Assemblyman pushes to rid NYC streets of illegal clothing bins

NEW YORK (PIX11) – They’re popping up all over the city, even though they’re illegal and appear to be a scam.  One legislator, however, has vowed to eliminate clothing drop boxes, or at least make it much more difficult for the large, metal, cube shaped receptacles to be left on sidewalks in New York’s five boroughs and around the state.  For many New Yorkers, the new regulations can’t come soon enough.

The announcement by Assemblyman Edward Braunstein about a new bill in to more quickly remove the clothing bins was made in front of Lawrence Cemetery in Bayside, Queens.  The quarter acre burial ground is named after the Lawrence Family, which settled in Queens in 1644.  Now, however, settled right next to the historic cemetery’s fence, is a bright pink, metal clothing drop box.

“We’ve heard from pretty much everyone that these bins are cluttering up their neighborhood, and are almost impossible to move,” said Michael Lambert, president of the business improvement district in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the clothing box problem, he said, is intense.

The boxes are put in place overnight, when few people are around to notice, and their numbers are growing exponentially, not just in Bed-Stuy, but all over the five boroughs, with the possible exception of Manhattan, below 96th Street.

A clear illustration of how fast the problem is growing is that at the other end of the block from where the pink clothing box sits next to Lawrence Cemetery, is yet another pink clothing box.

The reason that the boxes are illegal, apart from them taking up precious sidewalk space, a Harlem resident waiting for a bus spelled out, as she pointed to one of the boxes on Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 146th Street.

“People keep climbing inside of it, they keep taking clothing outside of it, they leave their trash.  We’ve got them all over the neighborhood,” she said.

In fact, catter corner from the box she was talking about is another box.  Sixty paces from that second box, in the very same block, is another box.

A five-minute drive on one one avenue and one street in Central Harlem resulted in at least ten clothing box sitings.  Many of them were magnets for graffiti, and worse.

“Mices rats, raccoons go through the bags, thinking it’s food,” said Alex Alexander, a Central Harlem resident.  He said he’s watched raccoons eat some of the rats that climb around one of the clothing boxes on his street.

“We call the number” of what appears to be a charity listed on the clothing box, Alexander said, “to tell them to pick [the box] up.  They never come to pick it up.”

Most of the boxes claim to collect clothes for charity, or are painted pink like many breast cancer charities.   They are not charities.

“We did the research,” Assemblyman Braunstein told PIX11 News about the operator of the box next to Lawrence Cemetery.  “It’s a limited liability corporation,” the assemblyman said.  “It’s a for profit business.  Exactly.”

PIX11 News relayed that information to Tracey Brown and a friend of hers, who were at a bus stop in Central Harlem.  “Wow,” they said in unison, upon learning that virtually all of the clothing boxes they’ve seen belong to companies that re-sell the donated clothing, shoes and belts.

“I’m shocked,” said Brown.  “I’ll just take [my donated goods] to the church then.”

PIX11 News called the number listed on the box at Lawrence Cemetery.  A very polite and friendly woman answered the phone.  “I’ll have someone call you right back,” she said.  “Have a great day.”

They never called back, just as they never called Assemblyman Edward Braunstein back after he’d called days ago.

He may have the last word, though.  On Friday afternoon, he announced a measure to stop what he calls an epidemic problem.  The city’s numbers bear out that description.

In the 2010 fiscal year, the city’s Department of Sanitation placed 91 bright orange stickers on clothing bins, citing them with illegal placement.  This fiscal year the number has ballooned to 2,006 bins.

The city will not issue fines for the boxes because the operators figure in the cost of fines into their operating budgets.  Instead, the city removes the clothing boxes 30 days after tagging them, as required by law.

So the operators leave the bins in place for 29 days after being cited, then move them just a block away, and the clock starts ticking again.

Under the bill being introduced by Braunstein, a Bayside Democrat, the illegally placed clothing boxes would be treated more like illegally parked cars — where big action is taken, fast.  In the case of the boxes, they’d be confiscated after just a few days of citation.

However, there’s one caveat.  “[The legislature is] off session in Albany, but I’ll introduce the bill as soon as we get back in January,” Braunstein told PIX11 News.

He’s confident the measure will pass statewide, but it won’t become law for at least five months.  Some other New Yorkers are so fed up, though,  they formed a working group specifically to get the boxes out.  Its members support Braunstein’s bill, but are also calling for quicker action.

Josef Szende runs the Clothing Box Working Group of Brooklyn Business Improvement Districts.  He said that his organization had spoken with many legislators at the city government level, as well as with Sanitation Department Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

He called the prospects for more quickly removing the boxes very promising.  “We’re really hopeful the city council will act very soon, actually,” he said in an interview.


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