Across Worcester, there are more than 100 clothing donation bins owned by both nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies that are making thousands in revenue while paying only a few hundred dollars for the right to place the clothing bins in the city.
Some elected officials and local business owners believe these companies shouldn’t be allowed to profit when many of these bins serve as dumping grounds for household trash.
Companies that own the bins argue that they serve a charitable purpose and that the city could be doing more to end the illegal dumping by residents.
Many of these bins are owned by for-profit, Worcester-based companies, Earth Aid Inc. of 385 Cambridge St., and Mint Green Planet Inc. of 78 Canterbury St.
The annual fee to apply to place a bin in the city is $30, according to the Department of Inspectional Services [DIS]. In 2015, the city received 116 applications for receptacle placement for a total of $3,480 in application fees.
The city collects $100 per day on violations if a company does not correct a violation within 24 hours.
As of Dec. 28, 2015, the city had issued three tickets and collected $700 in permit violations for the year, according to DIS.
In September, City Councilor Kathleen M. Toomey and Mayor Joseph M. Petty requested that City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. provide a report on the city’s enforcement of the ordinance for clothing donation bins.
Upon request of the report, Toomey said that the illegal dumping taking place at the bins in the city had reached a “crisis point,” and that the dumping had become a “health and safety issue.”
The report, created by John R. Kelly, DIS commissioner, revealed the number of public complaints about the receptacles rose from 21 in 2014 to 44 in 2015.
Over that same time period, the number of receptacles removed from their allowed area spiked from 5 to 19.
According to the DIS report, the main reason for the complaints and the removal of the receptacles were that they served as grounds for illegal dumping.
Dave Domenick, owner of Compass Tavern, 19 Harding St., has two donation bins in the Compass Tavern parking lot. One belongs to Planet Aid Inc., a national nonprofit, and the other to Worcester-based Earth Aid.
According to Domenick, the owners of the bins do not compensate him for the bins being placed in his lot. He agreed to have them there because he thought they were doing some good for charity.
“I get nothing from them. The fact of the matter is I want them out of there now. They create a [big] mess,” Domenick said. “They just said they were going to donate to whatever charity. I asked them both to be removed because people use them as a dumping ground.”
“I’m probably going to have to move them myself down towards my dumpster,” Domenick added.
“You do anything for charity, but then you hear that this is probably a scam where they’re making millions of dollars off these things. I’m really not a big fan of that.”
Companies like Planet Aid Inc, Earth Aid and Mint Green Planet make money by collecting the clothing and shoes donated by the public at their donation receptacles and then selling them by the pound to markets overseas, especially in impoverished countries.
Planet Aid, a national nonprofit with a hub in Milford and 10 receptacles in Worcester, generated nearly $130 million in revenue between 2011 and 2013. Over that same time, the nonprofit reeled in $5.6 million in net profit.
Planet Aid argues that by just giving the clothes away, they would be doing “more harm than good” for the local economies that receive donations and rely on the resale of those donations.
Earth Aid and Mint Green Planet, which donate proceeds to nonprofit organizations Friendly House and the Boys & Girls Clubs, respectively, are both for-profit companies and their tax filings are not public record.
Lisa Grzesiak, business manager at Mint Green Planet, said her company sells the donations to a large international recycling facility that sorts and redistributes them overseas or to local charities.
Grzesiak declined to name the recycling facility so as not to reveal to their competitors where Mint Green Planet sells it donations.
According to Grzesiak, Mint Green Planet would welcome increases in annual application fees and fines for violations.
“We are out there every single day and, quite frankly, we clean up everyone else’s spot because we don’t want to lose ours,” Grzesiak said. “So we would applaud the city if they started charging $500 in violations. We’ve never received one violation.”
The DIS report to the City Council suggested an increase of the donation bin application fee from $30 to $50 annually and the fine for a violation to be increased from $100 to $300 per day.
Mint Green Planet has 35 bins in Worcester and, according to Grzesiak, representatives pick up clothes at their donation bins in the city every Monday and Friday and do trash runs every day in areas that see heavy dumping.
Grzesiak said if Worcester wanted to make more money from donation bins, the city should place people at the areas that see the most dumping and hand out tickets.
“From my perspective, it seems like a big revenue-generating area is the spots that people dump. The city knows the spots that people dump. They could just sit there and tag people left and right.
“We have known spots that we get dumped on every single day with couches, furniture, toilets, you name it,” Grzesiak said.
According to Ike McBride, director of operations for Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, Mint Green Planet, which has 14 agreements with Boys & Girls Clubs across the state, makes donations to the Worcester club of between $1,500 and $2,000 each month.
“In the past, they [Mint Green Planet] would go and collect everything from the bins and whatever they got back from that [in sales], they would donate a portion to us,” McBride said.
Leslie Garcia, an administrative assistant with Friendly House, said the organization receives monthly donation checks from Earth Aid, but could not release the dollar amount of the contributions received.
Multiple attempts to reach representatives at Earth Aid for comment were not successful. The website on the side of Earth Aid’s bins, EarthAidRecycles.com, is not a working website and the phone number provided was not a working number.
In Worcester, the bin owner and property owners are responsible for cleaning up any illegal dumping or mess surrounding the donation bin. However, the city has the right to go onto the property to remove the bin from the site if the bin owners continue to violate the terms of the permit.
From the DIS report: “Poor maintenance, unguided placement, and illegal dumping at clothing donation receptacles create unsanitary conditions, impairs public health and safety, degrades the value condition and appearance of real property causing in a detrimental effect on property values for adjacent and surrounding properties, thereby constituting a public nuisance.”
According to the report, this year the city implemented a review process of each application for receptacle placement to enforce zoning setback requirements.
As a result of this review, the number of receptacles in the city decreased in 2015. Nineteen receptacles were removed completely from their proposed site and 34 were moved within the site to meet zoning setbacks. Twelve were towed from their designated areas because they weren’t in compliance.
In October, District 3 City Councilor George J. Russell requested Augustus consider moving the donation bins to the Department of Public Works and Parks residential drop-off site at 1065 Millbury St.
According to Russell, his request didn’t go anywhere as the city opted for stricter enforcement of fines for dumping. And with the weather getting colder, the dumping has become less of a problem than it was during the summer, Russell said.
“I tried to come up with an idea to alleviate the dumping problem. What happens is that these bins would be out there, and the reality is that people were using these bins as dumping area for all kinds of household things. I tried to make the point that people needed an alternative,” Russell said.