That Clothing-Donation Bin Might Not Be What You Think

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335photo-3Photographed by Hilary Moss.
Lurking around the corner, standing five or six feet tall, typically with a pull-out drawer and a padlocked panel, is a New York City menace — the clothing donation bin. According to The New York Times, more and more companies (many, cough, New Jersey-based) are installing the repositories across the city with “signs that indicate donated goods will go to the poor or, in some cases, to legitimate charities. But… The clothing is often sold in thrift stores or in bulk overseas, with the proceeds going to for-profit entities that can be impossible to trace, or even to contact.” The city’s sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, dubbed the bins “the bane of our existence,” and cited a dramatic increase in their prevalence. In 2010, 91 bins were tagged to be removed by the owner in 30 days, and 10 wound up seized by officials; in the last fiscal year, 2,006 bins were tagged and 132 seized.

What’s worse, the faux-nation boxes (coining that term) are becoming a national trend, Jim Gibbons, the president and chief executive of Goodwill Industries International Inc., told the Times. “We’ve had to respond to the proliferation of these bins, so now you’ll see more Goodwill bins out there,” he noted. “Hopefully the consumer will see the Goodwill brand and know it is trusted, and that the property owner is in partnership with us. But, when a bin looks lonely and is in a place that makes you ask ‘What’s that doing there?’ — you should call that into question.”

Bowery Boogie has been tracking a crop of bright-pink “Clothes Shoes Drop” receptacles in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, encouraging readers to log onto the Department of Sanitation’s website to report the containers’ whereabouts. And, similar bins in Bayside, Queens, prompted the Times Ledger to launch its own probe: “A woman who answered a call placed to the phone number on the box said Our Neighborhood Recycling ships the clothes overseas but hung up without giving more details.” When I phoned the number on a Pepto-colored behemoth located at Delancey and Eldridge, a woman stated the organization was for-profit, and insisted she didn’t know of the clothes’ destinations.

Then, there’s the usual urban hurdle. As one Bowery Boogie commenter writes, “I thought they were an art project!”