a remarkable 180,000 sofas. For ­customers ­buying items in our shops, there’s also a benefit. Did you know that it takes 15,000 litres of water to grow the cotton needed to make a new pair of jeans? Every year, more water goes into ­producing new clothes in the UK than goes into drinking water. So when you buy a pair of pre-loved jeans from a BHF shop, you’re not just raising money to fund life ­saving research, you’re also ­helping the ­environment.

Reuse is very important to us, offering a sustainable solution to customers who want to get rid of unwanted clothes, books, furniture, electrical goods and much more. We can help make sure these items are reused by selling them on at great value prices to local shoppers in the community. We strive to reuse and recycle as much as we can, so even if we can’t sell donations within our shops we will always try to find a good home for them.

Statistics from the Charity Retail Association show that charity shops are able to reuse or recycle more than 90 per cent of donated clothing, with an average customer transaction of just over £4. We were proud to see the hard work of our volunteers and staff in the area of sustainability rewarded when we received the Charity Retail Association’s award for Greenest Charity Retailer of the Year 2019.

We’ve been putting a lot of effort into making our operations greener and we’re always looking to do more.

One example of this is in our efforts to significantly reduce the use of ­plastic bags across our shops, ­trialling alternatives to plastic ­carrier bags and donation bags. We’re ­trying to cut plastic in other ways too – ­earlier this year, we introduced a range of pocket money toys, after finding that small donated toys were harder to sell.

To combat this, we created pocket money toy bags with several small toys inside, that can be sold for just £1-£2. The toys are bagged in clear bioplastic derived from wood pulp, which is completely compostable.

A recent BHF survey showed that half of the UK population say they don’t have time to donate their unwanted goods to charity, ­simply because they don’t realise how easy it is to donate. As we move into the Christmas season, you’ll find a great range of cards – printed on FSC ­certified card – and pre-loved gift ­ideas, as well as new items, in our shops. If you need to have a clear out to make more room for all your presents, we’d be happy to receive donations – and can even arrange fast, free collection.

With almost 750 shops across the UK, including 79 in Scotland, our retail operation makes a huge ­contribution to our life saving research.

Every pre-loved item sold helps fund vital research to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of ­people ­living with heart and circulatory ­diseases in Scotland. But we couldn’t do any of this without the generous donations we receive from our supporters.

David Roman, sustainability ­manager, British Heart Foundation.