Planet Aid uses court ruling to fight ban of donation bins in Alhambra

Planet Aid, a nonprofit that owns 20,000 clothing donation bins across the nation, has been banned from Alhambra and several other California cities. Now, it is forcing Alhambra to overturn the ban by citing a Michigan court ruling that says the bans are a violation of 1st- and 14th-Amendment rights to free speech and equal protection, reports the LA Times.
 
The ruling came in April after Planet Aid filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Johns, Michigan. Days after the decision, the organization sued Alhambra and other California cities that have banned the donation bins. Now the non-profit is working with city officials to negotiate new laws that will permit the bins.
 
Court records state that, in Alhambra alone, Planet Aid’s donation bins had collected 589,000 pounds by September 2013. According to the Planet Aid website, the non-profit recycles more than 100 millions pounds of used clothing and textiles each year. The organization sells these donated materials and uses the proceeds to support its causes.
 
The organization says that the bins are dropped off with the consent of property owners. Some have claimed that the bins appear without notice in overlooked areas such as empty lots. 
 
While some proponents say that the bins promote a good cause, others say that the bins are poorly managed, which lead to an overfill of unwanted materials like mattresses and bed frames. 
 
Cities like Alhambra and Corona have banned the donation bins. La Canada Flintridge is among the cities that have sought to regulate these bins through zoning laws.
 
According to IRS tax-exemption filings, Planet Aid received $42 million from the sale of donated goods, says the LA Times. 
 
The non-profit has been at the center of controversy in the past. Several media outlets have claimed a link between Planet Aid and Mogens Amdi Petersen, who has been accused of fraud by the Danish government. The organization is designated as a charity by the Better Business Bureau.

3 thoughts on “Planet Aid uses court ruling to fight ban of donation bins in Alhambra”

  1. Those bins really are an eye-sore in the city, makes the city look like a ghetto; I see various objects scattered near and around the bins (NOT INSIDE) really look terrible, and it seems they (bin owners) care little about maintaining those areas clean and free from junk. Perhaps they wil argue that they should be able to place more bins throughout the city to avoid the accumulation – but why not just force them to empty the bins more often and clean-up the overflow. Some cities have used some types of “nuisance laws” with good success to stop absentee landowners from not complying with basic health laws, perhaps Alhambra should try this approach.

  2. Wade, thank you for your informative post and the exhaustive research that went into it!

  3. Thanks for this. After researching Planet Aid for several years, I have some comments (sorry for the length):

    1) Planet Aid’s “free speech” tactic may have worked on a clueless, out-of-touch judge. Yet it’s still a desperate ruse to counter the reality that countless cities — from small towns like St. Johns, Mich., to L.A. — have seen a crying need to stop Planet Aid and its ilk from allowing their bins to become eyesores. There is also concern over out-of-town clothing collectors reportedly causing donations to dwindle at local charities. And some complain about non-local companies 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.

    2) Despite Planet Aid’s claim that it takes proper care of its bins, there is much to indicate otherwise. Images from news stories across the country show Planet Aid bins 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 (for photos, see last item in ‘description box’ of the video report, at end).

    3) Planet Aid says it doesn’t want to sue cities, but rather “supports proper regulation.” In my view, its real intent is to use the threat of a lawsuit to foist its gutless “sample legislation” on local governments.

    4) In my view, Planet Aid doesn’t deserve the label of “charity.” The Chicago-based CharityWatch might agree, as the watchdog gave the nonprofit an “F” grade after analyzing its 2013 tax form and audited financial statements, determining that Planet Aid spent only 29% of its expenses on programs (see ‘CharityWatch’ at end)

    As bad as that is, the actual percentage may be far lower than even that, according to a 2009 investigation by WTTG News in Washington DC (see WTTG report, at end)

    5) Worse, WTTG also reported that Danish prosecutors link Planet Aid to an alleged cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of the group — including founder Mogens Amdi Petersen, mentioned by Alhambra Source — are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    6) The Teachers Group (TG), the controlling body of the broader Tvind organization, is reportedly a political cult based on communist ideology. TG leaders control their followers to an alarming degree, according to ex-members.

    Self-described humanitarian programs run by Tvind-linked groups, many of which Planet Aid supports, have been criticized by former volunteers as being ineffective, culturally insensitive, environmentally unsustainable and even abusive toward volunteers.

    Similarly, Tvind’s “schools” around the world have elicited many complaints from former students, with allegations ranging from low standards of “training,” to dire living conditions, unreasonable work hours, bullying and even a “cult-like” atmosphere. Some ex-students also claim they were required to beg for money on American or European city streets and were exploited as free labor benefiting TG-owned businesses.

    Most disturbingly, many young TG members and Tvind participants have over the years been raped, injured or killed during ill-advised land and sea excursions. In many of these tragedies, the victims’ families directly blamed senior Tvind officials for knowingly endangering the youths. Tvind has never admitted to any wrongdoing.

    Not nice folks. And donations to Planet Aid help to perpetuate all of this harm, if Danish authorities are correct.

    7) The profound irony here is that in defending Planet Aid’s right to “free speech,” the company’s lawyers have unwittingly helped an organization which, according to many defectors, denies that very freedom to its members. In his 2000 affidavit to Danish prosecutors, Steen Thomsen, a TG member from 1977 to 1998, listed his reasons for leaving the group. One was “The total lack of personal freedom. Tvind is a cult, just as much as … the Moonies are a cult. As part of the Teachers Group, you do not have the right of speaking or writing, you do not have any private life, you do not have any private possessions. All your life you dedicate to the Cult.”

    More on Planet Aid in the description box of WTTG’s report, below. Click ‘Show More’ while on that page. Google search:

    “Kindness into Cash” – exposé of used clothes company Planet Aid – pt. 1

    Also Google search:

    Planet Aid’s “Recycling” Program, Debunked! – CharityWatch

    Thanks for the chance to express my opinions. Research before you donate.

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