Planet Aid Bins In Falmouth Have Become Dumping Grounds

Trash is piled next to the Planet Aid donation boxes at the corner of Dillingham and Davis Straits in Falmouth.
DON PARKINSON/ENTERPRISE - Trash is piled next to the Planet Aid donation boxes at the corner of Dillingham and Davis Straits in Falmouth.

Bright yellow donation boxes dot Falmouth’s landscape, bins that call for used clothing and shoes. While these boxes are perfectly visible, the organization behind the collection sites is less well-known. The box sites are often abused in Falmouth, becoming dumping grounds for unwanted items.

The yellow boxes are owned and operated by Planet Aid Inc. Planet Aid is a multi-million dollar 501(c)(3) organization, established in Boston in 1997. Planet Aid collects and recycles used clothing and shoes to save them from ending up in landfills. The nonprofit recycles millions of pounds of used clothing every year, and its website says, “Your donated items will find new life with a new owner.”

However, not all clothing makes its way to a new owner in the recycling process: after being collected, clothing goes to a warehouse location, where it is processed by a baler and wrapped tightly into bundles. These bundles are sold by Planet Aid to independent sorters, who grade the pieces by separating them into different quality groups. Sorters then sell the clothing to domestic thrift stores or send the clothing overseas to private merchants. In 2012, Planet Aid sold less than $200,000 worth of clothing in the United States, and more than $10 million overseas. Textiles that are of poor quality are made into kitchen rags, or shredded to make insulation.

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Planet Aid’s activities and executive staff have been the subject of widespread controversy in the media and nonprofit evaluation community for the past 20 years.

There are upward of five Planet Aid boxes in Falmouth. These boxes are labeled with the organization’s name, contact information, and mission statement. The words “clothes” and “shoes” are posted on all sides of the boxes, in large black lettering.
Some also have surveillance warnings, such as one on the property of the Carleton Circle Motel at 579 Sandwich Road that says,

“Smile, you’re on camera.” A video camera wobbles above the sign, attached to a tall pole with black tape.

Planet Aid leaves clear instructions for donations on the yellow boxes. Signs read, “NO DUMPING Rubbish-Furniture-Appliances” and “Please put your clothes in bags. Don’t leave them outside.” Despite these instructions, prohibited items pile up outside some of the boxes. Select items in Falmouth include baby strollers, books, whole pieces of furniture, loose birthday cards, wooden stakes, and empty cardboard boxes.

Planet Aid’s website says the collection boxes are emptied twice a week. However, bins in Falmouth are often overflowing with clothing, both in and out of plastic bags.

David M. Quinn, regional waste reduction coordinator for Barnstable County, said that more and more people are pushing for textile recycling, a form of re-use often forgotten by community members. While philanthropic, the effort is specifically environmental.

Mr. Quinn said that he knows very little about Planet Aid, but is familiar with another textile recycler locally, Bay State Textiles, which is doing good work in Barnstable County. Bay State Textiles’ goals are threefold: to keep textiles out of local landfills, to support local communities through monetary donations, and to aid developing countries overseas through provision of used clothing..

Like Planet Aid, Bay State Textiles does not give the clothing to local thrift stores, but sends it overseas. The phrase printed on the side of its trailer, “Support your local community,” may be misleading.

However, a portion of profits made from clothing sales is given back to the community. Bay State Textiles is a for-profit company, but the organization works directly with municipalities and schools, offering a rebate of $100 per ton of clothing collected. Paul A. Curry, director of Bay State Textiles in Brockton, said the company has also written checks to the Falmouth Service Center and the Duffy Health Center in quantities totaling $6,000 to 7,000 a year in the past.

Bay State Textiles is currently struggling in Falmouth, where its trailer was ousted from the Falmouth Plaza. Now, the collection trailer is parked next to the Planet Aid bin at the corner of Davis Straits and Dillingham Avenue.

The organization is currently paying $750 a month in rent to keep the trailer on Davis Straits. Mr. Curry says Bay State Textiles cannot give back to the Falmouth community the way it wants to right now, since the company is spending so much money on rent. However, he notes that the company is having great success in other towns and school systems, such as in Chatham, and he plans to turn his attention back to Falmouth shortly.

Donors who want their clothing and shoes to be re-used by another person within the community would do better to donate to a local thrift store, where they know exactly where their clothing is going. However, damaged and threadbare textiles can be recycled and kept out of Cape landfills by donating to Bay State Textiles or Planet Aid Inc. Neither of these organizations take non-textiles. 

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  • DerVindoVypa

    Falmouth is by no means alone in its donation bin dilemma. Reports across the country say out-of-town nonprofit and for-profit clothes collectors are causing donations to dwindle at local charities. And, like Falmouth, numerous cities are grappling with some of these boxes causing blight and public right-of-way problems. In addition, some complain that non-local companies are getting a free ride ― paying no local taxes or fees ― even while little or none of the proceeds from their collections benefit the local populace. There’s no avoiding it: if one wants to be sure about whom one is donating to, one must do some research. After researching Planet Aid for 5 years, I have serious concerns over this so-called nonprofit: 1) Planet Aid claims to take better care of its bins than do its competitors, but many reports indicate otherwise. In images culled from news stories, Planet Aid’s bins are shown with donations and trash piled up next to them. In some shots, bins appear to be packed full while items strewn nearby seem to have been accumulating for a while: https://db.tt/VA83yfjV 2) Planet Aid has faced a storm of media criticism for even more disturbing reasons. For starters, the Chicago-based CharityWatch gave Planet Aid an “F” grade after analyzing its 2012 tax form and audited financial statements, determining that Planet Aid spent only 27% of its expenses on programs. Google search: CharityWatch Debunks Planet Aid's Recycling Program 3) A charitable spending ratio of 27% is certainly too low, but the actual figure may be far lower than even that. In 2009, WTTG News in Washington DC examined Planet Aid’s then most recent tax records and noticed many of the overseas charities Planet Aid claims to support have the *same address*. A list of South African charities was shown in example. But the South African Embassy told WTTG those groups are *not* registered charities. WTTG’s investigation found that all of the charities listed in Planet Aid’s most recent tax return are controlled by the same parent organization — a group called International Humana People to People Movement, which, according to its own website, also controls Planet Aid. (Humana People to People is not affiliated with the health insurer 'Humana'.) 4) Worse, Danish prosecutors link Humana People to People and Planet Aid to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of this group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme. Google search: “Kindness into Cash” - exposé of used clothes company Planet Aid - pt. 1 [More info in the above report's description box; click ‘Show more’ while on that page.] Thanks for the chance to express my opinions. Please research before you donate.
  • augustus

    The headline for this story is misleading. I almost didn't read the article. Glad I did to find out about Bay State Textiles.
  • Gadfly

    Maybe if we had a disposal area in Falmouth that was easily accessed, at a reasonable cost, this stuff would end up in the right place. Looking at some of the things I see piled up at Planet Aid, it's obvious that some belongs at SEMASS or in a landfill. Once I saw a complete set of encyclopedias at a Planet Aid collection site. Really. Lots of these clothes go to third world countries where they are SOLD to people who can barely afford them-they aren't donated to them. When they are finally unusable, they go in to makeshift dumps in favelas and tent cities and often being synthetics, never go away.