Donation Dilemma: Who Gets the Clothes You Donate?

We all want to help the less fortunate, but did you know that when you drop off clothes at a roadside donation bin, they often don't make it to a charity?

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have learned that the salvage clothes business is a big money maker. Chief Investigative Reporter Len Besthoff took a look at how to make your donation count.

You may have noticed roadside clothing donation bins have sprouted up like mushrooms recently. What used to be the domain of charities is now crowded with competitors.

“You see more and more every single time you drive by, you see it almost every single plaza you enter,” said store owner Reynold Palahzi.

The problem is, not all donation bins are created equal. Bins like the one at a Windsor park-and-ride lot, owned by Charity Recycling Service LLC, are marked with small print bin explaining its donation bins are “for profit.”

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters also learned that the bin was placed at a state park-and-ride without permission, and the state DOT has been unsuccessful in getting the company to remove it, according to spokesman Kevin Nursick.

“Business activities are prohibited from these locations, so it is very much illegal,” said Nursick.

Charity Recycling Service LLC, a Florida-based company, did not return requests for comment.

In Bloomfield, an “International Helping Hands” bin was dropped off at Copaco Plaza in July without permission. Management removed the bin after failing to determine the bin's owner.

Police in Suffolk County, New York said the bin appears similar to three dozen phony bins painted up by a pair of men they arrested three years ago.

“I suspect that most people are on auto pilot when they drop their goods off they don’t even know it they don’t even know what they’re doing,” said Tim Loftus, of Manchester.

The truth of the matter is, demand for used clothing has skyrocketed in the past decade, according to the Salvation Army and others.

“It can be used as clothing, and other stuff will become a true recyclable," said Captain Leo Lloyd, of the Salvation Army. "Maybe cut into insulation, for carpeting or used as rags or different products like that.”

Lloyd shared a little known secret: used clothing has become a multi-million-dollar industry, and that’s why there’s so much competition.

“A good box can get 500 pounds of clothes a week," Lloyd said. "Commodity price for clothing can fluctuate – anywhere from 20 cents to 40 cents a pound right now – so at 500 pounds a week you’re looking at you know $100, $200 per week per box, and if there are multiple boxes and multiple locations, it can be substantial.”

The for-profit donation bins serve a purpose if you want to keep your old clothes out of a landfill; otherwise, it’s “donor beware,” according to John Neumon with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.

“If you’re much more concerned about where the stuff’s going and who’s profiting from it? You should bring your items to the actual stations that are owned by the charities themselves,” Neumon said.

To ensure that your clothing donations make it to a charity, rely on old standbys such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill, or research other bins by using the following sources:

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