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Pasco to turn those parking lot donation bins into criminal case evidence

Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore is advocating for a crackdown on clothing drop-off bins that have turned into illegal dump sites. Shown here are a pair of bins in Wesley Chapel. County workers cleaned up the site and confiscated the containers as evidence in a planned criminal complaint. Photo courtesy of Mike Moore.
Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore is advocating for a crackdown on clothing drop-off bins that have turned into illegal dump sites. Shown here are a pair of bins in Wesley Chapel. County workers cleaned up the site and confiscated the containers as evidence in a planned criminal complaint. Photo courtesy of Mike Moore.
Published May 21, 2019

NEW PORT RICHEY — The blue bins' message says they are receptacles for donated clothing and shoes. The broken chairs, sofas, mattresses, cardboard boxes and a refrigerator surrounding them show the bins are getting used for other discards, as well.

Two bins, sitting side-by-side near a Wesley Chapel retail center, are the new poster children for a renewed county crackdown on used-clothing donation containers. Pasco Commissioner MIke Moore shared a photograph of the debris and this week pushed for stronger enforcement.

"It's getting bad again,'' Moore told fellow commissioners on Tuesday.

Moore said he favored an outright ban, but the county's legal staff said that likely wouldn't survive a court challenge. And requiring the donation bins to have on-site staff to guard against illegal dumping also would have unintended consequences. Such a rule also would affect unattended containers around the county that accept recycled newspapers, plastic bags, egg cartons and other items.

Clothing bins are a fixture of the estimated $1 billion-a-year business of reusing clothing and textiles as second-hand apparel, wiping and polishing rags and furniture upholstery, according to the Maryland-based trade group SMART, Secondary Materials Recycled Textiles. Some of the bin owners post signs indicating the proceeds are shared with charities.

This is a familiar topic.

In 2016, the commission, at Moore's urging, adopted an ordinance to regulate donation bins because of their propensity to attract illegal dumping. The ordinance requires recyclers to obtain a permit that includes written approval from the landowner, a site plan showing the bin location and information on when the bin would be emptied and maintained.

The short-term result was a cleaner county. Roadside bins along Ehren Cutoff, U.S. 41 and State Road 52 disappeared. But not a single entity has applied for a county permit to operate a bin legally, Moore said.

Now, generic blue bins, with no identifiable charitable tie, are appearing again. Moore spotted the pair near Silver Maple Parkway, southwest of the Interstate 75 and State Road 56 interchange. A similar blue bin sits near Ancient Oaks Boulevard in Wesley Chapel.

Unattended donation bins typically are in highly visible, high-traffic locations, such as shopping centers and convenience store parking lots. But to the chagrin of scenic advocates and county code enforcement officers, the bins often are accompanied by illegal dumping.

The two bins that Moore photographed are no longer there. County workers cleaned up the trash and confiscated the bins as evidence as the county prepares to file a criminal complaint with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said Senior Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims.

Littering in Florida typically is a civil violation. carrying a maximum penalty of a $100 fine. But someone dumping more than 500 pounds of materials can face a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in jail. The weight of the bins and the furniture likely will trigger a felony case, Sims said.

The county also sent 40 letters to property owners where county workers spotted donation bins. Those who authorized the bins will have until July 1 to apply for a permit. The rest can ask the county to confiscate the containers, Sims said. To report an illegal bin, send an email to hrecontact@pascocountyfl.net.

Some agencies, including the Salvation Army and Suncoast Textile Recycling of Clearwater, pulled almost all of their bins out of Pasco County because of ongoing problems with vandals and illegal dumping.

"We don't put them in the public eye anymore. It's just not worth it. It's been quite a losing investment over the years,'' said Jason Fox of Suncoast Textile Recycling, which had shared its proceeds with Habitat for Humanity of East and Central Pasco.

At one point, Fox said, his company had approximately 300 containers around the region, but now only is active with donation bins in the Gainesville area. The Salvation Army has just one bin in Pasco, relying instead on its permanent stores and drop-off centers. The web site for Goodwill Industries Suncoast shows 10 donations sites in Pasco, only two of which are unattended bins.

Charityclothingpickup.com, which operates in eight states, lists 22 locations in Pasco County, including 16 in west Pasco and a half-dozen more in Odessa, Zephyrhills and San Antonio. The agency says it shares its proceeds with the American Red Cross and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Sims said the upcoming enforcement effort should send a message.

"This will not be known as a friendly county in which to dump your bins all over the place,'' she said..

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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