Planet Aid

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Planet Aid, Inc.
Planet Aid collection box in Dexter, Michigan
Planet Aid collection box in Dexter, Michigan
Planet Aid logo.png
Motto For the Environment, For People
Formation October 1997; 19 years ago (1997-10)
Founded at Holliston, Massachusetts
Type 501(c)(3) NGO
Headquarters Milford, Massachusetts
Chief Executive and Co-founder
Ester Neltrup
Board Chair and Co-founder
Mikael Norling
Mission To inform, mobilize, and inspire individuals and communities to work together to bring about worldwide environmental and social progress.

Planet Aid is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 in Massachusetts;[3] it does business in 23 states nationwide.

Planet Aid's primary activity is the collection of clothing and other items through donation bins in public places.[4] Planet Aid partners with local businesses and other organizations to place bins on their property, with an aim to make donation more convenient and thus increase recycling rates.[5]

Proceeds of textile recycling are used to fund development work in Africa and other locations, alongside funding from US and other NGO grants.[6][7][8]

Planet Aid has been accredited by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance[4] and is registered as a "Private Voluntary Organization" by the U.S. Agency for International Development,[9] but the American Institute of Philanthropy's CharityWatch has given it an "F" rating.[10] Moreover, media investigations have found discrepancies in how much funding was provided to charities versus how much Planet Aid claimed to give, and linked the organization to the controversial Tvind group led by international fugitive Mogens Amdi Petersen,[11][12][13][14][15] allegations which Planet Aid has denied.[16]


Planet Aid collects used clothing through a wide network of donation bins placed on public and private property, donation centers, and curbside pickups,[4][17] with the aim of helping the environment, reducing waste, and raising funds to fight poverty. They claim that recycling used clothing and shoes contributes to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases[18] and helps to reducing the amount of waste that municipalities must haul from residences.[19]

Charities like Planet Aid that collect used clothing sell them both domestically and on the international market.[20] Planet Aid indicates that it sells the donated textiles it collects to support sustainable development in impoverished communities around the world. It also claims that since 1997, it has given more than $90 million in support of over 60 projects in 15 countries.[21] Planet Aid also indicates it supports various charities in the United States through direct donations of clothing and other goods.[8]

Planet Aid is seen as a leader in best practices for collecting, sorting and recycling used textiles, making almost $41 million in 2014 from the sale of these items.[22] The US State Department sponsored an educational visit of Planet Aid's Elkridge, MD headquarters for a delegation of Russian recycling experts to learn how Planet Aid sorts and handles 100 million pounds of donated textiles every year and how they can develop similar practices and infrastructure in that country.[23]

Work in Africa[edit]

Planet Aid participates in a number of programs in Africa. In 2012, they partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Farmers Club project, which provides school meals and teacher training in Mozambique and Malawi.[24] These programs are run through Development Aid from People to People - Malawi (DAPP Malawi) and Ajuda de Desenvolvimento de Povo para Povo (ADPP),[6][7] who, along with Planet Aid, are members of the Humana People-to-People Federation.[25][26]

The DAPP In-Service Teacher Training Program in Malawi, supported by Planet Aid, was one of only three global programs to be awarded the prestigious UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize in 2016.[27]

They have also partnered with the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health program, run by the American Soybean Association, to provide nutrition education in Mozambique.[24]

The U.S. Agency for International Development has partnered with Planet Aid to distribute food aid in Zimbabwe, awarding them 93.8 metric tons (92.3 long tons) of prepackaged food in 2011 and 112.6 metric tons (110.8 long tons) in 2012.[24]


In 2014, Planet Aid filed a lawsuit against Ypsilanti Township, Michigan, one of an increasing number of cities that had passed a local ordnance banning charity collection boxes over concerns about litter and vandalism.[28] In April 2015, a federal appeals court upheld an earlier federal court ruling that Planet Aid's collections bins constitute a protected form of free speech and struck down a local zoning restriction in St. Johns, Michigan that had outlawed all such collection boxes. Since winning its federal ruling, Planet Aid has sued several other cities with similar ordinances, and used the decision to force local leaders to craft regulations that allow placement of such boxes.[12] Planet Aid CEO Ester Neltrup told the Los Angeles Times that Planet Aid supports some regulation on clothing recycling, but opposes bans on donation boxes.[12]

Thrift stores[edit]

On October 1, 2015, Planet Aid opened its first thrift store in Baltimore as part of a pilot project. The store as employed 30 people and offered "tens of thousands of new items every week," in addition to serving as a donation center, according to an article from the Baltimore Sun. Proceeds from purchases in the store go towards Planet Aid's sustainable development projects.[29]

Charity accountability[edit]

CharityWatch has given the group an "F" rating,[10] stating that, according to Planet Aid's financial records, Planet Aid only spent 17% of its budget on charitable programs in 2015 (as opposed to the 84% claimed by the charity).[22] In comparison, Goodwill Industries International, another non-profit organization that collects used clothes, spent 82% of its revenue from sales of donated items on charitable services in 2011, according to a spokesperson.[10] The BBB Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) states that:

Planet Aid's position is that, by collecting and selling these products, it is keeping them out of landfills that have a negative impact on the environment. Based on this, Planet Aid considers costs associated with the bins used to collect items to be serving both a programmatic (recycling) and fund raising purpose.[4]

The WGA lists Planet Aid as an accredited charity.[4] Regarding the allocation of expenses, CharityWatch states,

In 2014 Planet Aid spent $28.4 million to collect and process these non-cash donations, and reported these costs as Program expenses. CharityWatch disagrees with Planet Aid's reporting [...] The expenses a charity incurs to raise donations, whether the donations are in the form of cash or non-cash items like donated clothing, are fundraising expenses, not program expenses.[22]

Regarding Planet Aid's position on the recycling of used clothes, CharityWatch states,

In 2014 Planet Aid brought in almost $41 million from selling these items. This proves that there is a ready market of buyers willing and able to pay large sums of money to purchase used clothing, shoes, and textiles like the ones Planet Aid collects. It is ridiculous for this charity to assert that items worth millions and millions of dollars would end up in a landfill if Planet Aid did not collect them.[22]

Tvind financial crimes scandal[edit]

Media investigations have linked Planet Aid, through its board members and financial dealings, to a controversial organization from Denmark called the Teachers Group or Tvind, led by international fugitive Mogens Amdi Petersen.[11][12][13][14] Tvind has been characterized by former members as a secular/political cult,[30] and Tvind leaders have been prosecuted in Denmark for serious financial crimes, with two convictions in trials in 2006 and 2009, respectively.[31][32] Planet Aid denies any such links,[24] although they are a member of the Humana People-to-People Federation,[1] an offshoot of Tvind,[33] and several leaders of Planet Aid had been identified as having ties to Tvind and Mogens Amdi Peterson. Planet Aid co-founder and board chair Mikael Norling is a Tvind official, and he was present at the preliminary hearings for the Danish Tvind trials in September 2002.[34][35][36] Marie Lichtenberg, the director of international partnerships at Humana People to People and Planet Aid, was identified by Danish law enforcement as a manager of Tvind's global financial operations.[37] Josefin Jonsson, a founding director of Planet Aid, was also a founding director of IFAS, a foundation identified by Danish prosecutors as a front organization used by Petersen for embezzlement and tax fraud.[38]

In March 2016, an investigation co-produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Public Radio Exchange reported that, according to interviews with "several insiders" of Planet Aid and associated Humana People-to-People member organizations, including "at least a dozen people inside" DAPP Malawi, "50% to 70% of the US government grant money was being siphoned away" to Tvind.[15] Planet Aid denied these allegations, saying it "has a long and successful track record managing U.S. government projects in Africa" and that "government agencies continue contracting with Planet Aid precisely because they have seen the positive results in the field, and they have conducted extensive financial reviews of these programs,"[15] and the USDA also issued a statement saying that "none of their formal compliance reviews, their ad hoc reviews, their side evaluations, or their audits of the Planet Aid projects have yielded any significant findings or concerns."[15] A follow-up report in May 2016, which cited a report by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation that identified Planet Aid, Humana People to People, and DAPP as part of a network of organizations that diverted funds raised for charity for personal use by Tvind,[37] led the United Nations Children’s Fund to halt funding to these organizations.[39] An August 2016 report by the British Broadcasting Corporation in partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting led the United Kingdom Department for International Development to suspend payments as well.[40][41]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Humana People to People". Planet Aid. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  2. ^ "Global Campaign For Education United States Chapter". Global Campaign For Education United States Chapter. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  3. ^ "Non-profits and Charities". State of Massachusetts. Attorney General of the State of Massachusetts. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Planet Aid". BBB Wise Giving Alliance. 
  5. ^ "The effects of behavior and attitudes on drop-off recycling activities". Michigan State University. 
  6. ^ a b "Malawi - Planet Aid, Inc.". Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "Mozambique - Planet Aid, Inc.". Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Planet Aid Partners with International Rescue Committee to Support Refugees" (Press release). Planet Aid. 
  9. ^ "USAID PVO Registry". Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c Hoyer, Meghan; O'Donnell, Jayne (30 December 2012). "Clothing bin donations don't always reach needy". USA Today. Gannett. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  11. ^ a b "Behind the Bins: Former Planet Aid Employees Describe 'Cult-like' Experience". NBC4 Washington. Retrieved 25 May 2016. 
  12. ^ a b c d Christensen, Kim (13 August 2015). "Good intention or public nuisance? Cities brace for a resurgence of clothing donation bins". Los Angeles Times. Tribune. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2015-09-20. 
  13. ^ a b Smith, Matt (8 June 2011). "Your Rags to Their Riches: Donated Clothes May Fund International Fugitive". San Francisco Weekly. Retrieved 15 January 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Kindness into Cash". Washington, DC: WTTG-TV. 12 May 2009. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Alleged cult leader plays shell game with US foreign aid". Reveal. Center for Investigative Reporting. 19 March 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  16. ^ Neltrup, Ester (2016-05-25). "Planet Aid Letter to NBC Washington" (PDF). NBC. NBC. Retrieved 2016-05-27. 
  17. ^ "Planet Aid Holds Special Event to Celebrate Launch of Curbside Pick-up". What'sUpNewp. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  18. ^ "Should I Put My Old Clothes in Those Bins?". Dirt Magazine. 
  19. ^ "Drop-off Recycling Might be a Way to Save Tax Dollars". The Daily Iberian. 
  20. ^ "The Afterlife of Cheap Clothes". Slate. Retrieved 15 January 2015. 
  21. ^ "Annual Reports". Planet Aid, Inc. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c d "Planet Aid's "Recycling" Program, Debunked!". CharityWatch. 9 August 2016. Archived from the original on 13 September 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2016. 
  23. ^ "Russian Pros are Learning from U.S. Waste & Recycling Techniques". Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  24. ^ a b c d "Controversial collection boxes expanding into Bangor area". Bangor Daily News. Bangor Publishing Co. 26 August 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  25. ^ "Who We Are". Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  26. ^ "Federation HPP". Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  27. ^ "UNESCO - United Nations Educational, [...] (via Public) / Teaching programmes in Cambodia, Malaysia and Malawi to receive UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize". Retrieved 2016-03-30. 
  28. ^ Welch, Sherry (2014-04-27). "Nonprofit Planet Aid Sues Ypsilanti TWP over zoning ordinance". Crains Detroit. 
  29. ^ Mirabella, Lorraine (29 September 2015). "Planet Aid makes Baltimore site of its first retail store". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2015-10-05. 
  30. ^ Stockman, Farah. "Planet Aid's charity work draws worldwide scrutiny". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 6, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Humanitarian Fraudster Convicted", Jyllands-Posten (a newspaper in Denmark); January 20, 2009; accessed November 8, 2011.
  32. ^ Waterman, Michael. "Mysterious Danish Group Builds Exotic Compound on Baja Coast" (p. 2, ¶s 14-20), San Diego Reader; February 3, 2010; accessed June 26, 2011.
  33. ^ "'Cult school' leader sentenced to prison". Copenhagen Post. 30 August 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  34. ^ "Økonomichef tager skylden for Tvind-stifter" [Finance manager takes the blame for Tvind founder]. (in Danish). Danish Broadcasting Corporation. 15 September 2002. Retrieved 22 March 2016. As early as two hours before Sunday's preliminary hearing of Tvind leader Mogens Amdi Petersen, some of the press were already gathered outside the court in Ringkøbing, where the hearing was to start at 12. Half an hour before the hearing, about 30 people were standing outside waiting to be let in. Among them were three others who were also charged in the Tvind case. These were Mikael Norling, Bodil Ross Sørensen, and Ruth Sejerøe-Olsen. 
  35. ^ Ravnsborg, Søren (27 May 2002). "DTU-lektor trukket ind i Tvind retssag" [DTU lecturer drawn into the Tvind lawsuit]. Ingeniøren (in Danish). Danish Society of Engineers. Retrieved 28 March 2016. Therefore Mikael Norling, a member of the Teachers Group at Tvind and the leader of Tvind's American activities, addressed Arne Wangel. 
  36. ^ Michael Bjerre og Christian Jensen (26 February 2003). "Dom øger presset på Tvind" [Court increases pressure on Tvind]. Berlingske (in Danish). Berlingske Media. Retrieved 28 March 2016. The trial's importance to the Tvind empire was underscored by the fact that one of Tvind's top officials, the president of all US activities, Mikael Norling, attended the court proceedings in September. 
  37. ^ a b Smith, Matt; Walters, Amy; Ngwira, Kandani (23 May 2016). "US taxpayers are financing alleged cult through African aid charities". Reveal News. The Center for Investigative Reporting. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  38. ^ Smith, Matt; Walters, Amy (23 May 2016). "Planet Aid's ubiquitous clothing donation boxes aren't so charitable". Reveal News. Emeryville, California: The Center for Investigative Reporting. 
  39. ^ Smith, Matt; Walters, Amy (1 August 2015). "UNICEF cuts off funding to nonprofit linked to alleged cult". Reveal News. The Center for Investigative Reporting. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  40. ^ Meisel, Anna; Cox, Simon (2 August 2016). "Teachers Group: The cult-like group linked to a charity that gets UK aid". BBC News Magazine. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  41. ^ "UK to stop funding Malawian charity amid 'cult' links". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corportaion. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2016.