|A Planet Aid donation box on the edge of the bowling alley parking lot on Markham Street in central Annandale.|
The trouble is, the boxes can become eyesores if not maintained properly and often become magnets for trash. “These boxes are popping up like crazy all over the place,” said Penny Gross, who represents the Mason District on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “It’s getting to be a blight on the community.”
Gross, along with Supervisor Jeff McKay of the Lee District, wants the board to refer the donation drop box issue to the county executive “for review and recommendation for a zoning ordinance change.” Gross later explained she wants the county executive to work with staff of the Planning and Zoning Department to see if the language in the ordinance “needs to be tightened up or if the boxes should be banned outright.”
In a letter to Board Chair Sharon Bulova, Gross said the boxes are “attracting unwanted furniture, trash, construction debris, and, in one case I observed personally, a porcelain toilet.” Gross said, “it’s time to consider amending the zoning ordinance to rid our community of what are little more than decorated dumpsters, attracting rodents and other pests and eliciting complaints from constituents and customers.”
Under the current ordinance, Gross said, “there are very specific site locations that may or may not be appropriate for these boxes.” There has to be a connection with the type of business they are next to, for example. A box next to a clothing or shoe store might be appropriate, she said, but “it’s hard to make that connection with a gas station.”
If you think tossing the clothes your children have outgrown into one of these boxes means they will be given to disadvantaged children in the community, that’s generally not how it works.
The box labeled “Recycling Center” in front of Heidi’s Nails across from the Annandale Giant parking lot (in photo above) collects goods for the B-Thrifty store in Woodbridge. But most other boxes in Annandale seem to be operated by large third-party contractors, and the clothing is reprocessed by the growing textile recycling industry which sells it in bulk overseas or to companies that use it for home insulation, car upholstery, carpet padding, or other products.
A staff member at Global Clothing Recyclers described the Manassas-based company, as a for-profit enterprise that sells most of the items it collects abroad.
Boxes identified as “Military Support Center” next to Anna ’N Dale’s Newsstand on Columbia Pike and “Disabled American Veterans” in the Giant parking lot have the same phone number, which goes to the World Trade Co. in Woodbridge. A man who answered the phone declined to give any information other than to say it’s a transportation company that is contracted by several organizations to service the donation boxes. The company did have a textile recycling contract with the Prince William County government in 2009.
Tammy Sproule, a spokesperson for Planet Aid, which has 2,000 boxes in the United States, including about half a dozen in Annandale, said some of the donated winter coats and blankets are passed along to shelters in local communities, but the vast majority of the items are bundled, baled, and shipped across the globe, mostly to Africa. According to Sproule, Planet Aid doesn’t pay landowners anything for letting the company have boxes on their property.