UBC Okanagan students design safer clothing donation bins

Engineering students at UBC Okanagan are hoping that their prototypes for new clothing donation bins will be safer. Jules Knox / Global News

Hundreds of UBC Okanagan’s top first-year engineering students have come up with new designs for clothing donation bins.

The designs were showcased at the university on Sunday afternoon. A panel of judges is choosing the best one.

READ MORE: Death of woman stuck in Vancouver donation bin prompts calls for change

The project was given to first-year UBC Okanagan students after the death of Svetlana, a homeless woman looking for clothes.

In July, Svetlana got stuck inside a Vancouver donation bin and died, bringing the death toll in clothing bins in the Lower Mainland alone up to three in four years.

WATCH: Tragic death sparks calls for re-designed donation bins

Click to play video: 'Tragic death sparks calls for re-designed donation bins'
Tragic death sparks calls for re-designed donation bins

“We have had clothing donation bins for almost 20 years now, and we’ve been in the clothing collection business since 1980. We have lots of experience and we’ve seen a real spike in problems in the last few years,” said Deanna Barlow, a spokesperson for the Developmental Disabilities Association.

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“Our biggest challenge with the clothing donation bins is people are stealing donations from the bins, so it’s a constant battle to keep people safe and out of the bins.”

READ MORE: Woman dies after being trapped in clothing bin

The gate mechanism on the old bins that is designed to keep the used clothing safe and secure can also trap a person inside.

“The problem was very local and something we felt we could have a direct impact on,” said first-year engineering student Parker Cowan.

“A big problem right now is people’s arms being stuck in the mechanism. Often they’re destitute people, they’re cold and they’re looking for clothing to stay warm,” Cowan said. “So that was our main focus, to design something with no pinch points and no areas for them to be trapped in.”

WATCH: Residents raising concerns about donation bins

Click to play video: 'Residents raising concerns about donation bins'
Residents raising concerns about donation bins

First-year students used 3D printers to design mini-prototypes of new bins that fix the fatal flaw.

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“Students are coming with different kinds of designs, some of them concern electronics, some of them implement mechanical devices,” said Ray Taheri, a senior engineering instructor at UBC Okanagan. “But the main goal is to stop people from getting hurt by these donation bins.”

The goal is for fourth-year engineering students to manufacture a fully functional prototype of the top design, then test it in the community next year, he added.

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