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City cracking down on rogue clothing bins

On a vacant lot beneath Route 1 on Tuesday, a bulldozer lifted its blade high above a bubble-gum-pink clothing donation bin and then brought it down like a hammer.

On a vacant lot beneath Route 1 on Tuesday, a bulldozer lifted its blade high above a bubble-gum-pink clothing donation bin and then brought it down like a hammer.

It jabbed, denting the bin's top. It pulled, flipping the bin on its front. And it smashed, pummeling the bin flat.

"No more clothing bins," one man yelled, as a crowd of spectators around him cheered.

That's a lot of hate for a hunk of metal.

But city officials say donation bins like the one pulverized in Nicetown on Tuesday - and up to 70 others the city will remove by the end of the week - disturb the quality of life for those who live near them, attracting graffiti, illegal dumping, and drug activity. The bins have long been a problem, but seemed to multiply last year, in part when a for-profit donation company facing criticism for code violations in New York dropped scores of blue and pink bins here, seemingly overnight.

"Nobody requests these bins. No one's looking for them," said City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who represents some of the most affected communities and who sponsored legislation last year to regulate donation bins. "They're an eyesore."

Clothing discarded in donation bins - part of the nearly billion-dollar worldwide textile recycling industry - is often resold in bulk overseas, where used wares are at a premium because many consumers can't afford new items. The rest is recycled into wiping rags, carpet padding, even car-door insulation.

While many consumers assume all bins are operated by nonprofits, that's not the case. Some companies partner with a nonprofit, cutting them a flat check and keeping any profit over that amount. Others operate largely under the radar, making it difficult to know where the donations go and whom they benefit.

City officials on Tuesday recommended that those looking to donate used clothes use a reputable, well-known nonprofit like the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

There also are donation bin companies operating legally in Philadelphia. Those bins can't be on the public right-of-way or within 500 feet of any residential property. And they must have the name and contact information of the owner on the front or side.

While the city has targeted 70 bins for removal, city officials say there are likely more on private properties that are also illegal and will need to be addressed. Department of Licenses and Inspections Commissioner David Perri said Planet Aid, a national textile recycling nonprofit, owns about 40 percent of the 70 targeted for pickup.

Andrew Rice, a Planet Aid spokesman, said its crews removed all of those bins after receiving notice from the city. Perri said many bin owners were not responsive to warnings that their bins would be removed.

"We did our best to try to notify the bin owners," Perri said. "And at this point, we're just going to take them."

As for the removed bins, Perri said, the city will break down the wooden ones and will sell the metal ones to a scrap yard.

Of course, if any owners want their bins back, Perri said, they can pay the fines and processing fees.

"We'll be happy to sell them back," he said, "if they so please."