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Cities Begin to Box Out Donation Collection Bins

It is about to get a little harder to find a collection bin where you can make a donation to those in need.

Across Michigan and in a number of other states local governments are putting increased restrictions on the placement of donation collection bins – the omnipresent metal bins located in parking lots that collects used goods for those in need. While Goodwill and the Salvation Army have traditionally been the most prominent names in the collection bin industry, a number of new organizations have sprouted up over the past several years and led to more collection bins being placed in some cities. This has led local governments to evaluate the operation of the bins.

Last month, the City of Grand Rapids announced that it will implement a new policy with respect to such collection boxes beginning on June 14. Beginning on that date, Grand Rapids will only permit collection bins if they are attached as an accessory use to property that has as its main purpose a charitable focus or mission. Such a policy will soon exclude from the city the majority of the collection bins, most of which are located as stand-alone bins on the private property of businesses.

It is likely that larger charitable organizations such as Goodwill can expect to enjoy a virtual monopoly of collection bins in Grand Rapids, as Goodwill places many of its bins on the same property where its stores are located. Those bins that are not on such property will have to be removed from the City of Grand Rapids within a month. This will certainly lead to far fewer donation collection bins being available to those who want to donate to such charitable causes.

A similar case is unfolding in a Louisville federal court. In that case, Special Olympics Kentucky and Ohio Mills are suing the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro government alleging multiple federal and state constitutional claims after the government changed its regulations on collection bins. Ohio Mills is a private company that collects and resells used textiles, and beginning 20 years ago Ohio Mills began donating clothing it had collected in its business to Salvation Army Kentucky.

In December 2012, the Louisville government enacted an ordinance that purported to protect the public health, safety, and general welfare. The ordinance put significant regulations and exorbitant fees on stand-alone collection bins that are “outside of an enclosed building and designed, intended or used for collection and temporary storage of donated items or materials including, but not limited to, clothing, shoes, books, toys, furniture, household materials and other like items.” However, the new regulations and fees would not be applied to collection bins that are located inside of buildings, such as those owned by Goodwill Industries and others.

Upon the Salvation Army and Ohio Mills filing their complaint and a motion that sought a temporary restraining order or an injunction, the government voluntarily repealed the new ordinance and began drafting a new law on the matter. The case is proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky and could be indicative of how courts will treat such ordinances in other states, including Michigan.

In California, a statewide law failed to reach the legislature for a vote in April after a study of the law found that it would have essentially given Goodwill Industries a monopoly over the collection bin industry throughout the state. Goodwill had pushed for a law on the bins due to excessive graffiti and garbage buildup on and around the bins, and the proposed legislation would have made it easier for local governments to simply tow away bins that had become derelict in the absence of attention from their owners.

Other bin owners charged that Goodwill spent such time and money lobbying for such a law because it wanted the competition eliminated in a business that generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually in donations. Legislators in California have spent the better part of five years considering and discussing proposed legislation on the topic but have yet to pass any new laws on the matter.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have extensive experience in state and federal courts throughout the U.S advancing the interests of collection bin owners with respect to these and other land use matters. We will be monitoring this fast-changing area of law. If you believe your organization has been improperly deprived of its constitutional rights with respect to its collection bins, please contact us.

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