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Megan Card, Published July 28 2012

Green bins in F-M area for profit, not charity

FARGO – Working at a child care nonprofit for the past 16 years, Lynnette Lein says she believes life is about giving back to the community.

So she was surprised to learn the bins located outside Small Wonders in south Fargo collect used clothes for a for-profit company, not for charity as she expected. When a representative from the textile recycling company, USAgain, approached Lein earlier this summer, she had no problem with it.

“They told me people donate clothes, they collect it, and it’s all for a good cause,” Lein said. “I was like, ‘Sure, why not?’ ”

The green and white bins are becoming a recognizable local feature, as 42 sites have popped up here in the past six months. But some managers and owners of the stores they’re placed by say they weren’t aware the donations were going to a for-profit company, and at least one area nonprofit collecting clothing worries it may hurt their donations.

Confusion about company

Glen Klinkhammer, manager of Sunmart Foods at 3175 25th St. S., said he was under the impression the pair of USAgain bins outside his store were run by a nonprofit charity.

“The salesman said the bins were for recycling clothes, so I didn’t think twice about it,” he said. “Personally, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t donate to a for-profit.”

Betty Hoffart, owner of Eagle Run Crossing, was also unsure about what happens to the donated items and if they stay local.

Those donations actually make money for a Chicago-based company that has a presence in 15 states. The fact that it’s a for-profit company is laid out for every business owner, Gaia Filicori, spokeswoman for USAgain, said in an interview with The Forum.

“Our people receive training to clearly and accurately inform business owners about the company, including the fact that we are a for-profit company,” Filicori said.

USAgain’s for-profit status is not a secret. The words are posted on the front of every white donation box, clearly stated in white lettering.

And not all local business owners are questioning the for-profit company. Ray Bernard, president of Ray’s Auto Repair, said that while he first had reservations about USAgain, the company has done a good job maintaining their bins.

“I’ve had issues with nonprofits not cleaning out their boxes before,” Bernard said. “USAgain’s done a good job, and at least I know they have to pay taxes.”

Where does it all go?

To combat the 11 million tons of textiles trashed each year, USAgain collects the contents from each bin site and takes clothes to district warehouses.

The textiles are then sold to different “graders,” who sort the clothes by certain characteristics like size and weight. Those companies sell the wearable clothes in areas in North America, Central America, Eastern Europe and Africa. The items not fit for wearing are sold to companies that recycle the materials into insulation and plastics.

Deposited clothes are sold locally, nationally and internationally – wherever there happens to be a demand, Filicori said. USAgain does not track where the clothes actually go once they are sold.

USAgain’s spokeswoman wouldn’t disclose to The Forum how much profit the company receives from selling the textiles because it is a private company. She did say that many business owners that house bins are compensated on average about $20 per ton of clothes.

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.”

For USAgain’s CEO, Mattias Wallander, USAgain is solely focused on improving access to textile recycling, he said in a March Huffington Post blog post. And, he wrote, thrift stores take in only a fraction of clothing discarded in the U.S.

“We are sometimes confronted with the notion that thrift stores and charities already collect most unwanted clothing,” Wallander said in the post. “The facts don’t support that line of thinking: A whopping 13 million tons of textiles are discarded annually by Americans, but only a meager 15 percent is recovered for reuse and recycling – wasting nearly 11 million tons each year.”

Some cities push back

Other towns have addressed the influx of USAgain bins. Palos Heights, Ill., a town of about 17,500 people 25 miles southwest of Chicago, restricted the placement of the for-profit bins through a city ordinance that required the bins to be inside a building, said Jim Dougherty, Palos Heights’ building commissioner.

The ordinance effectively eliminated the bins from the town, Dougherty said.

Sedro Woolley, Wash., a town of more than 10,500 people 65 miles north of Seattle, went through a similar scenario a few years ago when local non-profit thrift stores started to report a decline in their donations.

Mayor Mike Anderson said locals were misled by the for-profit company. While they originally considered restricting the bins, Anderson said city officials instead tried to make their residents more aware about USAgain.

“I can’t say for sure that it’s reduced numbers, but people have a right to know this company is out for a profit, not to help their community,” he said.

No complaints have been issued in Fargo and Moorhead, the cities’ commissioner and clerk offices reported. The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office has not received complaints about the company either, a spokeswoman said.


All store bins locations

Moorhead

94 Liquors, 2511 12th Ave. S.

Applause, 788 2nd Ave. S.

Audio Garage, 2012 1st Ave. S.

Kmart, 3000 Hwy 10 E.

Mac’s, 2537 Hwy 10 E.

Mick’s Scuba, 420 S. 21st St.

Oasis C- Store, 209 Wall St. Ave.

Ray’s Auto Repair, 1313 Main Ave.

Stop-N-Go #433, 1702 30th Ave. S.

Stop-N-Go #437, 203 21st St. S.

Sunmart Foods, 2605 8th St. S.

Fargo

ER Investments #447, 2401 45th St. S.

Great Pets, 2430 S. University Drive

Kmart, 2301 S. University Drive

Petro Serve USA, 4440 9th Ave. S.

Petro Serve USA, 2921 Broadway

Petro Serve USA, 205 NP Ave.

Petro Serve USA, 2903 Main Ave.

Petro Serve USA, 3902 Main Ave.

Petro Serve USA, 2110 S. University Drive.

Petro Serve USA, 3820 12th Ave. N.

Petro Serve USA, 1340 34th St. S.

Small Wonders, 1401 Oak Manor Ave. S.

Stop-N-Go #410, 602 S. 23rd St.

Stop-N-Go #422, 3216 12th Ave. N.

Stop-N-Go #424, 2002 S. 25th St.

Stop-N-Go #426, 1901 N. University Drive

Stop-N-Go #427, 1401 S. University Drive

Stop-N-Go #428, 1462 Broadway

Stop-N-Go #429, 2701 S. University Drive

Stop-N-Go #430, 301 N. 10th St.

Stop-N-Go #436, 204 42nd St. S.

Stop-N-Go #441, 3545 25th St. S.

Stop-N-Go #443, 4301 13th Ave. S.

Sunmart Foods, 724 N. University Drive

Sunmart Foods, 3175 25th St. S.

West Fargo

All Stop, 950 13th Ave. E.

Eagle Run Crossing, 3210 Sheyenne St.

Petro Serve USA 239 W. Main

Stop-N-Go #432, 901 E. Main

Stop-N-Go #434, 524 Sheyenne St.

Sunmart Foods, 1100 13th Ave. E.