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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Supervisors approve resolution regulating donation boxes

A donation box on Markham Street in Annandale.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution June 2 calling for stricter regulation of donation boxes.

The resolution states that while the boxes can provide a convenient place to dispose of clothes, shoes, and small household items, “they can also attract the dumping of unwanted furniture and other junk items which may negatively affect neighborhood character due to the number, location, and lack of maintenance.”

Currently donation boxes are regulated under the zoning ordinance provision that covers secondary structures, such as storage sheds.  The resolution would add a new section to the ordinance covering these depositories. The Planning Commission is scheduled to have a public hearing on donation box regulations on July 8. The BoS would have a public hearing on Oct. 6.

Under the proposed zoning amendment:

  • Donation boxes would be restricted to property zoned C-5 through C-9 of at least 40,000 square feet and in other commercial and residential areas under certain conditions.
  • There could be no more than two boxes per site.
  • Boxes could be no larger than seven feet tall, six feet deep, and six feet wide.
  • The owners of the boxes would have to collect donations regularly and ensure that no items are left outside.
  • The boxes would have to list the name and telephone number of the owner/operator, the type of items that could be left in the boxes, and a statement prohibiting liquids and dumping.
Stricter regulations are needed, a report by the Planning and Zoning Department states, because “staff has observed that large household items, those too big to fit in the drop box opening, such as mattresses, are placed near the boxes creating a makeshift dumping site. Staff has also seen boxes made of materials that are not waterproof, lack durability, or are poorly maintained, creating an eyesore.”

While the donation boxes usually give the impression that used clothing and other items are given to the needy, in most cases, they are sold for a profit to textile recyclers who repurpose them as insulation or other products.

In developing the recommendation, county staff consulted with Planet Aid and the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association. According to SMART, two federal courts have ruled that donation drop-off boxes are a form of charitable solicitation and are thus protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

A new state law enacted by the Virginia House of Delegates and set to take effect July 1 requires donation boxes not operated by a charity or civic organization have a sign stating that the box is operated by a for-profit business or professional solicitor. 


  1. This is a well-crafted ordinance: still allows the boxes to exist (thus complies with the First Amendment) but regulates their upkeep and should reduce the number.

    1. Yes it is a good ordinance, but it has nothing to do with the 1st Amendment it is about property laws in Fairfax which the state of Va allows them to do. Fairfax would only be in violation of 1st Admendment if they did not let people talk or worship drop boxes.

    2. As a card carrying member of the Holy Curch of Drop Box I am quite happy that my first amendment rights have been protected by fairfax county thank you very much

  2. If anyone knows - does the new ordinance have penalties or fines for the operators if they do not maintain the boxes or empty them on a regular basis? Seems like that would be a good deterrent to ensure the ordinance is followed.

  3. I don't understand how trespassing on private property (the parking lots ARE private property) is protected as free speech. Also don't understand how anyone could expect to let people drop things off into unattended boxes - signs bedamned, they could be putting explosives, toxins and crimescene evidence in them.

    1. I agree. Same goes with unattended trash cans and mailboxes Lord know what a person might put in those too!*

      *I am being sarcastic for those who didn't notice.

  4. Recycling is great, but Planet Aid and “SMART” are playing yet another local government like a Stradivarius violin, offering their seemingly innocent “recommendations … for the drafting of effective ordinances,” when it’s clear their gutless “sample legislation” is intended to advance their agenda of greed and deception.

    Yes, greed, because SMART is comprised entirely of for-profit companies keen on increasing their market share in the very lucrative used goods collection industry, once the bastion of well-known nonprofits like the Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul.

    And yes, deception, because they are routinely telling some whoppers to increase “donations” to their bins. (That’s right, one cannot “donate” to a for-profit company!) Another example is that these sly operators have twisted EPA data to make it seem there’s an abundance of quality used clothing donations for all the groups collecting them, when news reports across the country strongly suggest otherwise. And it’s the local charities that suffer diminishing donations.

    A word about the licensing fees Planet Aid and SMART likely recommended: they are far too low. $25 or $50 per bin might seem “reasonable” to such con-artists. But the county should consider more than just the staff time required during the application process and occasional drive-by inspections. Bin blight might well continue, and, most disconcerting, bins might be placed without permits in open defiance of regulations. Enforcement costs could easily explode.

    And regarding the court rulings proclaiming collection bins as “free speech.” Planet Aid has been the main instigator in this. It’s just a desperate ruse to divert attention from the fact that Annandale and cities across the country have been prompted to take strong measures to stop Planet Aid and other “nonprofits” and at least one SMART member company from allowing their bins to become eyesores. Sort of gives “trash talk” a new meaning.

    But beyond the blight issues, Planet Aid has drawn a storm of criticism for more disturbing reasons. The Chicago-based CharityWatch gave the nonprofit an “F” grade after analyzing its 2012 tax form and audited financial statements, determining that Planet Aid spent only 27% of its expenses on programs. And a 2009 report by WTTG News in Washington DC presented evidence suggesting Planet Aid’s charitable spending ratio is even lower.

    SMART trumpets its “robust Code of Conduct” by which its members apparently abide. But SMART might prefer you don’t find out that one of its members, “USAgain,” is as controversial as Planet Aid. Reports going back a decade suggest that the for-profit company, to quote one TV news investigation, “... routinely pretended to be a charity so business owners wouldn't ask for rent on the bin space.”

    Worse, Danish prosecutors link Planet Aid and USAgain to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of the group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    Reports on Planet Aid; Google search:

    Planet Aid's “Recycling” Program, Debunked! – CharityWatch

    “Kindness into Cash” - exposé of used clothes company Planet Aid - pt. 1

    Reports on USAgain:

    Millions In Clothing Donations Diverted From Charity – kirotv

    Local Mayor Wants Red Bins Out - USAgain in Seattle

  5. The Teachers Group (TG), the controlling body of the broader Tvind organization, is reportedly a political cult based on communist ideology.

    Self-described humanitarian programs run by Tvind-linked groups, many of which Planet Aid supports, have been criticized by former volunteers as being ineffective, culturally insensitive, environmentally unsustainable and even abusive toward volunteers.

    Similarly, Tvind’s “schools” around the world have elicited many complaints from former students, with allegations ranging from low standards of “training,” to dire living conditions, unreasonable work hours, bullying and even a “cult-like” atmosphere. Some ex-students also claim they were required to beg for money on American or European city streets and were exploited as free labor benefiting TG-owned businesses.

    Most disturbingly, many young TG members and Tvind participants have over the years been raped, injured or killed during ill-advised land and sea excursions. In many of these tragedies, the victims’ families directly blamed senior Tvind officials for knowingly endangering the young people. Tvind has never admitted to any wrongdoing.

    Sound like a group you’d want to support? Research before you donate. Thanks for the chance to express my opinions.