Clothing donation bins are popping up in hundreds of locations throughout Tampa Bay. While some support charities that benefit local residents, others generate profits for out-of-state companies -- and complaints from neighbors.
Donation bins operated by charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army offer a way for us to help our neighbors.
“We rely on the drop box donations,” said Richard Hodder, Community Relations Coordinator for the local Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army stocks five thrift stores with donated items, generating enough revenue from sales to fund a 158-bed residential drug and alcohol recovery center.
“It doesn't cost the men one penny, because of this program,” said Hodder.
The Salvation Army empties its bins daily, but other operators don't. Hundreds of generic blue bins, which say “Clothes and Shoes Donation Center" are found in abandoned parking lots and are the subject of lots of calls to code enforcement.
“They don't seem to collect the things that you're putting in there. And then when they overflow, they become a magnet for public dumping,” said Sal Ruggiero, Director of Tampa’s Neighborhood Enhancement Division, which is responsible for Tampa’s Code Enforcement.
People often dump old mattresses and rotting furniture at the sites of the collection bins.
“You can have mold issues, you can get a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Just the smell alone could impact a neighborhood,” said Ruggiero.
The blue bins don't benefit charity, but bring in big bucks for a multi-million dollar company in Illinois called We Care Recycling. Federal DOT records show that the company has 42 commercial vehicles registered to the company, which logged a combined 1,800,000 miles last year. But the company doesn't maintain the website or answer the phone number listed on its bins. The inspectors call them and they don't get any response,” said Ruggiero.
The city impounded some blue bins for code violations. The Salvation Army says others turned up next to theirs.
“They take our box away and we might find our box at another location,” said Hodder.
One reason so many bins are popping up is because used clothing is very valuable. Clothing at the Salvation Army that is not sold in their thrift stores is baled, then sold to a third party, which resells them in third world countries. Dozens of bales sit in the back of the Salvation Army warehouse, each weighing more than 1,300 pounds and valued more than $300.
Clothing from the blue bins is shipped out of a facility leased by We Care Recycling in Plant City. We saw a cargo container being hauled away by a truck which was so full, an employee had to ram the back of the truck several times to get the doors shut.
Employees there didn't want to talk, and multiple calls We Care Recycling were not returned.
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