San Francisco spends more than half a million on pilot trash can program

The San Francisco Department of Public Works is spending more than half a million dollars to decide which new garbage cans to place around the city, with some custom models costing more than $10,000 apiece.

The city is piloting six trash can models this week in hopes that the new cans will help keep streets cleaner, though Public Works has faced some pushback due to the amount of money and time spent on the program.

The three custom-designed trash cans and three off-the-shelf models arrived after 3 ½ years of designing prototypes and a pilot program costing more than $500,000.

The custom trash cans' cost is expected to come down to $1,000 to $3,000 per can if those newly-designed cans are chosen.

Public Works will release 26 trash cans – five of each prototype and 3-4 of each off-the-shelf model – in the city this week. The six prototypes in the running are: Salt & Pepper, Slim Silhouette, Soft Square, BearSaver, Ren Bin and Open Wire Mesh.

"They should be comparable to off the shelf models," said Carla Short from San Francisco's Department of Public Works. "But, we want to be sure we're not ignoring something that's already out there. So we're testing three independent models, and the off the shelf designs and we'll see which one works best."

Public Works says the idea is to find a trash can that's easy to use, relatively tamper resistant and can accommodate a standard sized barrel inside.

Public Works have stated that they would prefer a custom can to match the city's uniqueness, though some supervisors disapprove.

Some, however, question why the old cans need to be replaced at all.

"I'm not sure what was really wrong with the green ones, the old design, and I don't think there was a problem with the old one, and if they're going to be that expensive, I'm not sure if we need that expensive of trash cans," said Vivek Venkatram.

San Francisco's current trash can model tends to overflow and is easier to break into, which many have pointed to as a contributor to the city's dirtier streets. The current green Renaissance trash can has served San Francisco streets since 1993.

"Honestly, I just think we need more trash cans, because I always see trash on the floor," said Yared Rodriguez. "We lack trash cans on every corner. I always have to carry my trash around before I see a trash can."

As the 26 trash can prototypes pilot this week, the public can offer feedback via a QR code on each can. The cans will be on the streets for two months.

"We're constantly having to replace the locks, we're having to replace the hinges and that takes time and money for the city to do, and they've been out there almost 20 years at this point, so I think it's time for a refresh," said Short.

Public Works will select a final design and manufacturer in the fall. More than 3,000 new trash cans, which should last 15 to 20 years, are expected to hit the streets by spring 2023.