Seemingly harmless charity donation bins have become what advocates for the homeless are calling “death traps” following multiple incidents of people dying after getting stuck in bins.
Most recently, a 35-year-old Canadian woman was found dead in a clothing donation bin in Toronto on Tuesday morning. Police cut open the donation bin in an attempt to rescue the woman, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Canadian Press. Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, said the city is investigating the safety and design of the bins.
Her death marks the eighth incident in Canada since 2015.
While rare, similar incidents occur in the US. In November, a 30-year-old woman was found dead in a donation bin in Petaluma, California. A little more than two years earlier, a 40-year-old woman died in a donation bin in Alameda, California, just 50 miles away. Both women were believed to be homeless.
People often get stuck in the bins after trying to retrieve items inside or in attempts to seek shelter in harsh weather.
Jeremy Hunka, spokesman for the Canadian charity Union Gospel Mission, told the Canadian Press the bins “have inadvertently become death traps”. He said: “It boggles my mind that they’re still in operation.”
Charities rely on the the bins to turn easy-to-donate items into funding, often selling the items to thrift stores. Most bins operate like a mail or a safety deposit box: an opening hatch prevents items from entering the bin until the slot is closed. While this keeps what’s inside the bin safe, it makes them especially dangerous for anyone trying to enter one.
“There’s a small opening, and when you start to get in, it gets even smaller and smaller,” said Ray Taheri, a senior instructor of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, who has formed a taskforce to try to make the bins safer. Once a person is stuck in the opening of the bin, “inside is very dark and confined, and your entire body weight is on your chest”.
After the string of deaths, charities in Canada have started to rethink the design of the bins.
Diabetes Canada announced they are in the process of retrofitting their bins to make them less dangerous for anyone trying to get inside.
“Approximately 4,000 Diabetes clothing donation bins across Canada are in the process of being retrofitted or modified in an effort to prevent injury or death to those misusing or trying to gain entry to its clothing donation bins,” the charity said in a statement.
Non-profit Inclusion BC said it will remove all 146 bins in Vancouver after a man was found dead in one of their bins on 30 December 2018. The bins will be in storage until safety modifications are made.
Taheri says that getting rid of the thousands of different charity bins across Vancouver alone is probably unfeasible, given the costs and space necessary. But the recent deaths has sparked a sense of urgency to find a solution.
“These donation bins could be safer,” Taheri said. “This something happening in our home, a community close to our hearts. Something has to be done.”