San Francisco's $20K Trash Cans Are Kind of a Mess

City is embarking on very complicated plan to replace trash cans
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 15, 2022 2:00 AM CDT
Updated Aug 27, 2022 6:30 AM CDT
$20K Trash Cans Are Hitting San Francisco's Streets
A prototype trash can called Salt and Pepper is seen near the Embarcadero and Ferry Building in San Francisco on July 26, 2022.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

(Newser) Update: San Francisco's four-year project to identify the perfect trash can doesn't seem to be going so hot. Its three newly designed prototypes have been set up around the city for testing, so the Guardian set out to evaluate the cans, which cost between $11,000 and $20,900 apiece to produce. The verdict: overall ratings of 4.5, 4.5, and 3.5. That's out of a possible 10. The "Salt and Pepper," for instance, (see photos) does have graffiti-deterring steel fins, but they may not be the easiest to clean and "were encrusted with some unidentifiable gunk." A small opening to deter rummaging in the can "also makes it difficult to throw out a cup of coffee." (Read the complete review here.) Our original story from Aug. 14 follows:

What takes four years to make and costs more than $20,000? A trash can in San Francisco. That costly, boxy bin is among six trash cans hitting San Francisco's streets this summer in the city's long saga in search of the perfect can. Overflowing trash cans are a common sight in the Northern California city, along with piles of used clothes, shoes, furniture and other items strewn about on sometimes-impassable sidewalks. City officials hired a Bay Area industrial firm to custom-design the pricey trash can along with two other prototypes that cost taxpayers $19,000 and $11,000 each. This summer, residents have the opportunity to evaluate them along with three off-the-shelf options added to the pilot program after officials faced criticism, the AP reports.

Last month, the city deployed 15 custom-made trash cans and 11 off-the-shelf trash cans—each of those costing from $630 to $2,800—with QR codes affixed to them asking residents to fill out a survey. The city is so serious about the endeavor it has created interactive maps so residents can track and test the different designs. City officials said they intend to pay no more than $3,000 per can when all is said and done. San Francisco began its search for the perfect trash can in 2018 when officials decided it was time to replace the more than 3,000 public bins that have been on the streets for almost 20 years. Officials say the current bins have too big a hole that allows for easy rummaging. The bins also have hinges that need constant repair and locks that are easy to breach.

The designs include the Soft Square, the priciest prototype at $20,900. The boxy stainless steel receptacle has openings for trash and for can and bottle recycling and includes a foot pedal. The Slim Silhouette, at $18,800 per prototype, is made of stainless steel bars that give would-be graffiti artists less space to tag. But the good looks of the shiny new trash cans have not protected them from vandalism and disrespect. Three weeks after being unveiled, several have already been tagged with orange and white graffiti. Others already show the drip stains of inconsiderate coffee drinkers or have attracted dumping, with people leaving dilapidated bathroom cabinets and plastic bags full of empty wine bottles next to them. (Read more about the cans.)

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