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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More regulations sought for donation boxes cluttering Annandale

A Planet Aid donation box on the edge of the bowling alley parking lot on Markham Street in central Annandale.
The easiest way to recycle old, damaged or out-of-style clothes is to toss them into one of the dozens of clothing donation boxes all over Annandale. You’ll be keeping them out of landfills, and in some cases, helping raise money for charities.

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.


  1. Why doesnt Gross stand up for the other issues - like the fact that the business districts look horrid, covered with litter - no grass cutting etc. There are overcrowded homes and schools, loiterers all over her district.

  2. Good Will, Salvation Army, Josephs Coat, and Treasure Trove provide more than enough opportunities to donate locally.

    These boxes have become nothing but overfilled trash cans full of decrepit items that no one would want. Eliminate them now.

  3. According to Goodwill spokesperson Brendan Hurley, donation bins “are damaging the ability of true charitable agencies to fulfill fund their missions. Many of these bins do not belong to charities at all but to corporate enterprises that are making money off of unsuspecting donors. They drop the bins overnight in a corner of a parking lot and empty them in the wee hours of the morning when no one is watching.”

    “This bin invasion is not only damaging Goodwill’s ability to generate the donations needed to fund its mission, but it is also damaging the Goodwill reputation as Goodwill is synonymous with donations and donation bins,” Hurley said. “Many people automatically assume that an unmarked and cluttered bin belongs to Goodwill even though it has no affiliation.” Goodwill will be launching a new campaign soon to address this situation.