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Illegal clothing collection boxes infuriate Ridgites

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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.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.
Posted 12:00 am, May 30, 2013
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Reasonable discourse

Steve from Bay Ridge says:
Is this a joke?
May 30, 2013, 9:05 am
James says:
Let's ban mailboxes, too, because someone could drop a bomb in those.
May 30, 2013, 9:26 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
what's wrong with a bed bug incubator?
May 30, 2013, 9:26 am
Bay Ridger from Bay Ridge says:
I often use these donation boxes since they are convenient. What else should we do with good used clothing. The last time I donated to the Salvation Army I got yelled at because my just-laundered shirts were on hangers. Really??!!

And an eyesore? The Bay Ridge residents who litter constantly create a much worse eyesore. Please.

I agree that if they are blocking the sidewalk, they need to be moved. The Community Board should do the community a service by making sure the box locations are appropriate and the organization is legit.
May 30, 2013, 9:42 am
Jay from Bay RIdge says:
there's always Salvation Army for unwanted clothing. on 11 Avenue, there's two of these boxes just one block away to each other, and it's definitely too much. these charities' business strategy is to put as much collection boxes as possible, with little regard to the community.
May 30, 2013, 9:43 am
Jay from Bay Ridge says:
if anyone wish to have the collection removed, please download the "Collection Bin Removal Request" on NYC 311 website, and then mail it to DSNY.
May 30, 2013, 9:46 am
BunnynSunny from Clinton Hill says:
Do you get a tax donation receipt like you do at the Salvation Army? Your donation to Salvation Army will result in a tax deduction with the IRS and paying less in federal taxes.
May 30, 2013, 10:28 am
Parody of Bay Ridge Haters from Brooklyn says:
How dare people solicit donations? Helping the needy? What an awful idea! The poor should be neither seen or heard, and any public display of helping them should be considered unAmerican. And the Bible says Look after yourself at the expense of others.
May 30, 2013, 11:06 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
There was one on my corner about 5 years ago and people started leaving furniture, mostly broken, and mattresses there. The complaints are correct.
May 30, 2013, 12:08 pm
Tori from Park Slope Brooklyn says:
"ghetto-fied,” Khatari complained. Are you kidding me? You didn't really say that did you?! So what if they are making some money. It's called recycling. What's wrong with that? I donate to the Salvation Army who sells in their stores, they're making money and I put clothing into those boxes when I can find one. You may have too many in your neighborhood but we don't seem to have any in Park Slope. For some reason the few we had, were removed. I wish we had some.
May 30, 2013, 12:37 pm
Maxwell says:
Often use to shop on line for my dressing and face the scam lot of time then after a hard trouble i have found the place to order my custom made shirts and now the Cerise Custom Shirts have made the good image in my mind Customdressshirts.us is the very easy way to order dress and casual shirts i often order the tuxedo shirts as well i love the quality and the fitting of Cerise Custom Shirts
May 30, 2013, 6:42 pm
Wade from Bellingham, WA says:
Certainly, the bins can attract garbage and be eyesores. But your community should be aware that USAgain draws much bad press for reasons far beyond the blight that its bins may cause.

Reports going back a decade have suggested that the for-profit company, to quote one TV news investigation, “...routinely pretended to be a charity so business owners wouldn't ask for rent on the bin space.”

USAgain clearly admits its for-profit status on its newer bins, shown in the above photo, many of which state “USAgain is a for profit clothes collection company. Deposits are not tax deductible.”

Seems honest enough. But the company’s older bins were worded very differently. One statement on those bins was “We cooperate with schools, non-profits, city recycling programs and local businesses to bring this recycling option to your community.”

Time Magazine in 2003 called USAgain’s bins “vaguely labeled.” Time also quoted a Lake Zurich, Ill. business owner who had agreed to host a USAgain bin: “Never, never did they mention they were making money off of it. If I had known they were going to sell the clothing for profit, I wouldn't have gotten involved.”

Like its newer bins, USAgain’s revised website now plainly states its for-profit status. But such unequivocal wording may have been forced upon USAgain in 2010 by Washington State’s Attorney General, who had the previous year told Seattle’s KIRO 7 Eyewitness News that USAgain was “not properly licensed to collect used clothes” in that state.

According to documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, in late 2009 it had come to the attention of Washington’s Secretary of State that USAgain was engaging in “charitable solicitations,” as defined in that state’s Charitable Solicitations Act. As a result, USAgain was given two choices: 1) register as a “commercial fundraiser”, or 2) change the language on its bins and website so the public wouldn’t likely perceive that USAgain was engaging in charitable solicitations.

USAgain via its lawyers initially resisted such requirements, but gave in, opting to change the wording on its bins and website — hence the new bin design with the prominent disclaimer.
May 31, 2013, 5:51 am
Wade from Bellingham, WA says:
In a bizarre twist, KIRO 7 News also reported that prosecutors in Denmark have tied USAgain to an alleged cult called the “Tvind Teachers Group” (“TG” or “Tvind” for short). Several TG leaders are international fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

Watch the KIRO 7 News reports from Nov., 2009. Simply highlight a title, below, right-click it, then select "Search Google…". A new tab should open in your Web-browser, showing search results for that title. The one you want should appear at the top of the search results:

Millions In Clothing Donations Diverted From Charity – kirotv
Local Mayor Wants Red Bins Out - USAgain in Seattle – YouTube

To clarify, I doubt that everyone working for USAgain is involved with the TG; rather, it’s likely only the top leadership. The company’s workers and local managers are probably just regular folks trying to hold down a job. But the text version of Part One of KIRO 7’s report quotes a former USAgain branch manager who says she had been pressured to join the TG, reportedly an elite group within the broader Tvind organization.

In 2012, the Lincoln Courier in Illinois quoted USAgain CEO Mattias Wallander as saying “USAgain is a private, independently run company founded by an American citizen and based in Chicago. USAgain is not affiliated in any way with the Teachers Group.”

However, documentation indicates otherwise:

a) USAgain’s officers have publicly admitted membership in the Teachers Group. Wallander admits his TG membership in the 2nd KIRO report (above, at 4:27). USAgain president Janice Bostic is quoted as admitting TG membership in a 2009 article by Tri-County News in Kimball, MN.

b) Wallander also admitted to KIRO 7 News that he is not the majority owner of USAgain. KIRO 7 learned that the majority stakeholder is “a Caribbean-based holding company called Fairbank, Cooper & Lyle" (FC&L). The report cited a Danish court document showing FC&L "has financial ties to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group."

Here is that court document — in English — from The Public Prosecutor for Serious Economic Crime, in Denmark (2001). At the bottom of page 4 of the document, prosecutors list USAgain as one of Tvind's "productive activities." FC&L first appears on page 7: http://tinyurl.com/bxajpc2

c) This archival page from FC&L's 2008 website prominently features USAgain: http://web.archive.org/web/20080417073630/http://www.fcl-ltd.com/id9.html

However, soon after the KIRO 7 story aired in late 2009, any mention of USAgain was removed from the FC&L website: http://www.fcl-ltd.com/id9.html

The above would appear to suggest that USAgain is not quite as "independent" and "American" as Mr. Wallander would have us believe.
May 31, 2013, 6:09 am
Wade from Bellingham, WA says:
USAgain often trumpets that it diverts clothes and other textiles from landfills. But so do many local non-profit organizations across our nation. If USAgain did not collect the used clothing and other goods, most of it would surely be collected by another group. So it is not the case that all of these items would likely end up in a landfill if USAgain did not collect them.

USAgain further claims that EPA statistics suggest that there are plenty of used clothes donations for all the groups collecting them. This might appear to justify the company’s expansion into a new area where local charities depend on clothing donations from the public. However, many media reports paint a very different picture. Here are excerpts from news stories on how USAgain impacts competing charities:

● “Legitimate non-profit organizations in Sioux Falls like Y's Buys, that supports the YMCA, say they estimate they've lost out on thousands of pounds of donations ever since USAgain showed up two months ago.”
— Keloland News, Sioux Falls, SD; Oct. 25, 2012

● “But as the company expands locally, it could mean harder times for nonprofit thrift stores, said Pat Larson, manager of Fargo's Family Life Thrift Store.

“‘I've seen (USAgain) trucks full of donations, so fewer donations are being offered to the community,’ Larson said. ‘We may not feel USAgain's effect today, but in the next few months, there will definitely be a noticeable local impact’”.
— Fargo Inforum, ND; July 28, 2012 (also in the Crookston Times, MN; August 6, 2012)

● “But charities we spoke with like St. Vincent De Paul say the for-profit bins are hurting their donations, which directly benefit people living in the Green Bay area.

“[Walt Hobbs, St. Vincent De Paul of Green Bay:] ‘This is a time when we really need it the most, and to have it go in another area where it’s not helping people in Brown County is a concern to us’”.
— WBAY 2 News, Green Bay, WI; Sept. 7, 2012

● “Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries stopped using drop boxes five years ago, but CEO and president Sharon Durbin said USAgain boxes do compete with local charities for donations.

“‘Someone thinks they’re donating to Goodwill or The Salvation Army, and it’s not serving the purpose they intended,’ said Durbin. ‘It pulls donations from community, not-for-profits and gives it to a for-profit company’”.
— State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL; June 22, 2011

I could list more excerpts, but you get the idea.
May 31, 2013, 6:14 am
Wade from Bellingham, WA says:
One last concern: USAgain says that much of the re-wearable clothing it collects is shipped overseas to be sold (read: not given) to Africans and other foreigners. But critics say the flood of cheap American apparel into Africa has absolutely devastated the native textile industries there.

Reports by the United Nations as well as Uganda’s Makerere University say solid waste management in many African countries is woefully inadequate or even nonexistent in some areas. These reports state that high percentages of urban solid waste don’t even reach legal disposal points but rather end up in the environment; open dumping is the most common waste disposal method in many urban areas.

So what happens to all those American used clothes overseas by the time they’re completely worn out — even by the standards of Africa’s poorest? One might assume that such items likely won’t be recycled but will be discarded as trash. If that is true, then most used clothes collected in the USA then sold in Africa might at best wind up in an African landfill, or, at worst, in an open pit or wetland.

In that case, aren’t we Americans in effect simply shipping our solid waste to other countries that are far less prepared to properly dispose of it?

Here are a few reports on Tvind, USAgain’s alleged parent group:

● San Diego Reader, 2010: http://tinyurl.com/nxz5vvk

● BBC News “Crossing Continents”, 2002: http://tinyurl.com/lxty8qb

Thank you for allowing me to express my opinions on this subject. Please research before you donate.
May 31, 2013, 6:22 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Yes, Wade, I recall a story years ago, I think it was in the NY Times. A man in Africa started a shirt factory, was selling them for, say $1.50. Then the area was flooded with donated shirts that were sold for $1.25. The factory had to close because they lost so much business. So the locals had cheap shirts but no jobs.
May 31, 2013, 7:23 am
Adamben from Bedstuy says:
I donate mine at the greenmarkets where they go straight to charity or recycled into filler. If I want a tax write off I take the good stuff to goodwill or some other place.

The bins are easier but so what if they make a profit, it's better than in a landfill. Terrorism? Bedbugs? Ghetto? Get a life and stop lying already.
May 31, 2013, 8:37 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Let's see -- we have women going around picking through the trash for bottles and cans, we have men grabbing scrap metal from the recyclables before the trucks come, we have household garbage being deposited in the corner receptacles and now we have these big boxes all over the place attracting refuse. It sure ain't pleasant. People in Bay Ridge are supposed to like this because someone from Bed-Stuy doesn't mind? Worry about your own neighborhood.
May 31, 2013, 10:09 am
LEROY from dA HOOD says:
A fire waiting to happen!
May 31, 2013, 11:56 am
mozee says:
Goodwill is the way to go, not SA.
May 31, 2013, 12:10 pm
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
I don't think boxes are a good idea. Too many things to go wrong, they can get filthy and infested, people might deliberately vandalize them, and they'll be covered in tags and other unattractive graffiti in no time (remember in the 1980's then it was actually art?). I give handmedowns to charity all the time, but I walk it over to the Goodwill over on Livingston St. I'd never dump it in a mystery box.
May 31, 2013, 5:24 pm
Jake from Clinton Hill says:
Agreed - salvation army is not an organization I support.
June 1, 2013, 7:39 am
anthony mills from kensington says:
can we get some of these bins too. whats so special about bayridge. i see a millon clothes and sneakers in garbages and or on the the streets.

do people realize how much money we spend on waste management?

if we recycled just 20% more worn out textiles the city would save $30,000,000.

bloomberg started a clothing recycling program 3 years ago but only installed 180 textile bins.

i agree the bins should be managed but to giet rid of them would be insane.

companies like us again and ones that weren' t mentioned that fool people should be banned completely but the other, that actually help people and make cool eco stuff out of the unwearable should
be applauded.

hey spingreen! bring your bins here.
June 1, 2013, 2:30 pm
Saturday says:
All of the low-lifes that came from Bay Ridge and they are worried about looking ghetto-fied? Really? NY'ers know about the cesspool and hood-rats Bay Ridge harbors. Don't believe the hyyyype!
June 1, 2013, 3:55 pm
KB from Greenpoint says:
Meanwhile, I can't find a single one of these bins in Greenpoint. I'm actually looking for one.
June 1, 2013, 5 pm
Adele from Bay Ridge says:
I live in Bay Ridge and we have many organizations that accept used clothing. I receive regular notices from community groups who pick up bagged clothing at our front door. As a Bay Ridge resident I care greatly about the environment and recycling.. I also care about the cleanliness of our sidewalks.. The complaints about these bins are correct.
June 2, 2013, 10:52 am

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