CHAPEL HILL - Ashley Bishop didn’t think anything of it when someone asked to put a clothing donation box outside her gym.
Bishop, an employee at Kinetix off West Main Street in Carrboro, assumed the collection box was from a charitable organization.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that it wouldn’t be for charity,” she said.
But the business behind the box is not a charity. Some boxes that do collect for charities may not necessarily return any portion of their proceeds back to Orange County.
And the rules surrounding the placement of these boxes in Carrboro and Chapel Hill are vague and rarely enforced. Not a charity
Go Green N.C., which owns the box outside Kinetix, is not listed as a charity, according to N.C. Secretary of State records.
Owner Rossen Todorov referred questions about his company to his website. It says Go Green NC is dedicated to “zero waste textile recycling” and partners with a Bulgarian retail company called Harmony to recycle clothes and keep them out of landfills. Go Green N.C. exports some of the donated clothing to Harmony in Bulgaria, which resells some of it as second-hand goods in Eastern Europe and Africa.
State law requires that non-charitable public donations boxes have a sign that states the organization is not a charity.
The law took effect last fall, and it may take time for some businesses to update their boxes, said Steve Snyderman, a representative from Goodwill Industries of Eastern N.C.
Still, some consider the lack of transparency misleading.
“If your organization is not a charity, then be straight with what you are doing,” said Blair Pollock, Orange County’s solid waste planner.
Pollock said he has wondered whether the boxes that he sees in Carrboro and Chapel Hill belong to charitable organizations or profit-driven businesses.
“There has always been a rag trade,” Pollock said. “And there is money to be made in this business.”No local benefit
Even some boxes with signs that follow the new law can be confusing to donors who think the clothing they are donating will directly benefit the local community.
Two boxes outside the Food Lion in Timberlyne Shopping Center on Weaver Dairy Road say they belong to Mid-Atlantic Clothing Recycling, a for-profit company that raises money for charities like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education).
The company has 90 DARE boxes in the state and gives $200 from each one to the N.C. DARE program, said Lt. Michael Adkins, the state DARE coordinator.
Any county DARE program can request money from the state office, he said. But the Orange County Sheriff’s Office has not requested any since the recycling company started to raise money in North Carolina in 2008, Adkins said.
Orange County has other money for its program from its own budget and other sources, Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass said.Vague rules
Neither Carrboro nor Chapel Hill has a specific ordinance that explicitly lists clothing boxes as an acceptable use of property.
In practice, Carrboro allows donation boxes, like outside Kinetix, as an accessory or incidental use to the business.
“We view them similar to vending machines,” said Marty Roupe, development review administrator. “So, if it is a big retail store and this box is a minor piece compared to the store as a whole, we might determine it an incidental use.”
Roupe said the Carrboro planning department does not actively enforce the rules or require organizations to have a permit.
Chapel Hill allows donation boxes only as an accessory use in certain cases, said Gene Poveromo, development manager for the Chapel Hill planning department.
A store that deals primarily with collecting and reselling donations, such as the PTA Thrift Shop or Goodwill, could have a collection box but would still need a permit, he said.
But his department does not look for ordinance violations, and enforces the accessory-use rule only when there is a complaint, which Poveromo could not remember happening..
“If someone makes the town aware that a collection box is in a location that is not approved, then that matter is turned to an enforcement official,” he said.Potential eyesores
Poveromo said the boxes can be a problem for the community if they prevent access to parking or dumpsters, or if they are placed in front of fire hydrants.
They can also become an eyesore if they are not maintained by the owner.
The problem of unsightly and overflowing boxes is the reason the PTA Thrift Shop stopped using them, said Barbara Jessie-Black, executive director.
“Part of the issue is that the actual collection was quite difficult, and people were using it as a trash receptacle,” she said.
Pollock, the solid waste planner, hopes that doesn’t happen again.
“The M.O. of these places is to put boxes out there and if no one objects, it just stays there,” he said.