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For-Profit Clothing 'Donation' Bins on the Rise

By Gustavo Solis | March 29, 2014 10:47am
 The Department of Sanitation has been removing used clothing bins illegally placed on city sidewalks.
Used Clothing Bins
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NEW YORK CITY — Metal bins for used clothing can be found on sidewalks across the city, but their placement is often illegal and they're being installed faster than the city can remove them.

For-profit companies that put out donation bins similar to those of charities including Goodwill and The Salvation Army have the Department of Sanitation removing dozens of collection points, with 57 hauled off in the past nine months, up from 30 removed in the city's previous fiscal year, running from July 2012 to June 2013.

Brooklyn had the most bins removed of any borough, with 33 pulled. Eleven were hauled away from the Bronx, 4 were taken from Queens and none were removed from Manhattan, according to the Sanitation Department.

The sale of used clothing and other textiles is a multimillion dollar business, with companies sending them internationally for resale or to companies that use them for insulation and furniture padding. 

When residents complain about clothing bins on sidewalks or private property, Sanitation workers tag them with stickers warning their owners the containers will be hauled off if they're not moved within 30 days.

Uptown resident David Katz, 30, was dismayed to learn clothes deposited in the bins sometimes marked with the names of charities don't always go to help the needy.

“I guess it’s upsetting to feel like my good efforts are being undermined," he said after dropping clothes into a container near Seaman Avenue and 204th Street. "I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll do something for the good of someone else.' To find out that someone else is taking advantage of that for their own financial gain, it’s very frustrating.”

Prospect Heights and Crown Heights residents posting on the message board site Brooklynian said they've seen an increasing number of the bins in the neighborhood and that clothes and garbage pile up alongside them.

The companies SpinGreen, USAgain and Viltex place used clothing bins in the city and don't claim to be charities, but some nonprofits said donors are being duped.

“They take away money from charitable organizations,” said Mauricio Hernandez of Goodwill New York. “People usually believe that they are supplying some sort of charitable organization, while they are often giving money to an entrepreneur.”

SpinGreen, which placed a black bin covered with logos from local charities near Bedford Avenue and St. Johns Place, is a recycling company with an educational and environmental mission, company president Elliot Groman said.

"I don't know why [the bins] are misleading," he said. "If people feel misled they can always call."

SpinGreen contributes to local schools by hosting free educational workshops on sustainability and other environmental issues, Groman said. They donated more than 500 coats to locals last year, he said.

Text on Viltex's bright blue bins, found on Franklin Avenue near Park Place, says the company use donations to "provide money to charities" and "give to employees' occupation."

The company's website does not have information on to which charities they give profits, and a representative did not respond to an inquiry.

Crown Heights resident and used clothing donor Karen Leo, 50, said she had thought the Viltex bin by her house benefited charity. 

“I might go somewhere else," she said.

USAgain's green-and-white bins, spotted at Rogers Avenue and St. Johns Place don't use the words "donate" or "charity." Rather, they offer to provide "consumers with a convenient and eco-friendly option to rid themselves of excess clothing." They collect unwanted textiles and resell them in the U.S. and abroad, according to their website. 

Spokesman Scott Burnham said USAgain gives schools and churches a portion of profits, but declined to give a dollar amount. The company complies with the city by asking permission from building owners before installing bins. But owners sometimes don't know where their property begins and ends.

“Sometimes the property line is not always clear, as the property owner believes an area is part of his or her property when the city disagrees," Burnham said. "In such cases, the city asks us to remove the bin or contest its ruling within 30 days. We always take action within the time frame.”

Groman, of SpinGreen, said the Department of Sanitation's policy is unfair in placing the burden of proof on bin owners to show the containers' placement is legal.

"What the city wants to do is put stickers on and ask questions later," he said. "Sometimes they sticker bins that shouldn't be stickered."

Nigel Chiwaya contributed reporting