Clothing donation bins are flawed: people can climb inside but can’t get out.

At least three people in the Lower Mainland have died in recent years after getting trapped inside a bin; the latest one happened this summer and it struck a nerve with a UBC engineering professor.

Ray Taheri challenged his first-year students to help come up with a solution by rethinking and redesigning the engineering problem.

“My intention would be the products that they have would eventually be manufactured and would be implemented to save lives,” Taheri said. “It is very important because they feel what they have created directly impacts a community close to their home and heart.”

The students were divided into roughly 30 groups, each tackling the issue with an innovative idea.

‘Lives are on the line’ 

The Union Gospel Mission has been calling for change, saying the bins can kill those who are already vulnerable.

“When people are desperate, they do dangerous things,” spokesperson Jeremy Hunka said. “We know that people have died inside the bins; people continue to get stuck inside the bins. It’s a problem right across the country.”

Hunka said they feel encouraged the students are looking into ways to solve the issue.

“We understand it’s not going to happen overnight, but to see movement is just amazing and we’re grateful and optimistic that fewer lives will be at risk because of the work that these students are doing.”

Taheri said he believes one of the groups, or perhaps some combination involving a few groups, will invent a bin that won’t become a death trap.

A panel of judges including graduate students, professors and people in the industry will review the designs.

The intention is to have fourth-year students manufacture the new bins that could potentially save lives.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Allison Hurst