Consumers are increasingly buying cheap goods and the second-hand items they eventually donate have little if any life and value left in them.

A report from Australia illstrates the impact on SVDP Thrift Shops.

People who once bought a second-hand shirt from a thrift shop that would still last three or four years, he says, could now go to a discount retailer and get a new shirt for the same price, although it might last less than two years. If it is then donated, it won’t be good enough to be a rag.

They find themselves surrounded by $2 shops that sell new clothes at prices competitive with donated clothing and the local Kmart does the same.

”Quantity has not reduced, but quality definitely has,” he says of donations. ”Some of these [cheap] imports started two and three and four years ago and now we are starting to get the donations that you have to throw away, so it ends up costing you money because you have got to take it to the tip and tip charges are going up.”

Mr Gillespie, the retail operations manager for Vinnies stores around Hornsby, Chatswood and the northern beaches, says that ”years ago, when more things were made here and you got something donated, there was that little bit more life left in it”.

Now, he says, the influx of cheap clothing from China that is lucky to last a few seasons is enabling Kmart to offer ”charitable price points at the moment: $4, $5, $6, $8”.

The knock-on effect can be seen in the Vinnies Brookvale warehouse.

”We may sort 100,000 kilos of clothes a month,” Mr Gillespie says, ”but the quality that you get out of that – to put into your shops – in the last 12 months to 18 months has dropped from 25 or 20 per cent to 14 per cent.”

At Brookvale, Vinnies still manages to keep landfill to 10 per cent of donations by even arranging for chipped and broken crockery to be ground up for road base, but Mr Gillespie says that performance will be harder to maintain if the trash and treasure ratio keeps deteriorating.