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Clothing bins don't always help charities

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By USA Today
Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, 6:10 p.m.

Castoff clothing dropped off in bins doesn't always end up with charities devoted to helping the poor.

More and more, the bins are being operated by for-profit recycling firms or nonprofits that give only a small portion of their proceeds to charity.

Goodwill officials said they can't measure the exact impact of the proliferation of bins, spokeswoman Lauren Lawson-Zilai said.

But she said they have eaten into donations, which in turn hurts Goodwill's ability to fund its work. Goodwill provides job training and job-placement programs paid for largely through the retail sales at its network of thrift stores — a business that brought in $2.59 billion in 2011.

Lawson-Zilai said 82 percent of the revenue from sales of donated items went toward services that helped more than 4.2 million people last year.

In contrast, the most recent federal tax return from nonprofit Planet Aid, which operates donation bins across the country, shows that just 28 percent of its $36.5 million in spending went to its international aid programs in 2011. The bulk of its spending went to collect and process clothes for recycling.

The low percentage of money going to international aid programs earned Planet Aid an “F” from ratings organization CharityWatch. CharityWatch gave an A to Goodwill.

USAgain, an Illinois company that also collects clothing through drop-off boxes, is a for-profit recycler, and states as much on the 10,000 bins it maintains in 17 states, spokesman Scott Burnham said. The company collected 60 million pounds of clothing donations in 2011, he added.

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