While not quite lumps of coal, the black and yellow stickers slapped to clothing bins during the holiday season are shaming companies posing as charities.
The scam where profit-making businesses drop bins in parking lots, pretending to collect for charities, has for years eluded code enforcers. The bins, which are often left in shopping centers, overflow and hog prime parking spaces.
Residents often can’t tell the difference between a legitimate bin placed by a charity and one placed by a for-profit business acting as one.
“We don’t want the clothes being sold on 42nd Street,” said North Hempstead Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Shawn Brown, referring to Manhattan’s Garment District. “We want them to be given to people who need it.”
The town allows only nonprofits to register and place the bins. North Hempstead officials say there are as many as 100 bins throughout the town, of which only 18 are registered. Penalties can range from $500 to $2,000, including jail time.
About 20 violations were issued this year, Brown said. In one Carle Place shopping center, two unregistered bins claimed four spaces, leading to double parking and backed-up traffic. In one lot, a dozen black plastic bags were spread over parking spaces, while a television set, baby seat and other items of clothing were scattered about.
“There’s a significant population out there that’s selling the clothes that are donated,” Brown said. “We want the public to donate, but to a legitimate, not-for-profit charity.”
Town officials hope the black and yellow stickers are as attention-grabbing as the 6-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide bins, which are often described as eyesores.
“Sometimes the public is so generous and does not check to see who owns the bins or that the charity is legitimate,” Brown said.
In Huntington, the town has had seven cases involving unlicensed clothing bins since 2007, spokesman A.J. Carter said. The town approved 106 permits in 2015, and issued 117 in 2014. The Town of Babylon has for the past five years banned for-profit companies from receiving bin permits, though four companies that already had permits can still operate with them.
The moratorium, expected to be renewed this year, is an effort to bring “the prevalence of clothing bins through the town to a reasonable level,” spokesman Kevin Bonner said.
Town of Islip officials have confiscated five bins this year, down from seven in 2014 and 22 in 2013. The town issued 16 summonses this year to companies that had violations including expired permits.
Islip does not require the companies to disclose whether the collection is for a charity or a moneymaking enterprise.
A bill signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Dec. 14 bans collection bins on public property and adds maintenance requirements for the bins. The law also requires bin operators to disclose whether the clothes are going to charity or being sold for profit.
Failing to disclose whether the bin host is a charity or a company is a sore point for many in the fabric recycling industry, said Jackie King, executive director of the Maryland-based Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association. The organization is made up of representatives from companies that collect material, mostly for profit, but some collaborate with charities.
The bill cracks down on “bad actors” in the clothing collection industry, organization officials said.
“They may claim they have an affiliation with a charity when they don’t,” King said.
The hope is that the bins do not “become a nuisance in the community,” King said. “There’s no accounting of who’s putting in these things.”