Call it a bin-vasion!
Dozens of clothing collection bins have cropped up on Bay Ridge’s commercial corridors in recent weeks, provoking protests from residents and community leaders who say that the containers are illegal, unsightly, and unsafe — and that the companies behind them convert the donated threads into quick cash.
Pam Pazarecki, owner of PC’s Bar and Grill on Fifth Avenue, said the chunky metal boxes that have appeared near her business and on Third Avenue quickly fill up with clothes and overflow onto the sidewalk — creating festering eyesores and ample breeding grounds for bedbugs. But the bar owner’s biggest gripe is that the boxes violate city laws banning obstruction of the sidewalk.
“They’re popping up all over the place, and the stuff ends up piling up outside of them,” said Pazarecki. “They’re a huge problem for the avenue aesthetically, and most importantly, they’re illegal.”
Pazarecki also pointed out that — in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon tragedy, where terrorists dropped bombs in garbage cans — the containers could pose a danger to the community.
“It’s a huge security situation,” Pazarecki warned. “It’s an opportunity for a lot of scenarios to happen, and they’re not good scenarios.”
Community Board 10 member Kathy Khatari agreed that the bins, which quickly become targets for graffiti, are a terrible eyesore.
“It makes the place look ghetto-fied,” Khatari complained.
Khatari also said that several shopkeepers have told her that the companies that own the boxes are paying them to allow the receptacles near their stores. Essentially, they are renting the public sidewalk. She said they also told her that the collectors resell the clothing that people donate.
“People are giving out of the kindness of their hearts, and these guys are making money off of it,” Khatari said.
Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann said her office has received countless calls from Ridgites angry about the sudden appearance of the boxes. Beckmann said she passed the concerns to the Department of Sanitation, which responded by plastering stickers on the bins saying they must be hauled away within 30 days, or the city will do the job itself. Despite this, the district manager said new boxes keep popping up, most recently across the street from her office.
“They continue to be a major concern for us,” said Beckmann.
The three corporations that installed the boxes, Spingreen, Green Tree, and USAgain, admitted that they pay landlords and shopkeepers to let them place the boxes near their doors, and that they are turning a profit on the donations. Elliot Broman, owner of Spingreen — which operates out of Sheepshead Bay — said his business gives away almost a quarter of the collected clothing to charities. The rest it turns over to recyclers to convert into insulation for homes and cars. Serge Lazarev, founder of the New Jersey-based Green Tree, said his company gives away about three percent of the clothes, and sells the rest for reprocessing. USAgain spokesman Scott Burnham said the Chicago-based corporation sells nearly all of its donations to thrift shops, and either recycles or throws out the remainder.
All three claimed that they always maintain their bins’ appearances, and argued that they provide a valuable service by keeping tons of unwearable clothing from clogging garbage dumps.
“We take the old, the torn, the badly worn, and we keep it out of city landfills,” said Broman.
Broman and Lazarev said they intend to find new locations for their stickered boxes. Burnham said he was unaware of any problems with USAgain’s bins.
Both Spingreen and Green Tree are less than a year old. USAgain has been around for 14 years, and a May 2011 Chicago Tribune article linked the company to the Danish corporation Tvind, which has been the subject of several American and European government investigations. Burnham denied that USAgain had any connection to Tvind.