Zero Waste Week – Day 5 – Goodwill Tour

Woohoo! It’s the last day of Zero Waste Week and I’ve made it through with, well, minimal waste. Today the Austin Zero Waste Lifecycle Meetup group went on a tour of the Goodwill Resource Center in south-east Austin. If you give something to Goodwill instead of throwing it in the trash, that’s no guarantee that it won’t end up in the landfill but they definitely do a lot working towards zero waste.

It started out with what definitely wasn’t a Zero Waste lunch, but I was prepared for this and had already eaten¬†before arriving.

Now I really want a Cheeto ūüė¶

A few of the nice folks from this Resource Center and from Goodwill Central Texas shared some more information as other folks finished eating. The mission of Goodwill Central Texas is to empower people through work. That’s¬†not just temporarily¬†working at Goodwill but¬†building the skills and experience to continue on to other opportunities. They’ve even done a ton of advocacy, going so far as to get laws changed, so they can offer the training and GED programs necessary for people to be successful in the workforce. Finding a job isn’t always easy for folks who are trying to make a life for themselves after getting out of prison, who have a disability, and other groups of people, so I’m glad that when I shop at Goodwill any profits are going to a good cause.

Next up, time for the tour! We all put on some orange vests and unfortunately for those of us who weren’t wearing glasses, we had to use some packaged glasses. (They were returned at the end of the tour.)

I have a pair of lab goggles/glasses. If only I had known I’d need them!

The tour was worth it though. First up we passed through the Goodwill Outlet Store where as much as possible of the goods are sold. And then we passed along through the curtained doorways to where the real magic happens. Here a bin of unsold clothes gets loaded into the baler and ready to ship out to whomever is willing to pay for it.

Next up, we saw the sorting area where tons of hanging signs showed where to put almost every conceivable type of item. Depending on the type of commodity, these boxes and bales can then be sold for anywhere from $0.03 to $0.55 per pound.

The sorting area has boxes and bins for small toys, luggage, paper, sports balls, vacuums, and so much more

Beyond that there are just boxes and boxes of stuff. All tagged and organized with what they have in them. Some are things that are ready to be sold either at this Outlet Store or shipped to one of the local Goodwill stores to be sold there. But it must be that that type gets disbursed fairly quickly because the majority of labels I saw was stuff that didn’t sell in the stores and is waiting to be sold on the commodity market.


Computers are a special item because if they’re in working condition, they go to the MacFarlane store to be refurbished and resold. The machines and parts that are hopelessly broken just go to the recyclers.

But¬†wait, that doesn’t look like a computer…

A bale of stuffed animals hanging out among the electronics

Towards the back there are just stacks and stacks of bales of different materials, but definitely more clothing than anything else.

Just a few of the clothes bales
Oh hey, there’s some bales of plastic at the end of a clothing row.

And then of course, there’s the eCommerce department. Jewelry, books, expensive stuff. That all gets sold online so Goodwill can get the most possible value from it to put towards their mission.

This could be a beautiful library, but they’re all being listed online
Small items being packed up to ship
And larger boxes for larger items

It’s not perfect, but Goodwill Central Texas is able to divert about 80% of the resources that come its way away from landfill, which is pretty amazing considering all the crap that people send to Goodwill constantly.

So that’s it, Zero Waste Week is over. I failed a bit at the end just because I missed eating out. Our final meal of ZWW was some fried rice from a chain not far from home. They still have real plates and real silverware, but at some point since my last visit they switched over to disposable cups. I survived without a cup of my own, but my husband’s cup of water tonight knocks off a few points for me. (And probably also his fortune and cookie wrapper, since he wouldn’t have gotten those had I not suggested eating out.) Oh yeah, and the receipt.¬†At least I was prepared with my own containers for the leftovers and those will disappear tomorrow for sure.

Don’t worry about the chopsticks. They’re from a previous meal that I’ve been reusing.

Really, Really Free Stuff

Once a month, Treasure City Thrift hosts Austin’s Really, Really Free Market (RRFM) at Chestnut Community Park. Now that I’ve stopped frequenting thrift shops so often (because it’s too tempting to buy crap I don’t need), this is the one time that I can still get my shopping fix. So much stuff, and all for the low low price of free. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come and rummage through crates and crates of clothing to find your treasure.

Austin Really, Really Free Market

Unlike many thrift shops, Treasure City Thrift is dedicated to zero waste and tries to make the best use of donations, even if that means giving them away free to people who will actually use them. Most of the goods at the Austin RRFM are thrift store donations that didn’t sell, even at their 25¬Ę sale. So I can feel good that when I find anything I like here and put it to good use I’m actually conserving resources.

This month I kept my haul pretty light but came home with a button-down shirt, a skirt that I may refashion into a shirt, a pair of mixmatched warm socks for the winter weather, yet another cloth napkin, and some interesting pattered cotton fabric for my yoyo quilt.

Things I’ve picked up in the past at the RRFM:

  • A cute onesie and cloth gift bag to present it in to my newborn nephew.
  • Tshirts and button-up shirts that I wear regularly.
  • One pair of jeans I wear regularly and one pair that’s slightly too big and which I only wear on weekends.
  • Underwear and socks. Hey, I washed them!
  • Cloth napkins. These are actually pretty common. If only I had known before I made my own set last year.
  • Lots of tshirts, used as tshirt yarn to make rugs and baskets.
  • Lots of jeans, used to reupholster my ottoman.
  • Pillow cases.
  • Lacy tablecloth for side table.
  • Straw baskets.
  • Patterned cotton fabric for my yoyo quilt.

But honestly, for me the best part isn’t the items that I’ve found here and made use of. The best part is the ease of returning the items that I picked up and ended up not really wanting. The shirt that doesn’t fit quite right. The felt I planned on using for some craft project but later realized I wasn’t that interested. Normally, I’d either have to surpress my shame returning the items to the store or otherwise go out of my way to find another home for them. But with the RRFM, I just set it aside in a bag ready to drop off at my next visit. No questions asked. Getting my shopping fix with absolutely no buyer’s remorse is totally worth dropping by even in the peak of summer heat or on a chilly day like today.