Safer donation bins heading back to streets, thanks to UBCO

Making donation bins safer

UBC Okanagan campus engineering students solved a problem that has taken several lives and cost charities across Canada thousands of dollars in lost income. 

Last year, charities across Vancouver had to pull clothing donation bins off the streets after people died from climbing inside them. 

“When this last death happened in Vancouver, we decided to move all our bins off the street,” says Slav Gudelj with Big Brothers’ Vancouver office. “It did have a huge impact on our bottom line and is going to cost us about half a million dollars.”

Gudelj, who is general manager of clothing donation operations for Big Brothers, says the organization now has about 180 boxes sitting in storage. 

UBCO School of Engineering instructor Ray Taheri has a few of those bins parked outside the engineering building. As part of his first-year design course, he tasked his students to come up with a way to modify the bins and make them safer.

“Most engineers know that modifying an existing design is often more difficult than starting from scratch. It was a perfect challenge for my students,” says Taheri.

The students came up with a number of solutions, from where these bins should be located, to self-locking features that automatically come on at specific times. They also looked at adding a sensor to alert organizations that bins were almost at capacity, preventing donations left outside.

“We ended up with a number of different models and eventually settled on four prototypes—each a little bit different,” says Taheri.

“Some will come with more bells and whistles, some will be a very basic model. But definitely they are a much safer than what we had in the past.”

Gudelj is back on the campus this week meeting with Taheri and the engineering students to finalize plans and get nearly 180 of the newly retrofitted bins back into the community over the coming months.

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