The “soft square” trash can at Mission and 16th Streets was the most expensive prototype, with a construction cost of approximately $20,900.

The future of on-street trash cans, in sweeping lines and gleaming chrome, has come to San Francisco. And that future is rather expensive.

After almost four years of in-depth meetings, design discussions, and engineering, the city’s Public Works Department today launched its new trash can prototypes, rolling out 26 new bins to locations across the city. One of the three prototype models has surpassed the Board of Supervisors’ expected price ceiling of $20,000 per can.

The prototypes rolled out today cost approximately between $11,000 to $20,900 apiece to manufacture, depending on the model. The average cost per can is $16,900.

According to Beth Rubenstein, deputy director of policy and communications at DPW, the high cost is mainly down to the price of materials; each of the prototypes is made from stainless steel. Prices should drop significantly if the models are mass-produced, however, down to the region of $2,000 to $5,000, according to various estimates by Public Works officials during hearings over the past year. The department’s latest target cost for each bin is $2,000 to $3,000.

The three designs put together by Public Works will be pitted against three designs that are already commercially available in a 60-day trial, starting today.

Rubenstein said that the final can may be one of the contenders on the streets today, or it may be a mash-up of several of them, depending on what they learn from the trial. Whichever design is ultimately chosen is expected to replace over 3,000 of the city’s current Renaissance trash cans next year.

Here are the contenders in all their glory:

The prototypes

Soft Square

The Soft Square was the priciest prototype, coming in at around $20,900. You can see one on the north-west corner of 16th and Mission.

Slim Silhouette

The Slim Silhouette came in at approximately $18,800. It is made from stainless steel pipes, which is meant to discourage graffiti.

Salt & Pepper

The Salt & Pepper prototype cost around $11,000 to produce. You can see one in action on the north-east corner of Dolores Park.

The off-the-shelf models

Ren Bin

The Ren Bin is the most costly off-the-shelf model in the line-up, at $2,800, plus an unknown cost to add an area for recycling. It is produced by Victor Stanley.

BearSaver

The BearSaver costs around $1,950, including modifications to add “vinyl sheathing” and a recycling area. These bins were originally used to keep out animals and are made by Securr.

Wire Mesh

The Wire Mesh is the budget option, at only $630 per can. Unlike the other options, it is unable to hold a rolling toter. It is produced by Global Industrial.

“The current cans were designed more than 20 years ago, when street conditions were different, and our population and number of visitors were considerably lower,” said Rubenstein in a press release. “Finding the right public trash can to serve our needs and address our challenges at a reasonable cost have driven this design process.”

Broken Renaissance trash can on Mission Street. Photo by Will Jarrett.

The city’s current Renaissance-model trash cans were sold to the city by a company associated with confessed federal criminal Walter Wong. They have faced criticism for breaking easily and allegedly making the city’s trash problem worse. And the decision to replace them with a unique design was made by former Public Works director and confessed federal criminal Mohammed Nuru.

All three of Public Works’ new prototypes fulfill several stringent criteria: they can all hold a rolling toter, which makes it easier for Recology workers to tip waste into their trucks; they should all be “rummage-resistant;” and they all have electronic sensors to ping Recology when they are full. Each has a recycling area and is meant to be “durable and easy to maintain.” It was also important to Public Works that the bins be aesthetically pleasing, a significant factor in their decision to design the bins from scratch.

The trial will take place in two phases, with cans moved to new locations on August 18 and collected up again on September 19. Throughout the trial, you can scan a QR code on the side of each bin to give feedback, or use the form on Public Works’ website.

The locations in the trial were chosen to achieve a broad geographical spread, with at least two bins in each district, and to prioritize busy areas like commercial corridors and bus stops. So far, 20 of the cans have been installed on city streets, with the final six scheduled to go out tomorrow.

Take a look at which cans you will find in your neighborhood:

Data from San Francisco Public Works.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. This makes me want to recall all of San Francisco’s government. The main problem is not the design – its that we don’t have any trashcans at all!!! Every other city has a trashcan on each corner so that you could actually throw away trash. San Francisco seems to have a policy of very few cans that are overflowing about 1/2 an hour after emptying. Here is the solution: OFF THE SHELF cans that can be emptied quickly with automated trucks EVERY DAY. Don’t worry so much about recycling in the same can – most people in this city don’t bother separating enough to make it worth the bother. If you really insist on recycling – add a 2nd can and paint it all green and eco-looking. People will probably still use it wrong. The main thing is this: MORE TRASH CANS so trash isn’t all over the streets.

  2. Thank you for this article. I participated in trash can selection for another jurisdiction. It took us around 2 years mainly due to lead time for design and fabrication for tailor made prototypes. I think one criterion needs to be eliminating public interaction with moving parts (Covid taught us to not use our hands, but foot pedals consume more volume). Another is allocating enough bins for high use areas (pinging Recology won’t guarantee timely pickup). Another is to ask why we can’t adopt France’s system of suspended compostable bags (requiring lots of bags and lots of labor, but cheap to replace and discourages deposits of household garbage). Another is to ask for a bin at the base of the California Street cable car (no open drinks allowed so everyone leaves theirs on two utility boxes with lots of wind blown spills). I wonder how much bins cost in the Pentagon.

  3. The modified bear saver is above and beyond the best option. Super tough, hard to dig through and cost effective.

  4. huge waste of money. use the cheap ones! hire more staff to help maintain them if that’s the problem. smh

  5. I’m sure the crackheads and homeless will find a way to mess these pricey 20k cans somehow too. This is sad and unfair. How we continue to fork money to people that continue to trash the city just because they can. I’m empathetic and sympathetic but I am sick and tired of seeing people taking advantage of the system. Breaking, trashing, pooping and breaking in, stealing while we continue to pick up the bill.