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At some point or another, you’ve likely dumped some of your used garments into a clothing donation bin. After all, giving them to the less fortunate is better then throwing them in the trash right?

While you might have walked away thinking you did a good deed, ask yourself this: Do you actually know where your clothes went after dropping them in that bin?

Our guess is probably not. And that’s fine–no judgement here. Most of us simply drop our clothes in the bin and don’t give it a second thought. The only problem is, private companies are starting to take advantage of that.

All across Canada, clothing bins are popping up in greater numbers, yet donations to registered charities are dropping. Just take Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, for example, which has seen a noticeable decline in the amount of donations received through its clothing bins.

“This bin was producing about 15, 20 bags of clothing a week for us, of donations. It’s down to five — six if you’re lucky — on average,” said Slav Gudelj, the manager of the clothing donation program.

Most charities believe that the reason for the decline is because for-profit businesses are now installing their own clothing donation bins right next to theirs. Which then leads to well-meaning residents dropping their garments in the wrong bin because they aren’t even aware there’s a difference. And who can blame them? The for-profit bins are almost never labelled in any obvious way, and some even try to trick people by posting that they “support” local charities.

“Very confusing for the donor because the donor just sees these bins. They all look like charity bins,” said Deanna Barlow with the Developmental Disabilities Association–another registered charity.

The result is a whole new businesses model where companies rely on these bins as huge sources of revenue. In 2012, the CBC reported that the bins had become so lucrative in Ontario, they triggered a violent “turf war”. And not much has changed since. In fact, yesterday, Canada’s Competition Bureau slammed two clothing bin operators in Montreal, ordering them to clearly indicate that they are commercial, for-profit businesses.

Fortunately, some cities, like Richmond, B.C., are ramping up clothing bin regulations. But in the meantime, there are things you can do to ensure your clothes are actually going to a good cause. Revenue Canada allows you to see if a charity is registered on its website. Simply plug whatever name you see on the bin into its database–if it comes back with no results, you know not to put your clothes in there.

For more information about clothing donation bins and which ones to trust, check out the video above.

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