From the Chicago Tribune, writer Monica Eng describe why those boxes may not be as charitable as they seem.
With more-established charities reducing their fleets of clothing boxes, commercial recyclers have moved in with their own boxes to tap into the valuable supply of discarded American clothing — sometimes, but not always, in partnership with charities.
Although some larger charities around the country have blamed the new boxes for a decrease in donations, local Goodwill and Salvation Army representatives say donations have remained generally stable, considering the economy.
Some of the more controversial new boxes are placed by recyclers who consider collecting used clothes to be a charitable environmental program or who create and run their own charity to which they donate funds.
One of the biggest players, Gaia, falls in the first category. Over the last several years it has been criticized for characterizing itself as an environmental charity with projects around the world, when most of its environmental work remains collecting clothes for sale. Along with the related organizations Planet Aid and USAgain, Gaia has expanded in the last decade despite its connection to the controversial Danish organization Tvind, whose leader was acquitted of charges of money laundering and embezzlement in 2006.
An example of the second category is Florida businessman Jay Katari, who owns or has a stake in several textile recycling companies and has also headed charities called Shoes for a Cure and Cancer Free America, whose logos have emblazoned hundreds of boxes.
Critics contend that he gives very little of his profits to cancer causes, and the controversy led Johns Hopkins Cancer Center and Children's Center to stop taking donations from his organizations. Katari did not return phone calls from the Tribune seeking comment, but he said in one television report out of Maryland that he has given at least $87,000 to cancer charities.
In 2009, boxes for a new cancer charity called Go Green for the Cause began to appear in parking lots across the nation. Nicole Leve, executive director of the organization, says it has about 1,000 boxes nationally and about 200 in the Chicago area that raise money for cancer charities. Commercial recyclers operate most of the clothing operations and pay Go Green for clothes deposited in the bins, Leve said. Katari runs one of those recyclers and has been a generous donor to the charity, she said.