Which of these trash cans will win to become the city's new bin?

Did “Project Runway” have this much build-up? Unlikely, but then San Francisco’s search for its next generation of trash bins has gone on for fewer seasons.

After nearly four years and $570,000 of in-depth investigation, design work and engineered prototypes, the city will preview and test a collection of trash bins in July. 

The summer showing will include everything from an off-the-shelf, low-end mesh basket to San Francisco’s own uniquely designed models, according to the Department of Public Works.

The city’s three unique couture designs will be up against three off-the-rack models. Each will be tested around the city for at least 60 days, DPW said.

One or more will be chosen to replace the city’s 3,300 existing bins. 

“We are looking to disperse the cans geographically in terms of districts and neighborhoods, high-use corridors, quieter streets, bus stops, ” wrote Beth Rubenstein, the deputy director of policy and communications for San Francisco Public Works. 

There will be five prototypes each of the city’s three designs and four of each off-the-shelf model for a total of 27 trash cans, according to Rubenstein.  

A can will sit in one location for 30 days and then be moved to a different location for another 30 days. QR codes on the cans will allow residents to offer comments. Presumably, the results will be published during the final decision-making process. 

The city’s models

Courtesy of the Department of Public Works.

You’ve met these three comely designs during the Board of Supervisors debate. The final cost of producing each prototype has yet to be calculated, but could be anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000. The Board of Supervisors allocated $427,000 to build the 15 prototypes.   

It is unclear how much each will cost the city to mass-produce. Estimates during the approval process ran the gamut from $2,000  to $5,000, meaning the final bill for replacing the city’s 3,300 bins with one of these will range from $6.6 million to $16.5 million.  

The off-the-shelf models

Courtesy of the Department of Public Works.

Steven Thompson, director of marketing and sales for trash-can company BearSavers, estimates the delivered per-can cost on a large order of BearSavers will be about $1,500 a can, but warns that freight costs are always a moving target, so that could move up ⁠— or down. They are not smart cans, but sensors can be added, and that is probably why the city estimates the cost at $2,000 a can. 

Already, six of these cans are in Hayes Valley where, so far, the feedback has been excellent, says Thompson. 

It’s a relatively new product, also used in Los Angeles, Thompson said. 

The RenBin, produced by Victor Stanley, costs $2,800 apiece, according to Public Works. Victor Stanley’s media representative has not returned our request for more information. 

And, neither has Global Industrial’s rep on the open-wire-mesh bin, which runs at $600 each.

Replacing the city’s 3,300 bins with one of these off-the-shelf models would add up to $5 million to $6.6 million for the BearSaver; $9.2 million for the RenBin; and $1.9 million for the wire mesh. 

Let us know when you spot a new bin! 

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

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16 Comments

  1. The Bear Saver looks like the one. Off the shelf, not some vanity project. Just a simple, clean, cheap, and tamper resistant can.

    1. I don’t agree that a trash receptacle that you are required to touch to use is the solution.

        1. If you think that having an access hatch on a refuse bin will prevent rubbish being all over the street you are going to be sorely disappointed.

          Also: Grow up.

      1. You would need 3,300 permits, new collection equipment, and dig into earth that hasn’t been disturbed in most of the city for 100 years. Imagine 3,300 van Ness projects all over the City. They hit undocumented utility lines (gas, electrical, sewer, etc.), which is what resulted in that boondoggle. I agree we should think big, but this one won’t work.

  2. It feels like the question of cost per bin is somewhat less relevant than the cost to maintain/pick-up. We should have as many trash bins as our operational budget allows, and the easier it is to pick-up, the more DPW can manage, the more bins we can have. The price per bin does play a role in ubiquity of course, but ultimately we should favor the solution that gets us the most bins for the lowest total lifetime cost of use. I hate to say it, but this should not be a long, drawn out process that requires accumulating large amounts of public input…

    1. Good point, the capital cost is a small fraction of the on-going operational costs. I think any receptacle that can next a standard garbage cart (the ones everyone in the city are issued) should minimize the operational costs, but excellent point.

      1. When I visited Buenos Aires 6 years ago their street bins were large sleek looking dumpsters that at first glance didn’t seem to have any openings for workers to open up and empty out the contents. Then one day I saw a pickup in action: a garbage truck with a pneumatic arm would lift the dumpsters and dangle them above the truck, while a hatch in the bottom of the dumpster opened up and emptied all the contents. I wish an option like this was on the table here. Argentina isn’t exactly known for it’s efficient governance and public administration, but then again neither is San Francisco.

  3. I’ve just realized that the cost will be quite high, so does this mean that areas of the city that need more trash cans, probably aren’t gonna be getting new ones? If there are 3300 I’d say we could need like 3500 so 200 new locations at least.

  4. It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the time and expenditures used in the search for pretty trash cans in my former home town! Current cans, as well as the ones that were removed at Gavin’s brilliant behest, could be replaced by new, practical, economical products (that aren’t ugly), and maybe some of that fashion-sensitive money could be directed towards things more beneficial to the City and its residents than glamorous trash receptacles. Many current residents have excellent lists.

    And then, maybe, the current trash cans could be broken down into recyclables with the help of some of that fashion money.

  5. Clarion Gallery Alley got new plain small container mid-alley today.

    Yeah, been lobbying Mayor’s Office for month for potty at Mission end but the can is great psychological move and tourists are using it !!

  6. Not sure how BearSavers are ‘relatively’ new, as they are ubiquitous throughout our national & state parks. You know, the ones with the animal-proof covered flaps you gotta reach up into. Out at Crissy. City ADA never liked them which is why you don’t see them in city parks too. Otherwise practical & solid, and leaves you wishing for hand sanitizer.
    Also surprised to see the mesh wire one with an open top, which fills with rain. And unless it’s got a gate, lifting vertically will be a non-starter for most maintenance crews. Mesh is super dent-able too. Just looks cheap and tacky like a paper wastebasket.
    That leaves the RenBin, which is a stylistically dated eye sore and doesn’t seem to offer much cost savings once you account for smart sensors etc. Flat panel is also week vs fins.

    Get what you pay for, and city living is tough. I’d question the finish – polished stainless steel (?) vs powder coated paint – and the ‘smart’ features unless truly proven. Otherwise costs are on par for well made municipal cans. Wise to question, but over-politicizing it risks landing us on a poorly made lowest common denominator that will cost more in the long run.

  7. If they chose a model that continues to allow anyone to sift through the trash and make a mess in the street… I swear, I’ll get a few bags of plastic straws and throw them into the street.

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