As we know, there are many good reasons for charities, businesses and other organisations to be mindful of the materials and resources they use. As a charity that receives many hundreds of donations every day to our 19 shops, a great deal of items come our way that we manage very carefully to ensure minimal waste and maximum income for the charity. But not all of these items can be sold...

Here's how we look after the donations made to us and transform them into the money that keeps our helicopters flying. 

Logic at heart

Our hardworking Logistics Support Officer, Frank Whitham, and his team, are committed recycling enthusiasts with Frank and a volunteer sort recycling from the vanMidas-like abilities to turn the most commonplace materials into cash for the charity. Frank spends his time between going out and about on the road collecting and delivering goods between shops, and sorting through piles of materials at the warehouse.

Our blog The Lifecycle of your donated item examines what happens to the usual donations, such as clothes, bric-a-brac, books and furniture once they have been dropped off with us, but the warehouse is where some of the most interesting nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes work goes on.

Money for old metal

Textiles that aren't sold or can't be sold in the shops eventually make their way to the warehouse by van, which we then sell into the rag trade. 

But we don't always receive textiles. Frank also handles donated items made of metal, brass and copper, as well as electricals, coins and foreign currency, mobile phones and batteries.

We receive on average over £600 of foreign currency per quarter. We also have an account with Exeter-based company, Newbury metals. Any metals we receive go into a skip for them to take away and from this we make £300 a quarter on average, depending upon the price of metal in the market. These metals are smelted and reused. 

A rep from Penzance supports us along with several other charities by taking electrical wires, brass, copper, old phones and stamps off our hands. Depending on the market the metals can generate a good price, and we can earn £13 per kilo on stamps as well as 75p per mobile phone. We also receive a number of technical items that hold user data, which we manage carefully in adherence with GDPR legislation

Safety first

Assistant van driver, Kristian and a volunteer sort items in the warehouseThere's no charge to us from the Devon County Council-run Pinhoe Recycling Centre for recycling items like batteries, broken electrical goods, wood that has been stripped from furniture that we've upcycled, cardboard, plastic and general waste. "We're very organised," says Frank, who is in charge of keeping the cycle of items coming in and out of our shops flowing smoothly.

We have good relationships with the recycling centre and prepare everything in advance so it's straightforward for them to handle. Their fees waver on the materials we drop off to them goes a long way towards supporting our recycling processes.

But disposing of waste isn't always that straightforward. Large, bulky plastic items that can't be sold, such as broken kids' toys or suitcases, present a problem because they are costly to dispose of (£1.60 per bag at the time of writing). We would encourage donors to check the item's quality before they donate it to us, especially if an item is unsafe to sell as we will still need to pick up the receipt to dispose of it unfortunately.

In a similar way we can't accept sporting equipment, such as workout benches unfortunately, as we can't guarantee their safety. 

Bikes are another item we can't sell for the safety reasons, so we recommend that donors take them along to Ride On, a charitable organisation on Exeter Quay. Here bikes are professionally refurbished or recycled if they are beyond repair, which is an excellent way to give bikes a new lease of life and prevent the waste of quality resources. Says Frank,

Nevertheless, the majority of the items we receive are in good enough to be sold in the shops and often do very quickly, so we don't need to tackle the issue of their disposal. Reusing items is by far the preferred option.

Creativity helps items live longerSome of the boxes in which Frank and his team sort items to be recycled

Our team is always keen to bring their creativity to an item that can't otherwise be sold or serve a practical function with just a bit of love. Earlier in the year we opened a new Vintage and Variety shop in Dartmouth, which has a unique look and feel. Most of the furniture that exhibits the items for sale are upcycled donated items. "It's great fun to do and really helps to create a beautiful environment that shows off the products at their best," says Frank.

In the Exeter Furniture and Electrical shop there is even an upcycling corner. This is for furniture that is available at knock-down prices for people to bring their own creativity to. 


Our logistics team is always finding creative ways to avoid wastage and to raise additional sums for the charity. With the trend suggesting the income from recycling will continue going up year on year, the work of the logistics team is a very worthwhile contribution to make to a charity that is so central to the lives of people in the community it serves. 

2015 c. £5,500
2016 c. £6,500- £7,000
2017 c. £7,200

These figures relate to the approximate income generated over just the past three years through recycling.

Do you have items you would like to donate to us? Find your nearest Devon Air Ambulance charity shop, or have a look through the list of items we would love to accept.