You've finally decided to clear out the cupboard and stuffed all your out-of-date fashion statements in a green garbage bag. But where are you going to chuck it?
If you're like a lot of people, you're likely to check first for a charity dropoff. Problem is, many of the boxes around town, part of a several-million-dollar-a-year used clothing business, have been notoriously unclear about where exactly the proceeds are going.
The city to the rescue: last month councillors passed a bylaw insisting that come January 1, businesses must state on clothing boxes that they're not a charity and clarify what percentage of their revenue goes to charitable works. Says Councillor Howard Moscoe, who's been lobbying for this for four years, "Right now there is no way for anyone to know if these boxes are legitimately charitable.'
The new bylaw is meant to target for-profit businesses like Environmental Care Canada Inc., which operates 100 boxes in Ontario. The Weston-based company will be required to state the percentage it gives to charities it supports.
Owner Frank Genovese deems himself one of the good guys in the lucrative used-clothes trade. "In no way am I trying to pretend I'm a charity," he says. "I am a for-profit business."
He says he gives 10 to 20 per cent of his profits to women's shelters and the Ontario Provincial Police (DARE charity). He won't disclose exactly how much that is.
However, he does fill us in on how much revenue his and other companies pull in before expenses. On average, each of the top 10 local operators collects 12 million pounds of donated clothes in Toronto every year, he says. In his case, he sells to a grader or textile plant for 16 cents a pound (that's a tidy $1.9 million a year). Other for-profits sell to Value Village or retail the clothes themselves.
Value Village, another for-profit, also boasts of its good works but is reluctant to divulge what percentage of its profits go to charity.
The firms's Sheri Marzols says, "In 50 years of business, we've donated over $1 billion to charities we do business with across the U.S., Canada and Australia.'
The city's new bylaw, however, is unlikely to provide the complete disclosure donors deserve. That's because, while requiring the licensing of for-profits, the city is not making charitable groups indicate on their boxes their own profit-sharing relations with private businesses.
Take the case of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The group is not in the business of selling donated clothes, but KB Textiles is.
The firm clears the bins, sells the garments, mostly overseas, and hands Juvenile Diabetes $30,000 a year for the use of its name. It appears, though, that the charity doesn't know the total revenue from KB Textiles operation.
KB Textiles owner Mikhail Bulman has not made himself available for an interview. But a spokesperson for Juvenile Diabetes, Zaheer Molu, says simply that the charity's cut is money it wouldn't see otherwise.
Then there's Oasis, a legitimate, registered charity that helps recovering addicts find jobs. The 100 or so boxes in Toronto with the Oasis name splashed on them are actually operated by Resources Renewal, which does the pickups and takes 25 per cent of the profits from goods sold, usually to Value Village.
Oasis co-founder Takis Liris says, "The goal in the next five years is for Oasis to take over everyday operation of the boxes.'
While many donors seek clarity on who is benefiting from their cast-offs, charities worry about the public skepticism the new bylaw may fuel.
"The money we make from this business is essential to the work we do, and we will be harmed if the source of revenue is hurt because of doubt by the public,' says Keith Powell, executive director of Community Living, which advocates for people with intellectual disabilities.
Some, like Genovese, don't think disclosure actually matters in the end. "You can have a sign that says, 'I am righteous; please donate to me,' but if people have to walk with a 35-pound bag, they will drop it at the first convenient place.'
Other charities believe the city's bylaw is missing the point. Myna Kota, a spokesperson for Goodwill, says charities should be the only ones allowed to operate drop-off boxes.