A non-profit group that collects clothing and shoes in recycling drop boxes or bins located throughout Northwood asked the city to reconsider their removal.
Robert Thompson, an official with Planet Aid, which collects clothing and shoes for the needy, said his group wants to work with the city to keep the yellow bins in the community.
“We resent being hit with a broad brush, which happens in every community with curbside recycling,” said Thompson at a council meeting last month. “You don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. We’re trying to avoid that. When we’ve had the chance to work with a city, we have been able to avoid the banning of boxes per se.”
The “secret,” he said, to easing their concerns is to give the city control over the boxes.
“You control the boxes – you control the circumstances, you control the licensing of the boxes, you control the whole operation. That’s been done in many, many cities in Michigan. That seems to be the theme all the way around,” he said.
The group is currently working with Toledo on a proposed ordinance regulating drop boxes, he added.
He gave council an introductory letter describing Planet Aid, which he said operates in 21 states and has a home office in Massachusetts. The local branch that covers this area is in Romulus, Michigan.
The city last year mailed letters to the owners of the collection boxes, as well as to the owners of properties where the boxes are located, to inform them they are in violation of the zoning code.
The bins, called “accessory structures,” are not permitted by the Central Business District Zoning code, according to the city.
“An accessory use is permitted when it is clearly, customarily and incidentally subordinate to the principal, permitted use of a parcel,” states the letter. “This is clearly not the case with `clothing collection boxes’ within the Central Business District. Therefore, you must remove any and all collection boxes currently located on your property…Failure to comply may result in further action, including, but not limited to the removal of the boxes by the city.”
City Administrator Bob Anderson said after the meeting that the city has already removed several bins, which have cropped up mostly along commercial corridors over the years. The public has complained about the bins, which he said were unsightly.
Most of the boxes belong to Planet Aid, which started in the Boston area in 1997. Its website states that the project “protects the environment and supports sustainable development in impoverished communities around the world.”
Another organization, the Special Olympics, removed their own bins, said Anderson.
“They seem very legitimate. They had three of them. They pulled them after they got our letter. They were very responsive. They wanted us to reconsider outright banning them. Right now, they don’t comply with our zoning regulations. They are an accessory use,” he said.
The organizations have to remove the bins, he added, or go before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to get a permit to locate them in the city. He doubts the BZA would approve such a request.
“If we had one or two collection boxes in the city, that’s not a problem,” he said. “But when you have one every hundred feet, that’s a problem. People tend to drop stuff off in the bins that they just don’t want – garbage. Some of them aren’t very well maintained. And some are downright ugly - made of plywood with a thin coat of paint.”
Anderson said he wasn’t sure whether the city was going to ban the boxes or make some exceptions.
“We still have the Salvation Army and Goodwill,” he said.
Besides Toledo, Rossford last year was also looking at regulating the bins.
CharityWatch, which provides in-depth analysis of charities, said Planet Aid does not spend much money it makes on programs.
“This charity consistently reports low overhead and high program spending in its annual financial documents, but a closer analysis by CharityWatch reveals a different picture of how efficiently Planet Aid is operating,” states a report on its website. “Planet Aid reports spending 84 per cent of its expenses on programs in 2012. CharityWatch’s analysis of Planet Aid’s 2012 tax form and audited financial statements show the charity spending only 27 percent of its expenses on programs.”
CharityWatch further states that Planet Aid does not distribute the vast majority of the clothing and other goods it collects to needy people, but sells it.
“In 2012 Planet Aid brought in over $38.4 million from selling these items,” according to CharityWatch.