Madrid’s town hall removed 1,313 illegal collection points from its streets in 2012 — a 31 percent rise on the previous year.
These recycling bins, usually labelled with official second-hand clothing logos, are placed next to other government-run glass and paper containers so they go unnoticed.
The ‘pirate’ owners, as they are known in Spain, rarely, if ever, apply for a permit — nor do they pay the corresponding taxes.
They usually operate under the guise of being NGOs or official government organizations.
Spain’s Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) told Spanish daily 20 minutos that between four and five illegal containers are removed every day in Madrid.
Those that aren’t spotted are quickly emptied and the clothing content is sorted, repaired and sold off to second-hand stores and flea market workers for a considerable profit.
Last April, police in Madrid’s Chamberí neighbourhood arrested two men who were disguised in official environmental department clothing while they emptied a 100 kilo container packed full of shoes and clothes.
“The crisis has led some people to become more street-wise to make ends meet,” one policeman told 20 minutos.