Bin deaths raise concerns
‘No one should die over clothing donations’
Claude Beaulne has let the Canadian Diabetes Association park a clothing donation bin outside his store for the past three or four years.
“I haven’t had any problems. People are really good,” Beaulne, the owner of East Side Variety, said Thursday.
But over the past few years, seven people across Canada have died in the bins after crawling inside. And now, Beaulne admits, he’s becoming concerned.
“It being on my property, who is responsible if someone (gets inside and) gets trapped?” he wonders.
“Whose liability is it if it’s on a business’s private property?”
Beaulne has owned the store for the past 12 years, and had no hesitation about allowing the association to put the ‘Clothesline’ bin near the side door of his business.
A driver with the association empties the bin every week, and sometimes, when a donation is too large to fit in the small opening, people just leave it beside the bin.
Beaulne has checked the bin to satisfy himself that no one can slip in. A large metal flap swings down to restrict entry when the dropdown door is opened.
“I think you’d have to have someone on top holding them up by the ankles,” customer Larry Bishop says. “I can’t see how someone could get in by themselves.”
“Even a large parcel – a bag – is too big to fit in,” Beaulne says.
A woman who was found partially inside a Toronto clothing donation bin early Tuesday morning was pronounced dead soon after. Her death prompted Toronto Mayor John Tory to request a review of the bin donation system, including whether it’s the best way to collect used clothing.
Questions have been percolating before Tuesday’s death. There have been reports of five deaths in B.C. since 2015. On Dec. 30, a 34-year-old man was found lodged in a bin in Vancouver. On Nov. 1, the body of a man was found stuck in the chute of a bin in a parking lot in Cambridge, Ont.
In the U.S., causes of death have ranged from suffocation to hypothermia and trauma after a Pennsylvania woman died after the step ladder she was using to fish items out of a bin collapsed, breaking her arm and wrist.
Patricia Lemieux, president of Ottawa Neighbourhood Services, which has about 18 wooden boxes on city-regulated sites, says she once saw an adult holding a child who was retrieving a bag from a metal bin in Stittsville, Ont., belonging to another organization.
“If you ever dropped him, how would you get him out? It’s dangerous,” she says. “It’s a sad situation. No one should die over clothing donations.”
The Salvation Army Thrift Store is hoping to educate and raise awareness about donation bins by placing caution labels on existing bins, as well as other efforts.
“Donations are at the heart of what we do and we make every single item, no matter how big or small, count in our mission to support local communities,” says Ted Troughton, managing director of The Salvation Army Thrift Store.
“We hope that these labels, and the discussions taking place in the public sphere and with our partners, help raise awareness around the proper use of donation bins.”
The string of deaths has Canadian charities scrambling to retrofit or redesign their metal bins.
Rangeview Fabricating, a Toronto-area manufacturer, said Tuesday it has stopped producing the containers while it works on safer designs. The bins were involved in at least two deaths.
Manager Brandon Agro said charities had not experienced problems with the bins for most of the 25 years rangeview has been providing them. But following the deaths since 2015, the time has come for immediate action.
That action, involving modifications to current designs and an active search for new ones, may require charities to sacrifice some anti-theft measures and focus on protecting vulnerable populations, Agro says.
“We’re kind of saying to our charities, ’you’re going to have to deal with the theft because public safety is No. 1,”’ Agro says. “If someone is going to go into your bin and take your product, that’s going to have to be how it is for now.”
Agro says the bins most commonly involved in deaths are mailbox-style designs with an internal flap preventing people from reaching inside.
He says the designs feature metal bars that create a “pinch point” when activated, often by people trying to get into the boxes.
Diabetes Canada, which has about 4,000 bins across Canada, announced Jan. 4 that it was working to make adjustments to all of its bins in an effort to prevent injury or death. The cost to retrofit Diabetes Canada’s “rolling chute” clothing donation bins is being covered by the manufacturer, rangeview, spokeswoman Kathleen Powderley said. More than 240 bins have been retrofitted in ontario.
The cost is not yet known, but it is expected to be lower than replacing the bins or removing them. Diabetes Canada earns about 25 per cent of its total revenues from clothing donations and uses the money to support its research, send children Diabetes Canada camps, for advocacy and resources for health-care professionals, she said. Modifications are to be completed by Jan. 18.
With files from National Post
Larry Bishop opens a donation bin at East End Variety in North Bay, Thursday. Store owner Claude Beaulne said he is concerned about the liability of hosting the bin after at least eight people have died in the bins in Canada over the past few years.
A 'Clothesline' bin is opened to accept a donation, Thursday, showing the gap between the door and the bin.