Farmington Hills’ new donation bin ordinance was enacted to ensure bins receive regular pickup and upkeep. Pictured are two donation bins in a parking lot in the 29500 block of Orchard Lake Road.

Farmington Hills’ new donation bin ordinance was enacted to ensure bins receive regular pickup and upkeep. Pictured are two donation bins in a parking lot in the 29500 block of Orchard Lake Road.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


Farmington Hills City Council enacts new regulations for donation collection bins

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published February 5, 2020

 Five donation collection bins for various organizations sit in a parking lot on Orchard Lake Road.

Five donation collection bins for various organizations sit in a parking lot on Orchard Lake Road.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

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FARMINGTON HILLS — A new ordinance has been enacted to establish language and parameters surrounding donation collection bins, best known for collecting shoes, clothes and other materials.

City Council members unanimously passed the new rules Jan. 13. The regulations was to be officially enacted Feb. 3.

Before this new ordinance, collection bins in the city were handled as accessory structures included in a site plan. Farmington Hills City Planner Mark Stec said the new ordinance came to fruition for a few primary reasons: to establish enforceable regulations, to regulate where bins can be placed, to ensure there is agreement between property owners and bin operators, to collect contact information of bin operators in case of blight, and to ensure the bins don’t interfere with public safety efforts.

He said the city currently has an estimated 20-30 such bins, including nonprofits and religious organizations that house the bins on their own property.

“The intent was to be able to have a little more enforcement and regulation in order to keep them looking nice,” he said. “A lot of times, if they are on an operating business’s parcel, unbeknownst to us, they would be in required parking spaces (or) potentially blocking fire lanes, which is not safe for patrons to the businesses or the community. They’ll have to show us where they’re going to place it, and we’ll make sure it’s not an issue.”

A need to establish regulations in the city also came after city staff learned of a federal court ruling, Planet Aid v. St. John’s, that deemed donation bins as a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment. In that case, St. John’s, Michigan, attempted to eliminate them from the city, but Planet Aid, a national organization, was favored in the ruling.

Unlike St. John’s, Stec said, Farmington Hills is not trying to eliminate the bins altogether with this ordinance.

“It was an effort to get a handle on them and make enforcement so it’s less of a blighting issue for the community as a whole,” he said, adding that sometimes, bins can become too full, resulting in filled trash bags and other debris accumulating around them.

Under the new ordinance, all bins currently within the city will have to request a license and receive approval, which will cost $50 for the initial license, plus an annual $50 renewal fee. Bins located on nonprofit or religious organizations’ campuses are exempt from licensing. There will be no grandfathering in for bins currently in the city.

Failure to comply with the ordinance regulations — which includes language regarding the size, placement, location, construction, signage, license application and required maintenance of the bins — could result in a civil infraction and associated fines for the bin operator. If the bin operator can’t be reached in a timely manner, the property owner may be asked to clean up debris or graffiti, or to otherwise resolve the violation.

Jim Godbout, the vice president of Midwest Recycling, which has bins in Farmington Hills, said complying with the city’s new ordinance should be no problem. His company is used to donation bin regulations, as other municipalities in the area already have them.

“We always try to comply with local municipalities,” he said, adding that his company also receives permission from property owners before placing their bins on the property.

“We always try to make sure our bins are well maintained, picked up on a regular basis. … That’s not the case with what Planet Aid was doing in the past.”

While Godbout said applying regulations to these bins can be a “double-edged sword,” he doesn’t believe most cities are in the realm of interfering with operator’s First Amendment rights, as in the Planet Aid v. St. John’s case.

On top of that, he added that the bins are necessary in communities because they help reduce the amount of material ending up in landfills and create jobs for people here and in the countries receiving the materials. He said only roughly 15% of clothing and shoes are recycled. The rest ends up in landfills.

For more information, visit fhgov.com.

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