by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, The activity on the floor at the Goodwill outlet recycling center on the south edge of Sellwood can be overwhelming, but makes possible the processing of hundreds of tons of goods each day

If you have ever been to the Goodwill outlet 'bins' at 1740 S.E. Ochoco Street, across the street from Sellwood in Milwaukie, you know that a lot of recycling goes on there. Each day 80,000 pounds of used items are either sold or recycled at this location.

Spread out over the 14,300 square feet of retail space are enormous blue plastic bins. Customers step up to a bin and begin to sort through clothes or sift through bins of electronics or household items.

It takes focus and perhaps a bit of fun to make the search either profitable or maybe even entertaining. Tarry very long, and you will have to step behind a yellow line while the bin is removed and a new one rolled into its place.

'Three times a day, the entire contents on the retail outlet floor are switched out, in order to keep them fresh for the customer,' says Ms. Dale Emanuel, media relations manager for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette. 'Eighty to eighty-five percent of the people who come here re-sell on E-Bay, at swap meets, garage sales, or in collectible stores.' Other individuals visit the store to find a bargain that they need or want for their lives.

But have you ever been behind the scenes at the 'bins'?

Probably not. You aren't allowed, unless accompanied by staff for an educational tour.

Walk through the double doors from the bins area, and you are in the 96,000 square foot recycling center. Once through those doors, the experience is overwhelming. The warehouse size, noise, numbers of containers, scurrying forklifts, and volume of goods are almost too much to take in at one time. It is raw and raucous recycling.

Equally overwhelming - but impressive - is the sorting, categorizing, and distributing that goes into processing hundreds of tons each day at this outlet.

Imagine an indoor recycling center the size of two football fields. On the floor are approximately 4,000 cartons - 'melon boxes' - each with 500-700 pounds capacity. Books, toys, clothes, electronics, medical supplies, vacuum cleaners - each carton is labeled and stacked, ready to be shipped to its destination. Some cartons go to Goodwill retail stores in the area; bins and boxes of other things are recycled through salvage companies.

For example, hundreds of cartons of electronics are ready for shipment to various recyclers or salvagers throughout the region or United States. Console TV's and stereos are not accepted at donation sites, but other televisions are.

'How to recycle televisions is a huge issue right now,' says Bill Goman, Executive Transportation Manager, who accompanied Emanuel and me on the behind-the-scenes tour. 'We want to be ready to deal with the switch over to digital TV next year.'

Somewhat surprisingly, not all cartons contain used items. 'We get lots of new things from corporate donations,' informs Emanuel. 'Last year we were able to donate 7,106 pounds of medical wares - crutches, oxygen tanks, bandages - to Medical Teams International.'

And not everything for resale is packed into cartons. Stuffed animals are plastic wrapped - often with ears, tails or heads sticking out - into bundles weighing 250 pounds each.

Then there is hazardous waste. Yes, some people with the best of intentions send that with their donations. Paint, deodorant, and a myriad of other hazardous wastes are carefully organized and responsibly disposed of by 10-1/2 year Goodwill employee Lawrence Bloodgood, who has become a chemical expert in his 5-1/2 years at this location. 'What we can't sell to salvagers or companies goes into a barrel and is shipped to General Environmental Management, Inc.', says Bloodgood.

Goodwill's capacity to recycle books (boxes piled thirty feet high, and almost as far as the eye can see) excites Emanuel. 'We not only sell books in our stores, but we have 55,000 items online at: We match the lowest price offered on Just since the start of this year, there have already been 28,000 Goodwill online book transactions.'

Such a massive operation of sorting, storing, re-selling, and recycling goods (which is replicated at the other four outlets in the Oregon and southwest Washington area) makes it easy to think of Goodwill as just a huge thrift store operation. But that misses the mission that it has had for eighty years, which is to help fund employment and job training programs for people with disabilities or other barriers to employment.

Still, Emanuel says she is especially proud of the record of Oregon and southwest Washington Goodwill's 'green' ability to keep things out of the landfill.

'Two million residents of Oregon and southwest Washington gave Goodwill a world record of 136.2 million pounds of donations in 2007. After we sold, recycled, and salvaged what we could in our thirty-three retail stores and four outlet facilities, both private transfer centers and Metro went through the remaining 33.2 million pounds. In the end, only 15% went to the landfill,' she says.

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