Around Town

What’s with the for-profit donation bins in parking lots?

Back before the new year, I purged a couple of bags of gym clothes that had seen much, much better days. I dumped them into one of the donation bins at Cotswold Shopping Center because it was convenient and I was stressed and just wanted to get everything out of my car.

But I’m wondering if I should have been more intentional about that exorcism of clothing from my car. The New Hope Recycling bins currently at Cotswold are labeled as “a free recycling service to your community.” But the bins are also clearly labeled as benefiting a for-profit business.

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The Charlotte Observer archives reveal sentiments that the bins direct valuable resources away from local charities, going back as far as 2009.

Observer reporter Mark Price wrote a piece in 2013 sharing Goodwill’s concern that an increased number of for-profit donation bins could create tough times for nonprofits that also collect clothing items.

Meanwhile, he wrote, “Companies like Better World Recycling say they’re helping the environment because Charlotte’s charities can’t handle the abundance of unused textiles. They say their work keep(s) excess clothing out of landfills.”

And New Hope Recycling‘s mission is stated as: “protecting our environment, providing clothing to less fortunate peoples around the world and assisting in producing recycled textile products.”

Sounds positive, right?

But according to Price, “Salvation Army and Goodwill officials disagree with assertions that there’s a surplus of textiles and household goods in the market.”

Barbara Maida-Stolle of Goodwill said in an email that, in 2013, there were approximately 375 for-profit donation boxes in the community, but that number has decreased over the past year and a half.

You can still find New Hope bins in Cotswold, while Better World Recycling bins are seen on Park Road by Quick-Cleaners and on South Boulevard by H&H Automotive.

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Food Lion on Park Road recently swapped out for-profit bins for Goodwill bins.

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So should you feel guilty dropping donations into these for-profit bins, when there are 10 Goodwill mini donation boxes and 12 attended donation centers in the greater Charlotte area?

Maida-Stolle said for-profit bins aren’t as much of a threat now, though they do continue to affect Goodwill’s textile donation levels.

I feel a little guilty. I wish I had at least done my research. While I knew that Goodwill prefers receiving gently used clothing, I didn’t realize they also recycle items (like my bags of gym clothes) that are too worn to sell.

I also wasn’t aware of the economic impact those clothes can have. In 2015, proceeds from the sale of donations in Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont retail stores funded job training and employment services to 12,000 individuals and helped directly place 1,600 individuals into local jobs, according to Maida-Stolle.

I’d like to say I donated clothing to support a local cause like that last year. And this spring-cleaning season, I will.

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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