Battle of the bins: Rival collection services dumping on each other

Northwest Center has new competition in its donation-collection business, and staffers at the non-profit organization are crying foul.

For one thing, rival Retex Northwest has taken to putting its donation bins at some of the same locations Northwest Center uses, said Denise Small, business developer for thrift sales at Northwest Center.

One of them is in the triangle parking lot in Magnolia Village, where a Northwest truck stations itself from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day to accept donations of household items, clothing and shoes, she said.

Other locations occupied by both entities include a Bothell Safeway and a Sammamish QFC. Retex also has added collection bins where Northwest Center has placed bins at a Redmond Safeway and a Mukilteo YMCA, Small said. "They will place their bins right next to ours."

Retex collects only used clothing and shoes at its bins, but donations to Northwest Center staffed stations have been cut in half in locations where Retex has located its bins, according to Small.

If it walks like a duck?

Written on Retex bins are two statements: "Proceeds from this clothing bin benefit local non-profits and charities" and "Your clothing and shoes help the less fortunate."

That makes Retex sound like a non-profit organization, Small said. But in fact, Retex is a for-profit business, she added. According to Secretary of State records, Mill Creek-based Retex incorporated as a business in 1998.

Still, according to the Retex Web site, it donates a portion of its proceeds to community organizations such as the Fire 1 Foundation and the Healing the Children group, the latter of which received a $1,000 Retex check last summer.

"Yes, they may indeed donate funds to the children's network, but the scale is small," Small said. "We have a $5 million operation just in our thrift-sales business."

In addition, as a non-profit, the Northwest Center uses its net proceeds to help and, in some cases, employ developmentally disabled adults, she noted.

Carolyn Forrester, a Magnolia resident and public-relations director for Retex, said she is not concerned that donors will think her company is a non-profit. "We specify we're not," she said.

The Web site does note that, but most people read the statements on the bins and think otherwise, according to Bob Thelan, a Magnolian who mans the Northwest Center donation truck at the triangle lot in the Village. "Their belief is they're giving to a charity," he said.

"I let everybody know coming into the lot," Thelan said of Retex being a for-profit company. "To me, this is pretty low when you encroach on charities."

Small added that Retex bins in Magnolia Village had Food Lifeline stickers on them until the organization made the company remove them.

Northwest Center has sold its donated items to Savers, the parent corporation of Value Village, since 1967, she said. "We are the largest supplier for Value Village." Small also said Retex used to sell its donated items to Value Village.

Forrester confirmed that, but the relationship didn't last. "All of a sudden that abruptly stopped," she said, adding she didn't know why.

Value Village did not return a call before press deadline, but Thelan said Value Village stopped buying from Retex when it found out the company wasn't a charity.

European connection

In any event, Retex shifted focus and is now shipping its clothing and shoes in containers to Europe, where the material is sorted, graded and reconditioned, Forrester said.

"Fifty percent of it, no one will wear or use," she said of donations that are recycled for other uses such as rags. "Then they bundle (the other half) and get it to Second- and Third-World countries."

The clothing and shoes are then sold in thrift stores at bargain-basement prices, which helps the less fortunate, according to the Retex Web site.

Retex is paid for the quantity and quality of material it sends, making the recycled clothing and shoes a commodity, Forrester said. "It's not a necessarily stable thing."

Retex has 175 collection bins in 148 locations, four of them in Magnolia, and the bins were also originally shipped over from Europe, she said.

The company is now getting its bins from At Work, a non-profit supplier in Issaquah, Forrester said. She estimated the company will have between 500 and 1,000 bins in place in a year's time.

According to her, Retex lost money last year because the bins went up in price and because of the company's charitable contributions.

Location, location, location

Forrester said she's the one that arranges to have the bins placed in various spots. "Most of the sites I pick are completely devoid of Northwest Center," she said.

Northwest Center has 27 collection trucks and 400 bins, Small said. "Here's the deal," she added, "there's plenty of space." So Small questions why Retex is moving in on their locations. "It's like they're riding on our coattails."

In the case of the Magnolia Village parking lot, Forrester said she chose that location because the lot had become an eyesore, and she wanted to clean it up.

Civic impulses aside, Forrester struck a deal with Art Van der Wel, who owns the property, and with Diamond Parking, which manages the lot, she said.

The deal required some changes. "She got our slot where we used to park, and she demanded we park clear on the other side of the lot," Thelan said.

"After telling our drivers to go to the other side," he added, "she has the gall to tell drivers to clean up around her bins." Forrester also chews out the Northwest Center drivers if that isn't done, Thelan groused. "She's trying to create crap, more or less, to get us kicked off the parking lot," he said.

Small finds that to be especially galling. "We were there before Diamond bought the lot," she said. "We're very thankful they're allowing us to be in that lot."

Forrester said the lot frequently becomes a dump for unwanted items, and she believes that people think Northwest Center drivers will pick up donations that vary from couches to microwave ovens.

According to Retex, its business prevents unwanted clothing and shoes from ending up in landfills. For that matter, so does Northwest Center, which estimated it keeps nine million pounds of clothing a year out of landfills.

Forrester, for her part, is unfazed by Northwest Center's complaints about Retex. "People deserve a choice," she said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]