For years, large recycle bins have been showing up in parking lots and outside businesses around Southeast Texas. The bins offer an easy, convenient solution for many who wish to rid themselves of unwanted clothing and shoes. They keep the discarded garments and shoes out of area landfills and often give the goods a “second life,” according to the recycling companies. However, some people in the area are concerned that folks “donating” to these bins believe they are giving to a local charity when they are actually just adding to the bottom line of for-profit companies, like American Textile Recycling Services (ATRS), a Houston-based entity that uses the Arc of Greater Beaumont’s logo on the outside of their bins. Not only are these companies potentially purposefully misleading donors, but they are also reducing the intake of clothing donations received by local charitable entities.
Two major recycling companies, American Recyclers and ATRS, have bins all over the area encouraging people to throw old clothes into the boxes rather than into the trash. In 2009, The Examiner took a closer look at American Recyclers, the other company besides ATRS who has bins all over the area. At the time, American Recyclers had a deal with Boys’ Haven and was using their logo on the company’s bins. According to the 2009 report, Boys’ Haven received $20 per box each month for approximately 500 boxes. At the time, the company used the logo but did not indicate on the bins that the items dropped off at the box would be sold for profit. That all changed when Texas passed state law SB 776 mandating that the companies add language to their bins stating the items would be sold at a profit. From recent observation, it seems the company has complied. However, multiple calls to American Recyclers proved fruitless.
The bins and the companies represented do serve a purpose, one person from a local charitable entity opined, but it may not be the purpose some people have in mind when giving used clothing. ATRS is contracted with the Arc of Greater Beaumont for the use of the non-profit entity’s logo. The Arc of Greater Beaumont is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help improve the quality of life for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to support the families, professionals and people who surround these individuals. If you look closely, the recycle bins in question should indicate the “donations” are sold at a profit according to SB 776, but people could believe their unwanted items are going to charity because ATRS bins have the Arc logo prominently displayed, much more prominently than their own Web address and phone number. One of the ATRS bins, photographed at Kohl’s department store off Dowlen Rd. in Beaumont, does not even display the disclaimer stating that the goods will be sold at a profit.
Caitlin Kruger, communications director for Arc of Greater Beaumont, said her group receives approximately $1,000 per month for the bins around the area. She said she did not know what percentage of ATRS profits Arc receives, but she is grateful for the contribution.
“We always tell people when they ask about the recycle bins that the recycled clothes are sold to third-world countries for a very reduced discount so they are able to wear clothing in the third world,” Kruger said. “We are local, and they do ensure we get that percentage every month. People who want to donate locally and have their clothing stay local should give to the other organizations. We don’t want to discourage that.”
Kruger admitted that because Arc’s logo is on the bins, some people to whom she has spoken have told her they believed Arc received the used clothing.
“We get a percentage (in funds),” she explained.
Not only do some people worry that community members are being duped by the use of the Arc logo, but others also say local non-profit resale shops have been negatively impacted by the collection bins.
Katy Maneman is the executive director of Treasure House located at 805 North Street in downtown Beaumont. Treasure House is a non-profit organization run by St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. The store sells used clothing, furniture, books, shoes and numerous other goods and allows consignment for some furniture items. The proceeds earned by the store are distributed annually only to local charities, like Some Other Place, UBI Caritas, Nutrition and Services for Seniors and many more. A recent $3000 donation to Some Other Place provided that organization with a washer and dryer for use by the homeless. Maneman approximates Treasure House has lost between 20 and 25 percent of clothing donations since the bins have started appearing around the area.
“We see it with our kids’ clothes in particular, and the men’s clothing,” Maneman said regarding a reduction in donations. “They have certainly dropped off because of those bins. So, clothing donations have decreased since they appeared.”
Maneman said she does not begrudge ATRS or even American Recyclers for turning a profit and helping keep the clothes out of landfills, but she wants people to know where the money and clothes are going. She said Treasure House recycles and uses American Recyclers. They receive 4 cents per pound for clothes and 10 cents per pound for shoes from the recyclers. For 3,143 lbs of clothes and shoes, American Recyclers paid Treasure House $107.80.
According to Debra Stevenson-Petanyee, chief marketing officer at the Houston-based central office of ATRS, the group has 50 bins in Beaumont and 22 in Port Arthur, bringing the local total to 72, with plans to expand in those areas and into Orange. She said the more bins they add to the area, the better it is for Arc because they receive a percentage. She said the Arc of Greater Beaumont is the only charity they work with locally, and Arc receives 100 percent of what she referred to as “the purchase value,” which only takes into account bulk clothing prices. She said ATRS profits come from what is earned once the clothes are sorted and distributed, the reusable clothing being sold and unusable clothing being broken down by basic material for disassembly by thread-makers, some used as upholstery stuffing, etc.
“We use everything,” Stevenson-Petanyee said. “Nothing donated goes into the Beaumont landfill. Nothing is turned away. There is no cost to the charity. We do all the work. It’s really an amazing process.”
She said ATRS helps the environment by not allowing the donations to reach landfills, and the organization actually contributes to various charitable entities and programs around the nation. She admits the only local charitable entity receiving money from ATRS is the Arc of Greater Beaumont but that disaster relief programs they work with could help locally if the area is affected by future hurricanes.
In regard to the ATRS box with no language indicating the donations are for profit, Stevenson-Petanyee said the company is only required to do so when mandated by state law. After mentioning SB 776, she said she would look into it and have someone on the route take a look at correcting the possible problem.
With Treasure House, Maneman stated, the money always stays local. She said the generosity of people in the area is such that everyone should be able to benefit.
“Our profits are staying local; they could not be staying more local,” Maneman asserted. “All the money we earned last year, all the profit, was distributed to local groups. We have a committee at the church. People apply for grants for the money, so we get together and decide how to distribute the funds. We have five paid staff and some volunteers from St. Mark’s who work here. We are accomplishing a lot with a small staff. We keep the overhead low. And, I want people to understand that the money earned here does not go to St. Mark’s. The only thing we actually give to St. Mark’s is for the food pantry on Friday morning when they give out groceries and have a breakfast and ministry. I want to say, I think we are part of such an abundant universe, and I see the generosity of Southeast Texans. The problem with the recycle bins is they are a for-profit company that has them. They give some of the money to Arc, and that is great. I am thankful Arc is getting that money. I think there is enough for everybody.”
Paula O’Neal of Some Other Place said she believes the organization has been somewhat affected by the bins, but it is difficult to gauge by what degree because she believes the convenience of the boxes could be contributing to the success of recyclers like ATRS.
“I just don’t know if the donations would come here otherwise,” O’Neal said. “I think people are using these boxes because they are convenient. I don’t know that if the boxes were not there that they would bring the clothes here. I just always tell people, you hope and pray that the donations go to a good cause. If you want your donations to stay local, go directly to the places like us within the community, places that are answerable to the local community. Donate to local groups. Donate to us.”
O’Neal went on to point out that Some Other Place gives free clothing to people who are in need, and that provides a service not covered by government programs that assist the needy like food stamps (SNAP) or utility assistance programs that help people who are struggling pay for electricity or water.
“Charity begins at home,” she added.