OUR VIEW: Fix poverty, not the design of clothing donation bins

Do clothing donation bins belong in New Westminster?

New Westminster city council has asked staff to report back on the situation regarding donation bins in the city and steps it could potentially take to improve safety.

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Councillors, discussing the issue Monday, said they’re sympathetic to the concerns over bin safety but want to avoid a “kneejerk reaction” to the issue.

At least eight people have died in Canadian donation bins since 2015. The latest known tragedy in B.C. came on New Year’s Eve, when a 34-year-old Vancouver man was found stuck in the opening of a bin near Ambleside Park.

The District of West Vancouver has decided it will temporarily seal off clothing donation bins across the municipality until safer alternatives can be found.

The non-profit that operated the bin that the man died in – Inclusion BC – has also said it’s removing all 146 bins it has in B.C.

We do not know much about the man who died, but we can only guess he must have been truly desperate to try wriggling into the narrow hatch.

According to the BC Coroners Service, there have been five deaths in clothing donation bins in our province in the last four years.

If it had been a defective child’s toy that led to someone’s death, there would be a recall already, so we’re glad to hear New Westminster intends to take a closer look at the issue.

The overall effectiveness of the bins is up for debate. Some of the donated clothing winds up in the garbage, and what little of it does get put to use is often sold to for-profit resellers.

But the bins are a revenue stream for charities, which are not in a position to say no to revenue.

This is why we’d suggest the province offer up some transitional grants to help the affected charities with the hard costs of upgrading to safer bins.

Inclusion BC has asked the University of BC’s mechanical engineering Capstone Project course to work with its Canadian bin manufacturer to design a new bin that would address safety issues and ensure a public safety standard.

But while newer and safer donation boxes may result in some lives saved, this is still ultimately treating the symptom of a larger problem.

It was this time of year when Dickens told us to beware of ignorance and want.

It is a gargantuan task to ensure everyone has a home, treatment for addiction and mental health, and enough to eat.

But until that time comes, no one else should have to die, trapped in a bin put out under the auspices of helping the less fortunate.

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