Elkhorn, Delavan looking into whether to allow for-profit bins to stay
City officials in Walworth County are checking whether red clothing bins installed by a for-profit company should be allowed to stay.
The red bins, installed by Chicago-based U’SAgain, have popped up in several municipalities in Walworth County. They look like clothing donation bins for non-profit organizations such as Goodwill, but the clothes go to a textile recycling company, which turns the waste into reusable products.
The bins have been removed in Burlington because U’SAgain didn’t get permits, Zoning Administrator Pat Scherrer said.
Scherrer said city officials considered the bins “accessory structures” because of their size and purpose.
“Under our code, accessory structures in commercial and retail areas need to go in a certain location and need planning commission approval,” he said.
Now, Delavan and Elkhorn officials are looking into the issue to determine what to do with the bins.
Elkhorn Zoning Administrator Audrey Boss said the bins are relatively new for the city, and officials are unsure whether they should classify the bins as accessory structures as was done in Burlington.
U’SAgain CEO Mattias Wallander said the company has bins in several cities across the United States and normally only needs permission from property owners. Employees ensure the bins are placed correctly and don’t block traffic, he said.
“We have seen a movement in the last years where more cities are passing ordinances,” Wallander said. “And we’re not in any way opposed to ordinances, as long as they make it possible for us to still collect clothing.”
“We have had a few cases that cities have passed ordinances that make it impossible, and I think that is not right.”
Boss said the city would have jurisdiction over the location of bins even in a commercial parking lot.
“On commercial property, we have to be concerned about the number of parking stalls, if it’s affecting someone seeing a car coming out of a highway,” she said.
Delavan Zoning Administrator Fred Walling said the bins are considered accessory structures in the city, and U’SAgain would need to apply for a permit.
At first, Walling was under the impression the bins were put there by not-for-profits. He said he’d be more willing to work with them because it was for charitable purposes.
“I think if you wanted to go by the letter of the law, yeah, it probably does (need a permit),” he said. “But my more humanly feel is that it’s for charity.”
But upon discovering the bins are for profit, Walling said he would “need to look a little more closely into it.”
“Back 30 years ago, Goodwill had boxes where you could dump clothes,” he added. “You knew where it was going: It was going to be recycled for churches and other people.
“If it’s a for-profit, does it change it? Yes, to a certain extent.”