There are those that collect unwanted books, some collect eyeglasses and others used clothing, but some city officials say donation drop boxes that dot the city’s shopping centers and parking lots also might be collecting garbage and unusable items, while other organizations sell the donated items at a profit.
To get a better handle on the issue of donation drop-offs, the city may put in place an ordinance to regulate them.
About 30 sites within the city have drop boxes, but the bins are unregulated, according to Gaithersburg Planning Division Chief Lauren Pruss. Organizations that have drop boxes in the city include Goodwill, Planet Aid, Discover Books and Better World Books, among others.
Councilwoman Cathy Drzyzgula recently brought up the issue, concerned that some people who donate items at the drop boxes might not realize who actually is getting the donation.
“I’ve noticed a proliferation of boxes in mostly shopping center parking lots where people can put used clothing and stuff like that and obviously the practice is fine, but I am concerned that people think they’re donating to charity when many of these organizations give little of their proceeds to charitable purposes,” she said.
At a mayor and council meeting Monday, Pruss presented the draft for a future text amendment concerning regulations of donation drop boxes throughout the city.
In a Nov. 18 memo to the City Council, Pruss explained that the boxes serve an important purpose, but that they often are misused and not taken care of properly.
“... the City has recently received complaints from individuals stating that it is not always evident that their donation is benefiting a not-for-profit organization,” she wrote. “Additionally, the boxes are not always maintained properly, and often become a dumping ground for large amounts of unwanted household and other miscellaneous goods. When not attended to regularly, these conditions can attract pests, be unsightly and generally contribute to poor public health and safety.”
Pruss said the city does not currently have an official record of all the drop box locations and their responsible parties. If the city passes the ordinance, a formal record will be created.
Staff’s recommendation is to pass a text amendment that would provide guidelines for the boxes in terms of locations and placement, the quantity allowed at each site and proper size. Signage restrictions, permit requirements, and identification and contact information for the responsible organization are additional regulations proposed by staff.
Resident Leslie Shapiro emailed Drzyzgula in October, detailing her same desire to see identification information printed on the boxes.
“I agree with your concerns and would like each box to state specifically whether it goes to a local charity such as Interfaith Works or Goodwill or Salvation Army or are being sold for money overseas,” Shapiro wrote in the email.
Planet Aid, a nonprofit organization that collects and recycles used clothing and shoes, has five drop boxes throughout the city. John Nagiecki, communications director for the organization, said he thinks the regulations would be a positive addition.
“We are in favor of regulating donation bins,” he said. “Having that information on the bin is something we already comply with. I think that clear distinction would be beneficial to supporters.”
A public hearing for the proposed amendment is scheduled for March 3.