News Story

Collection Bins for Clothing and Used Goods Targeted as Nuisances

Charities say bans on bins protect Goodwill and Salvation Army retail operations

While some charities use collection bins for receiving clothing and used goods, they may also face opposition from local governments that cite public-nuisance concerns as justification for banning them. A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of one mid-Michigan charity that opposed a ban, but it could be some time before Michigan cities back down on such restrictions.

“They may find another way to make it difficult, like a permit fee of $300,000 or something like that. We hope that’s not the case and we can work with them so that it is a win-win for everyone,” says Dan Dalton, the attorney representing the charity Planet Aid.

Planet Aid sought a temporary restraining order on a collection bin ban in the city of St. Johns. The charity prevailed in federal district court and a federal appeals court upheld the ruling. The attorney for St. Johns says no decision has been made to appeal. It could ask the appellate court to reconsider the matter, ask all judges in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case or submit a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the matter.

“The effect of the (appellate) ruling was to suspend enforcement of St. Johns' donation bin ban while the court case is being litigated. … At some point the case will be remanded to the district court for further proceedings at the trial court level,” said St. Johns City Attorney, John Salemi.

Planet Aid alleged the ordinance violated its First Amendment right to free speech. Cities throughout Michigan have banned outdoor collection bins, claiming they have become a public nuisance. But charities say the bans are there to protect big recyclers like Goodwill and Salvation Army, which have expanded their retail operations into big box stores. Goodwill is opening higher-end “boutique” shops in some parts of the country.

Goodwill did not respond to a specific questions in an email, nor did the leader of the Association of Goodwills in Michigan return a call for comment in time for publication.

Planet Aid spokesman Brian Hinterleiter says his organization’s experience in St. Johns was a bit unusual. The city had no ban but removed the charity’s bins off authorized private property without notification. Planet Aid did get its bins back and later the city passed a bin ban. Charities whose bins were not removed by the city were grandfathered in, which allowed their bins to stay in operation.

A state bill to restrict bans failed to make it out of committee in the last legislative session. Dalton says he and others are looking for a new lawmaker to champion the cause. He says the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Counties Association agreed to remain neutral on the matter. Until then, Dalton says Planet Aid will work with cities. He is encouraged by the recent appellate decision upholding the charity’s First Amendment right.

“We’d like cities to pass an ordinance similar to the one that has been operating successfully in the city of Portage. Basically, set up a system that fits within the character of a community but doesn’t ban them outright,” said Dalton.

Portage uses a licensing system that calls for periodic review and seeks to eliminate unscrupulous or negligent operators.

Salemi said discussion of any changes to the city’s bin ban is premature at this point.

“I do know that the city commission is very concerned about the potential of unattended donation boxes creating public nuisance and blight situations based on what has happened in other communities both state and nationwide,” said Salemi.


A video on bin bans:

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.