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Deceptive clothing collection boxes target of legislation
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Clothes and shoes deposited into these large metal boxes on Central Avenue are not helping charities but for-profit ventures. Goodwill Industries is not happy and asking the city to help support state legislation to get rid of them. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Goodwill thrift stores have asked the Ceres City Council to join their fight against for-profit companies that are flooding shopping centers with clothing collection bins.

Many people are under the false impression that clothing dropped into the boxes is going to charity, said Earl Brown, Business Development director with Goodwill Industries.

"Many of the companies involved in this activity are for-profit organizations," said Brown. "Donations placed in these boxes leave the community and are typically sold on the international market. Profits are pocketed by box operators, very few jobs are created and no local services are funded."

He estimated that over $7 million of income raising potential has been robbed of charitable organizations between Sacramento and Visalia by the diversion of goods to the boxes.

"It causes a negative impact to our ability to fund services that we conduct here," said Brown.

He asked the council to pass a resolution in support of SB 450 to wage war against the so-called "drop box industry." Brown said the large metal boxes are usually placed in commercial shopping districts without owner or manager consent.

SB 450 would authorize the city to waive civil liability to property owners who remove unapproved collection boxes. Initially the state rejected the far reaching effects and the bill is being amended. Brown said the bill is being crafted to allow the city to remove unauthorized boxes and the box owners' expense. The bill has the support of Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army and the American Cancer Society.

Property owners have the option to tell the box operators to remove boxes, but Brown said "in most cases those calls go unanswered." Often property owners have higher priorities. Some property managers are afraid to remove the 250-pound boxes for fear of being sued since boxes are worth an estimated $3,000.

"It's mind boggling how blatant the box operators have been with regard to total disregard to property owners," Brown told Councilman Bret Durossette.

"The bottom line is they really don't have the time to take the box, engage with the box operator and a lot of property managers feel that it's not a fair situation to incur the cost to remove the box and I somewhat concur."

Brown teamed up with Ceres Code Enforcement Officer Paula Redfern last year to remove 14 boxes with an "estimated few more left," notably on Central Avenue. Two green boxes south of Caswell Elementary School are owned by USAgain, a for-profit company. The company's website said its mission statement is to "provide consumers with a convenient and eco-friendly option to rid themselves of excess clothing, which we divert from wasting in landfills for resale here in the US and abroad."

The city of Tracy has adopted a resolution of support with possible support coming from Sacramento, Davis, Rancho Cordova, Modesto and Stockton.

City Attorney Michael Lyions said he is looking into a possible draft for a resolution.