For the past two decades, clothing donation bins have been a constant presence in many municipalities in British Columbia. They have allowed residents an opportunity to donate clothes close to their own homes. Over time, more charities became involved in the practice, and in certain areas of cities, the clothing donation bins sit side by side, practically competing for the donations of residents whose trunks are filled with garments they no longer require.
Yes, clothing donation bins are an important fundraising tool for charities. Still, they have brought their share of problems.
There have been many reports of bins that overfill, and some residents have chosen to blatantly get rid of other items that are not supposed to go in or near a clothing donation bin.
Over the course of the past two weeks in Vancouver, I have seen abandoned board games, derelict furniture and even soiled mattresses casually dropped next to clothing donation bins. This is clearly not what the charities intended, and it places a burden on municipal staff. For some irresponsible residents, the clothing donation bins have merely provided an opportunity for unauthorized dumping.
In addition, there have been at least six reports of fatalities since 2015 after people have become stuck in clothing donation bins. As a society, our reaction to these deaths has been devoid of empathy.
Canadians consistently rely on the news media to alert us if a particular toy on the market might pose a risk of injury, or a certain type of lettuce at the grocery store might make us sick, or if our make of car has a factory defect that requires repair.
Companies apologize and actively participate in finding solutions to the problems. Sadly, this same diligence that prompts recalls of dangerous items has been absent when discussing clothing donation bins.
A survey recently conducted by Research Co. shows just how much British Columbians have relied on clothing donation bins.
Almost seven in 10 residents (69%) say they have donated clothes to a charity through a bin or drop box in the past year. The proportion of garment donors who rely on these bins reaches 76% among women and British Columbians aged 55 and over.
One might assume from this statistic that having these bins around is beneficial to all. Residents who want to donate can do so, and there are cautions for people not to climb in. However, faced with the fact that desperate people escaping from the cold or rain will heed no warning, British Columbians think it is time to change course.
Across the province, 70% of residents agree with banning all clothing donation bins in their municipality. British Columbians of both genders and all generations and regions support this idea.
So, where do we go from here? British Columbians believe that two groups must take action to ensure that donations can continue, charities can thrive and residents can ensure that their redundant garments find a new life helping others.
The first group that needs to modify its thinking is the charitable organizations themselves.
Seven in 10 British Columbians (71%) agree that charities should find a way to collect clothes without having to use donation bins.
There are other venues where the donations could be collected, and this is where the second group – ourselves – is willing to play an active role. Almost three in four British Columbians (73%) say they would have no problem taking clothes to a specific facility for donation, instead of relying on a donation bin.
All groups across British Columbia are in agreement on travelling to a venue to drop off their garments, including the two heaviest current users of clothing donation bins: women (75%) and residents aged 55 and over (80%).
The recent news of a fatality in a clothing donation bin in Toronto will raise this discussion to a national level. At this moment, British Columbians believe it is time to do things differently.
Donors can certainly go a bit farther to deliver their clothes at a particular facility. This is, after all, an act of charity. We all have our preferences when it comes to what we donate and whom we give it to.
But continuing to rely on contraptions that have led to the death of fellow Canadians is the worst possible way to be generous. •
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.