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Baltimore County Council passes bill setting additional rules on donation bins to address dumping

A donation bin collects clothes and shoes in 2017. Bin owners and operators in Baltimore County will have to obey additional rules beginning in July.
A donation bin collects clothes and shoes in 2017. Bin owners and operators in Baltimore County will have to obey additional rules beginning in July.(Staff photo by Melanie Dzwonchyk)

Donation bin owners and operators will have to obey additional rules in Baltimore County beginning July 1, or else they could be fined hundreds of dollars.

The Baltimore County Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to create new rules for the permits required for the use of bins that collect clothing, books and anything else recyclable for reuse. Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, sponsored the bill to address dumping near the bins, which members say has become a nuisance.

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Bevins said “it’s really unfortunate” the council had to create more regulations to address the actions of “one bad player.” Republican Councilman Todd Crandell of Dundalk earlier this month called the bins “a magnet for illegal dumping of all kinds of items” — not only clothes, but also baby strollers, coffee tables and mattresses.

Bin operators and the property owners using bins must certify they will be “jointly and severally responsible” for obeying county laws, according to the 18-page bill. Bin operators and owners must also provide a 24-hour contact service where the public may register complaints. Additionally, they must provide a site plan and a rendering of the bin, a maintenance plan and pickup schedule, and a list of the types of items that may be donated.

Permits issued by the County Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections will expire Dec. 31 unless the department director approves their renewal. Otherwise, according to the bill, the county could “immediately remove" the bin at the owner’s and operator’s expense.

Likewise, the county may have the bin moved to another location or removed from the property, at the owner’s and operator’s expense, if the operator or owner violates any of the law’s requirements. The bin operator and owner may also be subject to $500 to $1,000 in fines for each violation. Each 24-hour period in which a violation persists results in a separate offense subject to more fines and penalties. Bin operators and owners will be jointly responsible for paying all fines.

The County Council created bin regulations in 2017 to ensure that operators kept the bins in good condition. After the law was enacted, the charity collection bin nonprofit Planet Aid sued the county in federal court, alleging that county code enforcement officers fined it for $10,000 before the regulations took effect — and gave no opportunity to obtain permits.

Court documents show that Planet Aid sought clarity on whether bin permits were allowed or necessary at churches, schools, nonprofits and private apartments. The organization dropped the suit in 2018, court records show, after the county created application forms, operating systems and procedures to allow donation bin operators to have bins in the county.

The latest regulations passed by the council state that bins can be placed at shopping centers, industrial parks and gas stations only in certain zones, but that they can be placed at schools, fire stations and buildings of religious worship in any zone. Likewise, bins cannot be located within 200 feet of a residential property unless they are located on the property of a school, fire station or building of religious worship.

No more than one bin will be allowed on a property unless several are permitted at shopping centers or industrial park properties, according to the bill. Donation bins can be placed only on “concrete blocks or pavers,” and may not block routes for pedestrians, emergency vehicles or trash pickup. The bins must have a permit sticker that warns against leaving donations or trash outside the bin. Advertisements are banned from the bins.

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Additionally, bins cannot be taller than 9 feet and cannot have a footprint larger than 8 feet by 10 feet. The bins nonetheless have to be “adequate in size” to allow any donation item accepted at that bin, the bill states. Bins cannot be located on “unimproved property” or on property with a vacant building.

Bins must be serviced once per week, which includes donation pickup, keeping the bins free from graffiti or blight, and cleaning up trash around the bins. Bins along with the dumped material will deemed a public nuisance and subject to penalties if materials are not picked up within 72 hours.

The owners and operators of existing bins will have 90 days after July 1 either to bring their bins into compliance or to remove them at their expense.

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