Yes, Most of Those New Clothing Drop-Off Bins Are a Scam

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A clothing donation drop-off bin in Bed-Stuyvesant. Many of these bins are run by companies that actually re-sell the items, rather than donate them to charity. (Jody Avirgan/WNYC)

Have you been noticing more and more of those bright-colored charity clothing bins showing up in your neighborhood? David Gonzalez of The New York Times investigated and found that, yes, many of them are a scam, and that the laws make it hard to remove once they’re in place. (To report a bin for removal, you can call 311 or report it to the Department of Sanitation online.)

Our Crowdsourced Guide To Donating Your Clothes

If you want to donate your old or unwanted clothes in a way that ensures that they’ll be put to good use (rather than sold for profit), you can follow these tips. We’ve crowdsourced them from the Department of Sanitation, charity organizations, and our listeners. (And don’t forget to ask for a receipt — it’s a tax write-off.)

  • Locate a spot to sell or donate your clothes. There are several websites to point you in the right direction, including the Department of Sanitation’s NYC Stuff Exchange, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army. We also really like the good folks at Housing Works and the Fashion Project lets you select a charity of your choice.
  • Use a legitimate collection bin. Nonprofits like Goodwill have their own bins, and the city has its own re-fashioNYC boxes. Go with a name you trust.
  • Call the Salvation Army. They’ll pick your clothes up right from your door, for free, at a time convenient to you.
  • Drop it off at the market. GrowNYC has collected over two million pounds of clothes since 2007 from Greenmarkets. You can add to that number by finding the closet one to you on their website.
  • Donate your stuff to an animal shelter. Everyone loves puppies and kittens, and they need towels for bathing animals and clothes for bedding. Here are some guidelines.
  • Swap for something better. There are tons of swap groups and online materials exchanges where you can trade your unwanted clothes for something better. One man’s trash…
  • Sell your clothes for cash. If you think you can squeeze some money out of your old outfits, you can sell them to a used-clothing store like Buffalo Exchange or Beacon’s Closet.

Do you have any other tips for us? Post them in the comments, tweet at us @BrianLehrer, or post it on our Facebook page.


David Gonzalez

Comments [43]

Roberta Kolar from NY-NJ

For many years the collection bins have not necessarily re-distributed the clothing collected. In fact, they shred the clothing to be reused for making other things. This does not mean that a charity is not benefiting from your donation. Some charities entered into arrangements with companies that maintain the boxes, and pay the charity money for each pound of clothing collected. The arrangement was more cost-effective for the charities than collecting and re-distributing the clothing. They would get money to provide services for their beneficiaries. If you want your good quality, good condition clothing to actually be re-worn, think "Dress for Success" for women seeking employment, or Battered Women's shelters (they can use books and toys as well), or Goodwill or Salvation Army directly. Keep in mind that the Salvation Army has some religious issues they promote as a quid pro quo for food and clothing. There are tons of Thrift shops in the NY metro area. They too sell, and use the money rather than redistribute the clothing.

Jul. 28 2014 04:40 PM
Michael from NYC

I have spoken to a sanitation department worker who was actually ticketing one of those bins close to my house on 17th street in Park Slope - he told me that the sanitation department CANNOT remove them, so don't even bother. I have even notified my councilman (Mr. Carlos Menchaca from the 38th district) and still have not heard back from him. Perhaps we need to get more news stations around NYC involved. This is ridiculous that no one can remove them? What if I parked my car on the sidewalk - bet your a-- that I would be ticketed and towed within minutes!

Jul. 25 2014 05:36 PM
Kelly from Brooklyn

There's a bin down the block from me, which always has clothes spilled onto the sidewalk around it, which takes it from a minor annoyance to a sanitation issue in my mind. I wouldn't care that much if they put a bin there, kept it clean, and picked up the clothing regularly -- I'd feel bad for the legit charities but would probably not actively seek removal. But this is an eyesore and a health hazard. I took a picture and complained to 311, but a neighbor says that because the bin is located underneath the S shuttle train in Brooklyn, it is on MTA property and there's a jurisdiction issue. So I also complained to the MTA. We'll see what happens. There are clearly bigger problems in the world right now.

Jul. 25 2014 10:18 AM
Laura McGill from NYC

It appears that all the clothes being dropped of in inconspicuous bin's, Goodwill, Housing Works, etc. are all being put to "Use" Every single one of these organizations, make a profit, and if you're homeless, paying for clothing, regardless of how cheap it is,is still unaffordable. Housing Works is not cheap,by the way, and they only accepts] top quality merchandise. They have turn down some of my donations. Even Beacon's Closet and the sort, are arrogant about accepting clothes. I give clothes away at least three times a year, with two daughter's in the home. I take all of my unwanted clothes to an indepently run thrift store, run by an older couple. They never "reject" my donations, and they service the neighborhood, and yes, they make a little money too, but it's pays the rent.

Jul. 25 2014 07:49 AM
Sibyl Mere from America

Yellow Bins are good choices. Planet Aid is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that collects and recycles used clothing and shoes to protect the environment and support sustainable development in impoverished communities around the world. The projects we support improve health, increase income, aid vulnerable children, train teachers, and help strengthen communities and reduce poverty. Planet Aid's work is supported by a wide range of businesses and governments, and we are registered with the U.S. Agency for International Development as a private voluntary organization (PVO).

Jul. 24 2014 11:21 PM
Deborah Blatt from Westchester County

The Sharing Shelf of Family Services of Westchester collects new and gently used clothing for children. We are the first "clothing bank" for children in our area and will celebrate our 5th birthday this fall.

The Sharing Shelf redistributes donated clothing to children in need at no cost to the children or their families after screening everything for quality. Each child we serve receives a week's worth of seasonally appropriate clothing matched into outfits. We currently partner with more than 40 schools, social service agencies, hospitals, food pantries and other nonprofits in Westchester County and distribute over 45,000 pieces of clothing each year. While Westchester is perceived as a bastion of wealth, nearly 12% of Westchester children live in poverty. In communities like New Rochelle, 1 of 2 public school children qualify for free or reduced lunch. In Yonkers and Mt Vernon, that number is closed to 8 in 10 children.

Hopefully, with stories like this, we can bust the bin myth. These bins do serve a purpose -- they are ideal for clothing that people hoard and fail to donate in a timely fashion. Certain types of clothing cannot be redistributed : things that sit in attics or garages for years, clothing exposed to moth balls, clothing that is stained or damaged as well as your elderly mother or father's old suits or dresses. People also need to make friends with their garbage cans and accept that some items do not have a second life and shouldn't be donated (used socks and used underwear).

Jul. 24 2014 05:24 PM
Alice O'Hara from Briarwood, Queens

Now I wonder about all the bags I get in the mail from different charities. UVW comes to mind - they send them the most often. I think a charity for LUPUS sends them too. What makes me question them is that the bag type and font style are identical. Lightweight white bags with blue printing.

Jul. 24 2014 04:21 PM
Scott Neuman

Brian, a lot of people don't know that you can donate your record collection to charity. If you have a small collection, I don't recommend getting an appraisal but you can get $1.00 per record as a donation. If you have a large collection over 1000 pieces or more, an appraisal is the way to go since the write off can be $10,000 or more for clean records and 45's. Google it.

Jul. 24 2014 01:59 PM
Rebecca from Brooklyn

Caveat emptor (or caveat donor in this case) with the 'reputable' donation services. Goodwill is not a charity but a for-profit, which may or may not bother you; Salvation Army has a lengthy history of anti-LGBT activism that it has only recently begun whitewashing, and has deep ties to anti-choice causes (though has a moderate stance on abortion in the case of incest or rape, which enrages the extremists as well).

Jul. 24 2014 11:45 AM
Mani Nilchiani from Brooklyn, NY

Also consider The Bowery Mission and Housing Works for donations.

Jul. 24 2014 11:41 AM
Christina from Brooklyn

Not much difference between the for-profits running these bins and the established non-profits crying foul. After learning more about the compensation inequality between Goodwill CEOs and employees in addition to Goodwill's practice of paying employees with disabilities well below minimum wage (sometimes 22 cents/hr.), I decided to make donations exclusively to HousingWorks. Though, truth be told, I'd rather my clothes make someone else a little money overseas rather than perpetuating the unfair compensation practices and discriminatory labor practices (even if legal) of places like Goodwill.

Jul. 24 2014 11:16 AM
AQueens from Astoria, NY

How can you say this is a scam? They aren't promising anything except taking YOUR unwanted clothes away. Don't post a politically charged title, WNYC, when people have a choice to take it to whomever they wish.

Jul. 24 2014 10:50 AM
Connie from Brooklyn

The NYC Department of Sanitation has partnered with Housing Works to put recycling bins in apartment buildings to eliminate textiles from going into the trash and landfills. If you live in a building with more than 10 units, check out this website to see if having a convenient bin in your building will work for you. The program is called re-fashionNYC.

Jul. 24 2014 10:43 AM
Jonathan from Brooklyn, NY

I wonder how many poor people actually get their clothing from shelters and non-profit organizations. I suspect that most shop at H&M and other low-cost retailers. That’s why I’m always reluctant to donate my discarded clothing. Poor people want new, fashionable clothing just like everyone else. I think it makes more sense to give your unwanted garments to hybrid for-profit/non-profit clothing recycling programs, like re-fashionNYC. I prefer H&M’s clothing recycling program because you get a coupon for your next H&M purchase. If we choose to contribute clothing to the benefit of some for-profit organization, there should be the opportunity for monetary gain (even if paltry) for the one donating! Composting is also an option. Cottons, linens, and leathers are 100% biodegradable.

Jul. 24 2014 10:18 AM
Joe Moretti from Jamaica

The clothing bin fiasco which has not only plagued Jamaica, but several places in Queens, Bronx and especially Brooklyn, seems to be getting somewhat under control at least in then103rd precinct’s district. These eyesores,which pretty much just attract garbage were slowing appearing in Jamaica for some time but in the last couple months were multiplying faster than beauty supply stores and crap retail stores on Jamaica Avenue.

But do to the vigilance of people like myself, community activists/advocates Pamela Hazel, Patrick Evans and others reporting all of these eyesores to Department of Sanitation, they have been slowly disappearing. But a huge boost was also Sgt. Cedillo & The Untouchables from the 103rd precinct, who working with DOS, began removing them quickly as opposed to the 30 days which DOS gave owners of the bins to remove them. By the way, 30 days is way too long to keep these eyesores in communities. These bins should be removed immediately when they are spotted and reported. A traffic enforcement officer does not give a car parked at an expired meter 24 hours to feed the meter, they ticket the car right then.

Many other areas in Jamaica as well as the other borough should get their local precincts involved in this major illegal dumping. These bins do not belong on public sidewalks, in front of vacant lots or abandoned homes and they certainly do not belong in a LIRR Tunnel, which one was spotted inside the Merrick Blvd LIRR Tunnel. In post 911, these bins should be looked at as suspicious to say the least. I mean what is stopping someone from placing a bomb in one before it is placed.

Well, it looks like Jamaica and specifically the 103rd precinct area, it taking the lead on this issue and as usual no thanks to our elected leaders, who as always do not know how to stay ahead of the curve with problems. It is called FORESIGHT.

But the city needs to have a zero tolerance towards all of these clothing bins and must not let them be placed in public areas to begin with. While some areas council members have come aboard on this problem, Jamaica’s elected officials are MIA as to be expected. Unless they do a photo-op on this matter and they will come out of the woodwork like roaches.

Jul. 24 2014 09:58 AM
M Carr from Long Island

I get plastic bags in the mail from organizations (Lupus , Vets, Big Brothers/Sisters). What do they do with donated stuff? Are they legit?

Jul. 24 2014 09:39 AM

I have given my clothes and small appliances to Vietnam Veterans for decades. They pick it up at my house and leave a receipt. This organization clearly states that the goods are sold. I have also given to American Red Cross, which also picks up and leaves a receipt.

I do no give one penny to grocery stores or any other corporation for them to tout that they give whatever to their charity. I give directly to the organizations I want to support like Planned Parenthood, WNET, WNYC, WNJN.

This discussion raised my awareness about giving towels, sheets and other specific items to animal shelters.

I think it is ridiculous that a box is left on the sidewalk and there is a prescribed time to have it removed. How about recording it, post it on some social media and sending your complaint to a local TV station?

Jul. 24 2014 09:23 AM
Ginzberg from In Wood

Of course, ludicrously cheap clothing, which encourages unnecessary buying, waste and slave wages, is scam #1.

Jul. 24 2014 09:19 AM
Jonathan Steinberg

You think that is bad? How about Sanitation's computer recycling business, where they collect simply to sell for profit? I was volunteering with the LESEC at their events, so that I could supply equipment for NYC public schools which had a need for printers or computers at the school or for families which couldn't afford them. One day, when they saw that what I was doing was preventing them from turning a profit on those computers, they stopped me from volunteering!

Even odder is that while stopping me from obtaining equipment for schools, the LESEC employees maintained their own stash of the better equipment donated for their (and their personal friend's) own use, as did the company's employees.

Odder still was that not only did they hold these incredibly profitable recycling events, they wanted to have a lock on ALL recycled computer equipment in New York City. They were continuously compiling 'surveys', trying to get people to say that it should be someone else's responsibility to dispose of their old computers. (no one ever seemed to agree) Undaunted, they used the supposed results they had concocted to pass legislation mandating that New Yorkers can no longer dispose of computer equipment?? Theoretically (thankfully, - only theoretically) we now HAVE to take it along to their events!

Jul. 24 2014 09:00 AM
Anne from NYC

I have no problem with the boxes either since the clothes are still recycled. But a reminder - FreeCycle has its ReallyFreeMarket every quarter at Judson Church on Washington Square. The next market is Sunday JULY 27, 2014 and you can drop stuff off from 3 to 6 that will be given away free that day. FreeCycle is also a yahoo group where you can give stuff away for free - and get stuff free - via email postings.

And NYCGrow which provides the farmer's market also organizes "Stop & Swap" which works like FreeCycles ReallyFreeMarket - everything is given away free in a market-style setting.
There are 2 Stop & Swaps coming in the next few days.

Jul. 24 2014 07:44 AM
Adam - CEO of Wearable Collections from Brooklyn

As the leader of a for-profit clothing collector in NYC, I have been watching with much interest as these stories of the viltex bins have gained traction. I have always had mixed feelings when i see these bins, on the one hand they are doing a service and providing people with a convenient place to discard their clothes and truth be told it is entering the same international trade that the vast majority of donated items go, even salvation army and goodwill. The misleading info on the box aside, my biggest problem is that they simply drop them on the sidewalks and dont maintain them well. If everyone who wanted to make a buck simply set up their business on the sidewalk it would be chaos. So i dont really support any industry who would do this. I have been battling preconceived notions of for-profit vs non-profit for 10 years now. We are a for profit that dedicates a portion of our proceeds to our charitable partners, on top of providing convenient collections. I think what most of us want is transparency and the topic has become a hot one because these bins have been proliferating without one bit of transparency and no one seems to be doing anything about it. That seems like a strange thing here in 2014 on our city streets.
For those of you who say there isnt a convenient option for clothing collections in NYC, please visit or write I assure you that we will come up with a conenient manner to handle your discarded clothes, shoes and textiles.

Jul. 23 2014 09:08 PM
MrWash from Brooklyn

This isn't a charity scam issue, it's a recycling issue. I say, let a thousand misleading bins bloom!

As the caller said, the choice isn't between donating to a good organization or one of these outfits, and who gets the 37 cents per pound. For most people without cars, it's between NYC's waste stream, for which NYC pays the disposal cost, and these bins of these new-style rag pickers.

The story and the article both cite Goodwill's preference for in-person donations, since the value they derive from the clothes is as a training activity for their clients, and a relationship building tool for donors, with the funds received from resellers a distant third.

This story and the article in the NYT are almost as misleading as the bins. The only scam is the placement of boxes themselves (as described by the BID caller), and sometimes misrepresentation of charity proceeds on the bins. Most bins, however, have language about helping that is at worst misleading, and a crime against spelling and grammar.

Jul. 23 2014 05:30 PM
Keira from Manhattan

The profusion of these boxes clearly indicates that they are serving a need in our hyper-consumeristic society—many of us just have way too much stuff! Could not city ordinances be changed so that illegal drop boxes could be quickly confiscated by the city and ceded to legitimate charities?

Jul. 23 2014 01:22 PM
Alvin From Jersey from NJ

How about we lock up or weld these bins shut?

Jul. 23 2014 12:44 PM
Jen from Clinton Hill

I have dropped clothes in those boxes because of convenience. Without a car its hard to get to charity building and I don't want to throw stuff away.

Didn't consider it was a con.

Regarding recomendations for donations, an organization called "Bottomless Closet" is great for professional clothes- primarily for women. Helps people get attire for interviews and work.

Would love suggestions for more casual clothing donations.

Jul. 23 2014 12:19 PM
Edward Baker from Brooklyn

If you have come across these bins, make sure to print out this form and submit to Sanitation:

It will take a city-wide effort to get these off our streets.

Jul. 23 2014 12:15 PM
William from Manhattan

You should add Housing Works to your crowd-sourced guide. They're also a great place to shop - we're lucky to have one at Broadway & 97th Street.

Jul. 23 2014 12:12 PM

The main point here is... WHERE are the right places to donate and/or drop off clothes. And so, let's get more answers.

1. In my neighborhood at the Sunday Farmer's Market - Ditmas Park area in Brooklyn -there is a clothing and textiles drop off. They sort through the materials. You can drop anything from fabric to clothing and good, usable quality clothing they will sort and distribute appropriately. It is a NYC program.

This needs to be publicized more and in my opinion is a very effective way and place to drop off. No, you don't need a car. Often it is at your local farmer's market or neighborhood and you can walk it over or yes, drop off in car.

2. Women's shelters. There is a local women's and children shelter in my neighborhood where the people are mostly victims of domestic violence. Understandably so, they do not advertise their name or exact location but they do pick ups from their volunteers and they will accept drop-offs. They are VERY appreciative and tell you so because unfortunately they have a heavy flow of people in and out of the facility who often arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I bet if you do a bit of research as I did you can very easily find such a location in your neighborhood.

Jul. 23 2014 12:06 PM
Ande from Freehold, NJ

There are bins outside and behind my local thrift shop. The shop uses them to dump clothes they can't sell, so it's a win for them. And yes, it's one of the doubtful companies, but they did get permission to place them there.

Jul. 23 2014 12:03 PM
William from Manhattan

Caller Janet - I'm with you. Unless they are in good condition (eg, good enough for Housing Works), old clothes and fabric are not a donation, they are trash. Good for these entrepreneurs who are keeping them out of our landfills. They used to be called rag-pickers, and they provide a valuable service. Okay, go after them if they make false claims but this is not a major issue. Interesting news, but let's not demonize these folks.

Jul. 23 2014 12:01 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Is it a really a scam? If they simply say: "drop off used clothes and shoes". One may infer that it's going to charity but unless it says so, the burden is on the donor. In some sense, they may be doing people who simply want to get rid of stuff, a favor.

Jul. 23 2014 11:58 AM
Rebecca Fisher from Brooklyn

A pink bin just appeared 2 weeks ago in a community garden near my Boerum Hill neighborhood. At first I thought "oh good, an easy way to donate my kid's clothes" (because I'm endlessly trying to do the right thing and save all their clothes to donate properly), but then I realized it was probably not legit. It's now gone....they removed it a few days ago. Usually I take it to Goodwill or Salvation Army, but that involves thinking about it and making a special trip (making sure they're open, etc.). I've also dropped them off at a bin at a gas station nearby. A lot of people are just looking for the most convenience...without a thought to where it goes.

Jul. 23 2014 11:56 AM
Rebekah from Bed Stuy

I always drop my extra clothes off at the Brooklyn Free Store! Keep it in the neighborhood and build community.

Jul. 23 2014 11:54 AM
Bob from Westchester

The GrowNYC donation sites at the Greenmarkets are especially useful as they can re-cycle material no longer suitable for wearing - even water-damaged moldy clothes (according to the rep I spoke with at the St. Mark's Place Greemarket).

Jul. 23 2014 11:52 AM
Marion Pearce from Manhattan

Similarly, people at stands in Central Park sell Central Park maps (only half the park is included) for $2.00, claiming to help charities (bogus: it's for profit) while steps away the Visitor Centers and kiosks give full Central Park maps out for free.

Jul. 23 2014 11:50 AM
Larry from Williamsburg

The pink ones have popped up all over Williamsburg in the past few weeks. Stickers saying they are illegal popped up pretty quickly afterwards but the boxes remain. They were all placed in front of empty or construction lots.

Jul. 23 2014 11:49 AM
Barbara Himber from Flemington, NJ

Sort of a scam I've noticed for some time. Shopping for groceries, or anything else, being asked at the checkout if I'd like to add a dollar or so for charities like Children's Cancer Research, Kidney disease, Help the Troops and myriad other causes. After spending $120 for food it seems miserly to say 'no' and most people donate. At the end of the year the store or market posts a sign boasting of tens of thousands given to charity - and taking a hefty tax deduction for themselves. Who saves dozens of receipts to prove the donation of money added here and there? Not I until I realized how unfair this is.
Now I say 'no' without apology, braving the judgement of others in the queue and write my own checques to worthy causes.
I'm thinking it is a scam!

Jul. 23 2014 11:48 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

No, I don't put clothing in the clothing bins. I take it to Goodwill or Salvation Army.

You can tell the real ones from the fake ones because the real ones say which organization they're from and have verifiable phone numbers and/or websites on them, as well as indications that they have permits to be there.

Jul. 23 2014 11:48 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

I used to stuff bags of clothing into the yellow Planet Aid bins in Williamsburg, until they disappeared. Where these legit?

Jul. 23 2014 11:46 AM
Jack jr from Manhattan

This is not news. There was a similar scandal about 10 yrs ago or so, they even had signs painted on that were supposedly some fake Veterans associations. Yes, these clothes are being sold in Third World and other countries. No only from these bins, but from legitimate ones and from legit Thrift Shops. If you think your donations go to the local or US shops, you're wrong. They pick out the very best items and the rest are wholesaled by the pound. The New York Times did a story years ago where a reporter followed a shipment to East Africa. A few years ago some traveler spotted his exact T-shirt with his stains in some other country. Next time if you're in Kenya, Eastern or Cental Europe or South America and Asia you'll see piles of our donations. Not only from the USA but from the UK and Germany. I don't mind others making money from our discarded clothing, etc., but there should be some honest disclosure from these supposed "charities".

Jul. 23 2014 10:48 AM
Casey from Uptown

I saw three of these bins this past Sunday while I was out running errands. Two of them had "warning" notices on them and as far as I know, the third does not.

I wanted to report the suspect one but after conducting a cumbersome search to find the proper place online to report since it wasn't on 311 online, I noticed that DOS will NOT let you fill out the form anonymously; as a matter of fact, every field requires entry -- like if there's a company name/contact info on the bin. Why can't the location of these eye sores be sufficient. No one has time to obtain all of this extraneous info nor does it make sense why I have to provide my contact information if I am reporting something illegal. Why does DOS or whoever regulates these things need to know who I am - just come out to the location I report and slap one of those stickers on the thing - or better yet, just haul it away!

Jul. 23 2014 09:41 AM
Nestor from Brooklyn

There's one right on the sidewalk—blocking passage through a busy area—on Hicks and President St. in Brooklyn. I called 311 and they were no help at all. They said the city has to wait 30 days blah blah blah and then 45 days after notification...blah blah blah. They said I could file a complaint online. Gee, thanks. Where is the city on this? You can get a ticket for being double parked, but drop a dumpster on the street and all of a sudden you have right to create an eyesore and possible fire hazard!

If you have clothes to donate, give them to a reputable place, like Salvation Army.

Drop dog poo or throw raw garbage in the bins. The scammers will get a big surprise!

Jul. 21 2014 11:00 AM
Ian from Brooklyn

Brian, no lie there is a trend in the Caribbean where people buy used clothes and sell them in the markets undercutting the Asian sellers. It is called (In Jamaica at least)Ray Ray. I believe this is what is happening with these bins. I have seen trucks come, back up to these bins and what happens I am not clear, but do be clear that these clothes are most likely being sold on the streets in the third world. It is a BIG business.

Jul. 21 2014 09:51 AM

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