City considers shuttering free store at dump

Whitehorse city staff are recommending the reuse store at the city’s dump be shut down.

Whitehorse city staff are recommending the reuse store at the city’s dump be shut down.

“Store” may not be a completely accurate name for the shed at the dump where Yukoners can drop off anything from old clothes to broken, three-legged chairs for others to take away for free.

It has been closed since April after a staff member found a hypodermic needle amongst some donated clothing.

After months of trying to come up with a solution, officials have concluded the store doesn’t have sufficient money or the space to make it a safe and effective service.

City council will vote next week whether to officially shutter the place.

On Tuesday, Dave Albisser, the city’s manager of water and waste services, told council that only about 10 per cent of the items dropped off at the reuse store actually end up getting recycled. Most things end up in the landfill. That means the store has very little impact on the city’s efforts to divert waste, he said.

The location can get congested, especially when cars are lined up at the busy transfer area.

Items come to the 500-square-foot building in waves. Without dedicated staff to sort and organize, the way they might at a larger second-hand store, a lot of the stock ends up on the floor or broken, he said. “Or the items that are already broken just get strewn throughout the facility.”

In May the city met with organizations that work with reused items, including Raven Recycling, Salvation Army, Mae Bachur, Zero Waste Yukon, Habitat for Humanity and YuKonstruct.

The groups haven’t been able to come up with a viable solution, council heard.

“At this point none of the ideas discussed were adequate enough to address the significant lack of space, and the coordination that is required to redistribute those goods,” Albisser said.

Work to find a solution will continue, but for now the operation of the store presents considerable health and safety risks, he said.

One of the problems is that each type of item — clothes, furniture or electronics, for example — needs to be handled differently.

Stores that focus exclusively on one or two categories of items tend to be more successful, he said.

As it is, the dump’s site is more of a one-stop shop and, by extension, a dumping ground for just about anything.

There are other places in Whitehorse that already allow Yukoners to drop off unwanted items for free.

After the dump’s store was shut down, other similar stores saw an uptick in use. The Salvation Army stopped accepting donations for a short period, while Raven Recycling added staff to attempt to better handle the influx of goods, accord to a report presented on Tuesday.

Not everyone on city council seemed willing to throw in the towel on the free store.

Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu asked for more information on the 10 per cent of items that are picked up from the store. Maybe the solution is to make the store stock more focused on certain things, she said.

That’s not something the city tracks, Albisser said. In some cases boxes of free items will just move from one car’s trunk to another. Staff don’t get to see those items, he said.

Coun. Rob Fendrick also seemed unwilling to write off the idea completely. He asked Albisser and environmental coordinator Bryna Cable what their dream scenario would be.

Cable said one solution could be to create a one-stop shop that has dedicated staff, potentially run by members of a non-profit organization.

That would take money, she said, and right now city staff haven’t been asked to look into that possibility.

Albisser said he didn’t think the one-stop shop idea was necessarily the way to go.

Mayor Dan Curtis said he was in favour of shutting the store down.

“It never feels good to close something down, but it’s clear to me that it’s very inefficient and not safe.”

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