A growing number of companies — many of them based in New Jersey — are illegally placing used-clothing bins throughout New York City, blocking sidewalks and serving as magnets for litter and graffiti. The receptacles typically have signs that indicate donated goods will go to the poor or, in some cases, to legitimate charities. But, city officials said, the needy do not benefit from much of what is collected. Instead, the clothing is often sold in thrift stores or in bulk oveseas, with the proceeds going to for-profit entities that can be impossible to trace, or even to contact.
City law bans such bins from being placed on sidewalks and streets; they are legal on private property with the consent of the owner. Once found by Sanitation Department enforcement officers or reported by residents to the city’s 311 help line, an illegal bin is tagged and the owner has 30 days to remove it. Summonses are not issued, a department spokeswoman explained, based on the theory that those distributing the bins have factored any fines into the cost of doing business.
Statistics confirm what a trip through many neighborhoods shows. In the fiscal year 2010, the city tagged 91 bins and confiscated 10. In the fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, more than 2,006 bins were tagged and 132 were confiscated.
A similar pattern has emerged nationally, according to officials at leading charities. They are alarmed by the misleading competition, which, they maintain, is undermining their own efforts.