Who's really collecting that used clothing?
by Tim Athan
From the October, 2021 issue
In the parking lot at the corner of Liberty and Maple, three bins vie for clothing donations. One bears the name of the Michigan Humane Society, another the Childhood Disease Research Foundation, and the third Green Recycling of Michigan. But they're all owned by for-profit companies.
Information about them is difficult to find. The news organization Patch titled its 2013 article about the Childhood Disease Research Foundation "Mysterious Donation Bins Raise Questions," but didn't have many answers. A 2020 Fox2 TV piece on Green Recycling of Michigan was titled, "These clothing collection bins take the shirt off your back but don't give back to charity."
That company, which previously labeled its bins "American Association for Lost Children" or "Mercy," was sued by Michigan's attorney general in 2017 for misleading labeling. Its bins now include a small-print disclaimer, "Green Recycling of Michigan is not a 501(c)(3) organization."
The bins labeled Michigan Humane Society actually belong to the American Textile Recycling Service, which a spokesman describes as a for-profit company with a philanthropic mission.
"Every donation belongs to Michigan Humane Society, and we pay them 2 cents for every pound," he says. They have about 250 bins across the Lower Peninsula, and he says MHS's take works out to about $60,000 to $65,000 a year. (MHS has no connection to the local Humane Society of Huron Valley.)
Local nonprofits--including Ann Arbor Thrift Shop, PTO Thrift Shop, and Kiwanis Thrift Sale--all accept clothing in good condition for resale and donate the proceeds to social services and education. But they do not want unusable textiles, and the city does not want them in recycling bins.
The private companies do send some unsalable clothing to be recycled, but the only way to be sure the discards don't end up in the landfill is to take them to Recycle Ann Arbor's Drop-Off Station on Ellsworth. Residents can drop off three bags of textiles for the $3 entry fee, and additional bags for $2 each.
[Originally published in October, 2021.]
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