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Stuffed owls and blood-stained wedding dresses – the weird world of charity shop donations

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Charity shops lift the lid on some of the strange stuff they’ve received

The staid and dependable world of charity shops hides stock rooms filled to bursting point with the horror and the turmoil of strange donations.

While most of us see quiet shops filled with quality second hand clothing, bric-a-brac and a million copies of “Fifty Shades” books, behind the scenes there are volunteers wondering whatever bonkers item they’ll find next among donated goods.

UK waste collection company BusinessWaste.co.uk, which works closely with charity shops to encourage reuse, and to ensure that the minimum possible items go to waste, asked workers and volunteers to list their weirdest finds, and they did not disappoint.

“It’s safe to say that some people think charity shops will take any old tat, no matter how damaged for tasteless,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesman Mark Hall, “luckily we’re here to take these things off their hands so they can be recycled for disposed of properly.”

A delve into the stockroom

BusinessWaste.co.uk asked workers at charity shops throughout the UK to list the weirdest, most disturbing, or funny items they’ve come across from public donations.

• A taxidermied owl, clutching a taxidermied mouse (“We weren’t even sure if that kind of thing is legal these days”)
• “Far too many” wedding photo albums
• A blood-stained wedding dress (“I wouldn’t have liked to have been at that reception”)
• 30 self-portraits of the same man (“He kept coming back into the shop to see if anyone had bought one. They had not”)
• A “really terrible” portrait of Princess Diana (“She looked like she’d just swallowed a wasp. Several wasps, the poor love”)
• A VHS tape of the A-Team TV series, but closer inspection revealed it to actually be an episode of Lovejoy (“Still a major win as far as we are concerned”)
• Dirty, stained bedsheets (“Come on folks, it’s not beyond the realms of decency to give them a wash before you donate them, is it?”)
• A Monopoly set with real but out-of-date bank notes inside (“We tried to track down the donor, but in the end The Bank of England were quite happy to exchange them for a good cause”)
• Several tins of octopus, apparently from somebody’s holiday in Spain (“We don’t accept food donations, but they thought we could raise – ha ha – up to six squid from them”)
• A sealed box with something rattling inside. The donor said it was cursed. (“Thanks for that, we’re not a personal exorcism service, we just raise money for the hospice”)

BusinessWaste.co.uk’s Mark Hall reveals: A lot of the charity people said they know all about Facebook groups featuring wild charity shop finds, but items that don’t make it to the shop floor go right off the scale compared to what appears on social media.

“I’m told that in many cases, the charity has its own reputation to think about. They’ve strict rules about shoddy goods and electricals, but they’ve also their own way of doing things when it comes to taste and decency. For example…

“What can a charity shop do with a suitcase full of porno magazines? The answer to that is stick it in the recycling like the donor should have done in the first place,” he says.

Making the best of it

And that’s where companies like BusinessWaste.co.uk come in.

“We already have a working relationship with many charity shops as part of their commercial waste disposal obligations,” says spokesperson Mark Hall, “so we go the extra mile helping them dispose of the strange stuff they receive.”

Hall says that BusinessWaste.co.uk encourages reuse and recycling, and in most cases charity shops represent the face of making the best of second hand goods up and down the country. This is especially so when they get nothing but one particular item in their donations, which they know they’ll never be able to shift.

“It used to be Dan Brown books, but now it’s Robbie Williams CDs and Fifty Shades, and all those copycat erotic novels,” says Mark Hall. “At one point most shops literally had boxes full of unread Fifty Shades, and books are particularly difficult to recycle because of the glue they use in the spines.

“We heard of one shop that made a very sturdy desk out of several dozen Fifty Shades books and a donated kitchen work top. That’s brilliant recycling,” Hall said.

The real problem, though, is dealing with hazardous donations.

“It’s when they need to get rid of something out of the ordinary from people who see charity shops as some sort of free rubbish skip that we really need to step in,” he says.

It’s not unusual for charities to find completely unacceptable items among their donated goods – car batteries, chemicals, half-used tins of paint and dozens of fluorescent strip lights. They need specialist disposal, and that – in the end – hits charities in the pocket.

And that’s led to this appeal from BusinessWaste.co.uk: “THINK about what you’re giving to charity. In the end you end up costing them money for something you should have dealt with yourself.

“Let charity shops get on with what they do best – raising money for good causes. They’re not your personal rubbish service!”

“But we’re quite interested in that cursed box. As a present.”

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