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Bin There?

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Big red metal boxes have popped up around Sequim to take your old, unwanted clothes and shoes.

However, some donors are waving red flags as they discover that donations go to for-profit U'SAgain (pronounced "use again").

Ji Lee, co-owner of Great House Motel and Wasabi Restaurant, said a U'SAgain representative told her donations benefited a nonprofit business.

She found this to be false after the box was delivered.

Mattias Wallander, CEO of U'SAgain, said misunderstandings like this are rare.

"We work very hard for a site to understand who we are and what we do before we place," Wallander said.

"If there is an issue like this, we work immediately to clarify an issue."

U'SAgain started 10 years ago in the Seattle area, collecting clothes and shoes to sell to thrift stores and wholesalers mainly in developing countries.

Its Web site says 25 percent of donations are sorted into up to 300 categories, from recyclable fibers to clothing usable for various markets and price points.

Fifty percent stays in the area where it was collected and 25 percent is exported, for example to Central America where local merchants resell the clothes.

Good intentions

"We wholesale the clothes at cents per pound locally and abroad," Wallander said.

"We are only one of a few companies that is supplying the world."

U'SAgain has several hundred bins in the western Washington and more than 8,000 participating locations nationwide.

Sequim has U'SAgain bins at Walmart, Swain's Outdoor, Great House Motel, Hardy's Market, Kettel's Car Wash and Las Palomas Mexican Restaurant.

Mini-Fairmount has a similar blue donation bin with proceeds going to the nonprofit Northwest Center for the Retarded in Seattle.

Of the six businesses with red bins, only two owners/managers told the Sequim Gazette they were aware that U'SAgain was a for-profit business - although each box front says, "We are a commercial company doing something good for our environment."

Wallander said they make sure representative trainees know how to represent the company correctly.

Most can't recall

Most business owners couldn't recall if they were told that U'SAgain was for-profit or if they asked about the company's status.

Gary and Dennise Kettel, co-owners of Kettel's Car Wash and 76 gas station, said their previous manager allowed a box on their property. They assumed all donations were going to charity.

"I feel bad that it was misinterpreted with my former manager," Dennise Kettel said.

"Especially being so close to Serenity House and the local community, I'd rather give to them."

She contacted U'SAgain and asked that the bin be picked up.

Scratch my back ...

However, Grant Cable, manager at Swain's Outdoor, likes U'SAgain's convenience.

He said it's not uncommon for the store to have shoes and other returned items it cannot sell that it must throw away.

"For us, (using U'SAgain bins) is better than throwing it in the trash," Cable said.

"We also donate coats to OlyCAP and other items to the Port Townsend Food Bank."

Wallander wouldn't discuss if U'SAgain community recycling representatives were paid a commission for each bin placed.

Steady second-hands

Barbara Townsend, manager for the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Port Angeles, said U'SAgain had nothing to do with the store closing.

"It was the amount of sales," she said.

"We've always have had more donations than we've been able to handle."

Kathy Wahto, executive director for Serenity House, said she hasn't seen any issues with lack of donations.

She said Value Village, another out-of-area thrift chain, came in with donation bins but didn't stay long in Clallam County.

Items that don't sell at Serenity House travel similarly to U'SAgain's method with clothes being recycled, resold stateside or shipped overseas.

Wahto said Serenity House screens items carefully and has a low landfill bill compared to other thrift stores.

Room for thrift

Wallander said only 15 percent of American's clothes are diverted from landfills. He believes there is room for U'SAgain bins in

Sequim and elsewhere because of all the clothes supposedly thrown away.

Wahto seems to agree.

"If people are giving (U'SAgain) the space to do this, then that's the nature of what's allowable," she said.

"With clothes it's probably true there's enough to go around, but other items like housewares are hard to determine."

U'SAgain's bins do not violate any Sequim business codes.

The city's business license code states that businesses like U'SAgain need a license only if they are selling items in city limits or soliciting homes for hosting bins.

Having bins on a property is up to commercial property owners.

Half of the business owners with bins have contacted U'SAgain for removal or are considering doing so.

Kelly Cheeseman, media representative for Walmart, said she looked into the matter but no information was available from store managers about the bins, so they will remain.

Wallander would not comment on business dealings with Walmart but did say U'SAgain donated $115,000 to Children's Miracle Network, a nonprofit that raises funds for children's hospitals across the country. Walmart is a principal sponsor.

More information can be found at www.usagain2.com or by contacting the company at seattle@usagain.com or 877-833-5828.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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