[GRRN] History of Goodwill/Salvation Army, etc.

John McCrory (johnmccrory@mindspring.com)
Tue, 07 Dec 1999 15:36:49 -0400


Re: the discussion of Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, and The Society of
St. Vincent de Paul:

If you haven't read it already, I strongly recommend Susan Strasser's recent
book, WASTE AND WANT: A Social History of Trash. Part of the book deals with
the early years of social service organizations like these and their role in
collecting/repairing/reusing old clothes and rags.

Strasser's history shows how these organizations began accepting donated
materials around the time that cities began organizing trash collection late
in the 19th century. Their entry into the salvage markets was part of a broad
pattern of the institutionalization of 'waste management.'

"Led by the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, and the Society of St.
Vincent de Paul, the new charities ... derived most of their income from the
customary materials of recycled trash -- rags, paper, and metals -- [and] they
were central players in the salvage markets, selling large quantities of those
materials and competing with the biggest firms in the waste trade" (141).

"... All the charity orgnizations that ran salvage operations came in for
heavy criticism. Labor organizations complained about their substandard wages,
which remaind legal for nonprofit organizations even after minimum-wage laws
were established. Junk dealers protested that they had to pay for the same
materials these organizations received as donations, enabling the charities to
undersell their competitors. Other critics pointed to funds and materials
solicited for charity but not always used for the benefit of the poor" (150).

The Salvation Army, Strasser says, generally received the most criticism, but
by the 1920s, the public had come to accept charities' role in recycling and
reuse, having earned respect for responses to disasters like the 1906 San
Francisco earthquake. Only during the First and Second World Wars did such
complaints arise again. Since the complaints mainly came from "junk dealers"
who were considered shady wheeler-dealers, themselves, however, the charities'
business practices generated very little controversy.

If these charity organizations were not in the salvage business at all, would
commercial recyclers be able to take up the slack? I doubt any commercial
recycler has the resources to duplicate the charities' collection operations,
at the least. The discussion on the list so far indicates there has been some
collaboration between recyclers and these sorts of charities; perhaps there
are more opportunities for cooperation.

How does the performance of these 'strategic alliances' compare with the
'vertically integrated' waste multinationals, which, by making vast
investments in landfill capacity, want to do little more than monopolize
collection to ensure they can feed their steady appetite for 'trash'?

John McCrory
John McCrory, Executive Director <mailto:mccrory@garbagesentinel.org>
BIG APPLE GARBAGE SENTINEL <http://garbagesentinel.org/>
333 4th St. #6I, Brooklyn, NY 11215 (718) 499-7460