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Donating Clothing? Beware For-Profit Drop Boxes

Donating your unused clothing makes a lot of sense; you can help out a charity like Goodwill or the Salvation Army while cleaning out your closet. You’ll even score a small tax deduction. But choose whom you give you clothes to carefully; for-profit companies are now setting up clothing drop boxes and then reselling your duds to consignment stores or textile recyclers.

Misleading clothing donation boxes

I learned about for-profit clothing drop boxes a couple weeks ago when my parents told me about a bright red donation dumpster they saw in a shopping center parking lot. When they red the fine print, they realized the drop box was not sponsored by Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or another charity, but a for-profit company that donated a tiny percentage of its profits to charitable causes. The practice is misleading at best, illegal at worst.

Clothing recycling boxes

While some companies solicit clothing donations under the guise of charity, others—like U’SAgain—are unashamed to be collecting your old clothes and making a buck.

Unscrupulous charities

Finally, there are even some non-profit organizations soliciting clothing donations that you may want to avoid. Planet Aid is one such company that has drop boxes in certain locations around the country and brags supporting a variety of causes in Africa. There are allegations, however, that Planet Aid, U’SAgain, and other clothing recyclers have links to criminal organizations.

Whether or not the group skirts the law, annual reports reveal that just 11 percent of Planet Aid’s income goes to charity. While non-profit organizations cost money to operate, it seems reasonable to question just how Planet Aid spends the other 89 percent.

How do you find a legitimate charity that accepts clothing donations?

While many charities may be able to put your garments to good use, the Salvation Army and Goodwill are two widespread and reliable charitable recyclers. With some exceptions, however, these groups are likely to have fewer stand-alone drop boxes. To donate clothing, you may have to drive to a thrift store or staffed drop location.

Locate a Salvation Army or Goodwill clothing donation site now.

Published or updated on July 16, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Patrick says:

    Good recent article, similar to several I’ve read (including one in the Chicago Sun Times). Published in well known newspapers, not crazy internet stuff.

    There’s got to be some truth to it–if it’s only that Planet Aid, Gaia, US’Again have questionable business practices. Give locally or to well-established charities. Do your research before you give & don’t legitimize organizations that you have any doubts about by giving to them or letting them have one of those bins on your property.

    Your Rags to Their Riches: Donated Clothes May Fund International Fugitive

  2. Nicole says:

    So what if it’s for profit? At least it’s recycling! Why the envy of others making money off of your garbage? There’s nothing wrong with that at all. There are small privately owned thrift shops that pay rent to place a drop off box on parking lots. And then they resell the goods. And???? What harm does it cause you? Some people throw their usable clothes in the trash. They get a new tv, and throw away the other one in a dumpster. Is that better? I think not. Everyone is losing their jobs, and crying “go green” these days. Well, there you go! Keeping these stores stocked and busy means more employment, and a greener earth. Get ur stick out of your greedy ass.

  3. eddiekay says:

    The replies above are typical of how we perceive the charities….kind of, sort of, partially accurate and most inaccurately. “Building schools in Africa”, AIDS programs, helping Vets all sounds good yet have any one of you actually seen the money in action ? Goodwill is well known yet, have you ever seen a Goodwill clinic…I know little about Planet Aid but I have never seen anything at all acknowledging their support. Salvation Army???? Within a short distance of anywhere in the USA you will find a Salvation Army rehab center, thrift shop, daycare center, counselling center.
    Check the percntage of donations used for op expenses…SA is lowest…check the presence of facilities…SA is highest. And, no, the bell ringers at Christmas do not get a cut of what they raise…..like it says on the side of those trucks…SA…Doing the most good.

    • John Williams says:

      Salvation Army IS the best. They do everything! They watch my kids after school 5 days a week. There stores are great and although I commented above about my feeling that Goodwill had somewhat better pricing, Their stores are still very good. The Salvation Army is really in the trenches of life around the Chicago area. I really admire the organization. And although I can’t confirm it, I hear their Executives make very little compared to United Way’s old boy slap on the back corporate network.

  4. Lauren says:

    I am new to the clothing bin collection world, and what a crazy, misleading world! I do happen to know that PlanetAid is non-profit and completely legit. I’m not sure about the others, but Goodwill and Re-Use America are also non-profit and charitable.

  5. R.H. says:

    There are dozens of clothing recyclers in any major city. Molly is right…85% of used clothing ends up in landfills. If you don’t want to give your clothing to a for profit company, don’t.That’s pretty simple. While your at it, cancel your garbage service, as they collect recycle goods to resell and they are for profit. Also most of the pink ribbons you will see this month (Oct. is Breast Cancer Awareness Month)are being sold by “for profit companies ” with a portion of the proceeds going to support breast cancer awareness. Hooray for the “for profit companies”

    • Nicole says:

      Bravo! Some people are such idiots, right? They want a great economy, but don’t want anyone making a dime. As if those “non-profit” organizations don’t lie on how much $$ they need to cover operating costs. There’s books that TEACH you how to make lots of cash with a non profit. I prefer taking my USIA le goods to small mom and pops thrift stores. Let them make a buck and put food on the table. Why not?

  6. JJ says:

    Around where I live we start out with a yard sale! What the person selling it for can’t get anything out of it we hall it off to the local thrift store! Lets face it…They all make a profit no matter for themselves, or for a charity! It’s outta my house! I’ve got three places I take my stuff, and I don’t have time for a yard sale! If I get a tax deduction then I really don’t mind what happens to it after that!

  7. Sharon says:

    You know even the nonprofit companies are making a profit. They are required to donate a small percent to a charity. The executives in all the donation business are making very good money. Just remember the people making the boxes and the people empting, sorting, and stocking the stuff and working at the stores need these jobs. For profit or not makes no difference. If I cant find someplace to drop my old clothes, they go jin the trash anyway.

    • Nicole says:

      Keep taking them to local shops. That’s very patriotic if you ask me, and that helps the local economy. You are recycling, the store is making money, they employ people who make money, and the consumer saves money when buying used. All because of your donation. 😉

  8. samantha says:

    GOODWILL IS NOT A CHARITY! I worked for goodwill, and you should know that it is a franchise, there for some stores are NOT charity and DO NOT help in any way. Yes, they employ the disabled but so do grocery stores…would you give them all your old stuff. remember, goodwill gets all their inventory for FREE and charges ridiculous prices!

    • Nicole says:

      Of course they are a franchise! It’s like giving your stuff to Walmart. Good point! I bet Walmart donates more cash yearly.

    • John Williams says:

      I’ve been to many GoodWill stores. Just like any used goods location, they hire people and sometimes the people who do the pricing have no idea of the item’s value. I’ve seen some crazy high prices but I’ve also seen crazy low prices. I once purchased a valuable painting created by an artist who has work in several Paris museums. It’s true. I purchased it for $3.00. ( I was an art Major) Probably a classic case of a parent or relative passing away and the children not knowing the value of the art they had. But getting back to pricing, I’ve found the Goodwill stores general priced very reasonably and at the risk of offending others, better than the Salvation Army or Unique. I live in Chicago and we were visiting in Madison and on the way back we stopped at a Goodwill store. Their prices were incredibly low and I was tempted to fill up the trunk and make a killing on Craigslist back in Chicago before sanity took over again. I shop at these places mostly for clothes for my young preschool daughters who destroy everything they ware. As a result, I don’t like to invest in pricey new clothing. I am very grateful for these kind of places. I don’t make a lot of money so I shop at them a lot and it really really helps to keep expenses down.

  9. molly says:

    The EPA estimates that the percentage of clothing put in these bins (whether for profit or not)only accounts for about 15% of clothing disposed of in the USA; the rest ends up in landfills. I don’t know why people get all bent out of shape about it, when there are still so many clothes out there being wasted; we need more of these bins. We need them everywhere! The collection of clothes provides jobs to drivers, sort facilities, warehouse workers, and the local people selling the clothes in shops and flea markets. The people receiving the clothes (in the US and abroad) are benefiting from the lower cost of the clothes. So what if someone is making a profit in there, too? The clothes are being recycled rather than dumped. Does some of the money go to charity, in most cases at least a portion of it does. And when it doesn’t, well it is still better than the clothes ending up in the landfills. Now, if it is the possible criminal activity (what tax evasion?) at the top of the ranks of these organizations, well hello wake-up you are a consumer and therefore dealing with tons of corporations, most of which have somebody somewhere in their organization that has done something unethical, immoral, and even criminal. So tell me again, why I shouldn’t donate my clothes to the nearest bin? I feel good knowing that my donation is providing jobs to people here in the US, if nothing else, but most often it is also doing a lot more than that!

  10. Gabby says:

    I read the fine print on the side of one of those drop-boxes right before I dropped my things in. I was shocked which led me to research such practices. As a new mom, with a growing child, I needed to constantly get rid of things and acquire new things. This inspired me to start my business, a kids clothing swap club. I thank you for this informative article. I try to share the truth about those drop boxes with everyone!

  11. maddie says:

    Person 2 Person in stamford/darien is good, so if that is on the box drop, then drop.

    Just looking in the area should give you what you need to find. Research first. For research is your friend.

  12. zorro says:

    Mr. John and informed readers,

    It isn’t ALL internet garbage, only everything that isn’t Planet Aid P.R. It’s the Better Business Bureau, Institute of Philanthropy, Boston Globe, & Toronto Star, and the BBC, among other organizations and publications. Exactly what percentage of profits go to people in need and how exactly are they helped? It is questionable practices at best, misrepresentation, and–at worst–ties to criminal activity. Look up Tvind, Teachers Group, or just put “Planet Aid” & fraud together in Google…then think about it (while you give LOCALLY) and decide.

  13. Mr. John says:

    Hey Roberto

    What would you like to know? What kinds of Charities or Non-profits are you interested in?

  14. roberto villanueva says:

    please I want mor e information about charity npnprofit

  15. Mr. John says:

    Do you people really feed into this internet GARBAGE!!?? I am a rep of Planet Aid. Where do you get your information from. People please, let me clear the air for you. Planet Aid does collect clothing for reuse. The clothing is sold, correct. The profits are used to build schools, train teachers, AIDS programs, Food programs, ect. To whoever is reading this, trust me, this article is FULL of only ALLIGATIONS!! Most likely a for-profit company trying to bash on other for-profit and even successful non-profit companies. Believe half of what you see, and NONE of what you hear. Planet Aid has ties to criminal activity??? What??Planet Aid is in 20 different states in the U.S. Thats just rediculous. Get a real job. Have a good day. God Bless……..

  16. blah says:

    Some organizations DON’T sell clothing overseas; just watch out for who does and who doesn’t. You can also sell or trade or swap clothes.
    I know about that too. My friend(she lived in Africa)really witnessed this.

  17. The boxes depending on locations, are often emptied twice a week. In connecticut most good locations do 2000 pounds a week. Mapgirl just so you know, almost all donated clothes are sold in overseas markets. Including all of goodwill and salvation armys product that isnt used in consignment stores. They donate the money they get from the sales of clothes. now for the guy who wrote the article, you are really on point and have some valid info. Im a non profit clothing collection company. It is not illeagle though for someone to be a for-profit. The other horrible thing are goverment allows is you can be a for-profit and rent a name from a charity much like big brothers big sister. American Thirft land inc. pays 15,000 dollars a year and then sells the cloths for .30 per pound. Now imagine a nation wide company that collects 3 million pounds per month. that is a gross profit of 900,000 dollars per month and they donate 15,000 dollars a year. It dosen’t say anywhere on there box that there not actally big brother big sister.

  18. El says:

    I’m curious as to how often these boxes are emptied and how much stuff doesn’t get used.

    I always see signs screaming “No furniture, trash,” etc.

  19. Kara says:

    To mapgirl’s point – Save This shirt is a great book for repurposing old clothing. There are all sorts of ways to reuse it! Like using the fabric for quilts, etc.

    Our local fire department has a drop box, and they make money off of it. When I only have a few things (not worthy of a Goodwill reciept) I throw it in their box. I don’t have qualms with this use of it, as it’s still supporting a local organization I want to support.

    I didn’t realize there were straight for-profit boxes though! That is very misleading, and I fear the organizations who are using this for a good reason (ie: fire departments) are going to get burned… I suppose it’s better than landing in a landfil!

  20. mapgirl says:

    Donated clothing is often sold in markets overseas, leading to the collapse of the garment industry in 3rd world nations. (Per a friend of mine at the IMF. I think he specifically pointed out a study in Malawi…)

    I’ve been trying to repurpose my old clothes but the donation box and its tax benefits keep calling my name…

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