The six trash cans involved in Public Works’ ongoing trial.

San Francisco’s trash can pageant is not over yet, but some favorites have started to emerge from the crowded field of rubbish receptacles.

Survey responses from the first seven weeks of the trial, released via a public information request, show that two of the city’s prototype cans are leading the pack as public favorites. The “Salt & Pepper” and “Slim Silhouette” models have both garnered around 30 percent favorable impressions. That puts them above all of the off-the-shelf competitors.

However, all six cans have thus far garnered more negative feedback than positive. One unenthused respondent wrote: “I walked around the city and looked at all 6 cans. They’re universally disappointing.”

The city’s most expensive can, the “Soft Square,” has a prototype cost of roughly $20,900, and has amassed less than 10 percent positive responses. Only the off-the-shelf Ren Bin has had a less favorable reception. More than half of responses for the “Soft Square” have been negative so far, with many comments focusing on price and damage to the cans.

The Salt & Pepper and Slim Silhouette

prototypes currently lead the pack.

Love it

Not at all impressed

It’s okay

Salt &

Pepper

Slim

Silhouette

BearSaver

Wire Mesh

Soft

Square

Ren

Bin

50

20

30

40

60

90

10

70

80

100

0

% survey responses

The Salt & Pepper and

Slim Silhouette prototypes

currently lead the pack.

Love it

Not impressed

It’s okay

Salt &

Pepper

Slim

Silhouette

BearSaver

Wire Mesh

Soft

Square

Ren

Bin

20

40

60

80

100

0

% survey responses

Data from the San Francisco Public Works. Does not include responses in which no option was selected.

Beth Rubenstein, Public Works’ Deputy Director of Policy and Communications, said that the survey responses “represent only one component” of the city’s information collection process, and that, on their own, they “do not tell a complete picture of the feedback gathered” during this trash can pilot.

As well as the trial and public survey, Public Works intends to use 311 data and feedback from Recology and Public Works staff to figure out which bin, or combination of bins, will ultimately be used. And the trash can trial is not yet finished; survey responses will be gathered until Sept. 23.

Still, these responses paint an early picture of what the public thinks of the new cans.

In broad strokes, San Franciscans seem to like the look and materials of the prototypes, but some people have found their openings too small, and are dubious about durability.

Many commenters also expressed frustration with the cans’ hefty price tags. There is no set option in the survey to show disapproval with price, but in the “Do you have more to tell us?” section, almost a third of comments from people unhappy with the city-designed trash cans mentioned some variation of “money,” “price,” or “expenses.”

The prototypes cost between approximately $11,000 and $20,900 each, although Public Works said during public hearings that this figure is expected to fall to between $2,000 and $3,000, if and when they are mass produced.

On the flip side, the off-the-shelf cans attracted criticism for uninspiring looks and a lack of recycling options, but were praised for their ease of use.

Let’s go through each can, from most to least popular.

Salt & Pepper

Top negatives

Top positives

Opening too small

Shape

Other

Overall look

Trash outside

Materials

60

40

0

20

40

60

80

100

100

80

20

0

Responses

Responses

Top positives

Shape

Overall look

Materials

responses

0

20

40

60

80

100

Top negatives

Opening too small

Other

Trash outside

responses

0

20

40

60

80

100

This model was the city’s cheapest prototype, at roughly $11,000 per can, and has so far attracted the most fans.

“This can seems indestructible,” reads one comment from the survey. “The texture seems to me also perfect to deter and minimize the impact of graffiti.”

Some respondents suggested that the recycling area was too small, and that the tight openings made it difficult to deposit trash. Aesthetic feedback was largely positive, although a handful of responses critiqued its “industrial” or “dystopian sci-fi” appearance.

“U-G-L-Y,” wrote one commenter who was not won over. “You ain’t got no alibi. You’re UGLY. That’s how I feel about this trash can.”

Slim Silhouette

Top positives

Top negatives

Shape

Opening too small

Overall look

Other

Materials

Trash outside

50

40

30

20

10

0

0

10

20

30

40

50

Responses

Responses

Top positives

Shape

Overall look

responses

Materials

0

10

20

30

40

50

Top negatives

Opening too small

Other

Trash outside

responses

0

10

20

30

40

50

This city prototype faced much of the same praise, and criticism, as the “Salt & Pepper” design. The size of the openings was a point of contention, as was its $18,800 price tag. But the looks of the bin were typically admired.

“I think it’s a super cool design and very modern,” said one responder. “Do worry it will fill up quickly though.”

“It looks like a Teletubby,” said another who was presumably less convinced.

One of this model’s top three complaints, which it has in common with both the city’s other prototypes and the wire mesh bin, is that trash accumulated outside the bin. One of the main critiques of the city’s current cans is that they attract trash that ends up on the street; it is hoped that the next generation of cans will not have the same effect.

BearSaver

Top positives

Top negatives

Easy to use

No recycling section

Materials

Other

Shape

Looks bad

0

10

20

30

40

40

30

20

10

0

Responses

Responses

Top positives

Easy to use

Materials

Shape

responses

0

10

20

30

40

Top negatives

No recycling section

Other

Looks bad

responses

0

10

20

30

40

So far, the “BearSaver” is the trial’s most popular off-the-shelf can. Originally designed for use in National Parks, these bins are now used in major cities such as Los Angeles, although not everyone loved the idea of its being used in an urban setting.

“There are no bears in this neighborhood,” wrote one respondent in Glen Park. “Please test this garbage can at the zoo.”

The bin was praised for its ease of use, although some respondents disliked having to touch the handle to dump trash. Others criticized its lack of recycling area, which could be added in any final design, and described the bin as ugly.

“Why would we replace the ugly old cans with an even uglier, worse can?” wrote another. “This cannot be the trash can design SF is known for. We will be the laughingstock of the world.”

“BearSaver may not be beautiful, but it’s functional,” said one respondent. “Will hold up to heavy duty use.”

Wire Mesh

Top positives

Top negatives

Easy to use

No recycling section

Shape

Trash outside

Openings

Looks bad

10

40

30

20

0

40

30

20

10

0

Responses

Responses

Top positives

Easy to use

Shape

Openings

responses

10

40

30

20

0

Top negatives

No recycling section

Trash outside

Looks bad

responses

10

40

30

20

0

The off-the-shelf wire mesh bin is the city’s no-frills option, and comes at a cost of only $630 per can. It scored more highly than any other bin for ease of use. But users disliked its lack of a recycling area, said it filled up too quickly, and were not bowled over aesthetically.

The wire mesh had the highest proportion of ambivalent users, with around 45 percent ticking the survey’s “It’s okay” option.

“After looking at them all,” wrote one respondent, “the wire mesh is the least offensive in that it at least works at a basic level and isn’t ludicrously expensive.”

This model is the only trash can being trialed that cannot accommodate a rolling toter, which would help Recology workers pick up the cans more efficiently.

Soft Square

Top positives

Top negatives

Shape

Other

Materials

Opening too small

Overall look

Trash outside

40

30

20

10

0

0

10

20

30

40

Responses

Responses

Top positives

Shape

Materials

Overall look

responses

0

10

20

30

40

Top negatives

Other

Opening too small

Trash outside

responses

0

10

20

30

40

The “Soft Square” is the city’s most expensive prototype, and has garnered the highest proportion of “Not impressed at all” responses.

Proponents of the bin praised its foot pedal and recycling area, and many appreciated its sleek, roomy design. However, users worried that it would be too easy to vandalize, and around a quarter of responses included a mention of damage. Pictures of these cans with busted doors have circulated on social media.

Some respondents said that their trash was getting stuck and overflowing. The price of the bin was a sticking point for many respondents as well.

“This is ridiculous,” wrote one. “We need to be putting all of this energy into teacher housing and not garbage cans.”

Ren Bin

Top positives

Top negatives

No recycling section

Shape

Opening too small

Easy to use

Looks bad

Materials

20

12

8

28

24

16

4

0

16

24

0

8

12

4

20

28

Responses

Responses

Top positives

Shape

Easy to use

Materials

responses

0

4

8

12

16

20

24

28

Top negatives

No recycling section

Opening too small

Looks bad

responses

0

12

16

24

28

4

8

20

The Ren Bin, the city’s final off-the-shelf model, had the least feedback. It also acquired the fewest admirers, with only 8 percent of respondents saying that they loved it.

“The can is boring and ugly and has already been covered in graffiti,” said one respondent. Many users disliked the design and the $2,800 price tag, which makes it the most expensive of all the commercial bins in the trial.


The hope for these trials is to identify which elements of each bin work best and which elements should be eliminated. Then, once Public Works has collated all of their data, they expect to proceed down one of three paths:

  1. If a can fits the city’s needs perfectly, they will move to mass-produce it.
  2. If a can almost fits their needs, they will make design tweaks and then mass-produce it.
  3. If no single can fits all needs, they will create an amalgam of two or three cans, combining the most successful parts of each one.

There are two weeks left in San Francisco’s trash can trial, and Public Works’ survey is still accepting responses. To find out which cans are near you, take a look at our interactive map:

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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18 Comments

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  1. Big Bellies Big Bellies Big Bellies! Why not? The only comment I heard from the City months ago regarding those currently placed in SF was “they have a problem” – with no further explanation. Like, can’t the problem be clearly identified, then resolved?
    From the photos, it seems the prototypes should each have a sign that reads: “Please dump your garbage OUTSIDE of the can.” And as many respondents to the public comment opportunity noted- the openings were generally too small. Not only are Big Belly bins functional (frequently a cluster of two or three to make sorting easy, and capacity ample), they’ve been canvases for beautification campaigns organized by local community organizations to give the bins a unique neighborhood look. Local artists are selected to paint a bin with beautiful designs. The artful bins help foster neighborhood pride, encourage people to actually use them, and I suggest reduce the temptation for the appearance of malicious, destructive graffiti that mars the neighborhoods where bins are placed.

  2. The streets are filthy because of the bad sloth like behavior of people. Stop discarding your shit on the streets, sidewalks, and on the property of other persons. Assume the responsibility of keeping the streets clean and safe.
    Whose associates, contributors, friends, family members is cashing in on this unnecessary scam? Is this another pay to play?
    By the way how much did it cost the taxpayers to pointlessly change the street signs from “street bumps” to “street humps”? Who made out on that one?

  3. The design and style of the cans will make absolutely no difference in the SF trash scene if there are still far too few placed around the city and if DPW/Recology still refuse to empty them quickly and consistently. Tell Breed to take away the trash not the trash cans (getting rid of trash cans was Newsom’s brilliant solution to the SF trash problem still promoted by DPW). My neighbors have considered offering a bribe to Nuru’s replacement at DPW to see if we can get the trash picked up on our street. Calling 311 has become a full-time job.

  4. Someone’s palms are definitely getting greased when $20K trash cans are hitting the sidewalks. It doesn’t matter what style you choose: public trash cans in SF are unofficial dumping sites, because people don’t want to pay to go to the dump. That, and there’s multiple people living in one household without adequate garbage bins. The people that come up with these ideas never learn, which is why SF is so filthy.

  5. People as so low IQ. Bears are clearly the most effective option and it was clearly advertised that the company can add a recycling option.

  6. I just don’t understand- why do none of these prototypes also include recycling and composting? What about smart sensors for these bins? Do any of these bins hold more waste, securely? Do any of these include compression or some type of anaerobic digestion? Can these work in an Iot network with an electric fleet? These are the features I’d care about!

  7. SF is facing a looming budget crisis because of the number of businesses that have vacated downtown. We will have to economize and it’s going to be ugly. Every group is going to fight to protect its earmarks. Our city leaders do not seem capable of saying “no” to anything.

    We should be buying cheap trashcans. That’s an easy area to economize.

    We’re shopping for $20,000 trashcans like the rich city we were, not the budget-challenged city we will be.

  8. I fail to understand the continuing focus on prototype costs. That train has left the station. What is now relevant fiscally is the cost per unit when mass produced.

  9. The absurd stupidity of spending $20,000 or more on a garbage can is peak City. You can buy them on Amazon for $500. And they’re not as ugly.

  10. “ One of the main critiques of the city’s current cans is that they attract trash; it is hoped that the next generation of cans will not have the same effect.”

    This makes zero sense. Of course people dump garbage at a trash can. The style of the can doesn’t matter, people will throw garbage “near” where garbage goes no matter what.

  11. I think “opening too small” is a dog whistle for “I can’t fit my household garbage into it to evade paying for a larger Recology bin”.

    Public trash can are intended and should be used only for trash generated while out in public not trash generated while at home.

    1. And yet, that’s what we’re dealing with. I pick up garbage regularly in my neck of the woods, and I’d rather people got it in a can than just left in the sidewalk.
      Plus, many of the circular openings are too small for rectangular to-go boxes.

  12. another issue: the price tag. quite a few people got hung up on that but don’t have any clue of how the process works and what resources are required.
    designing and fabricating a prototype is quite expensive and $20,000 is not much. being a fabricator myself i’m rather surprised that it cost only $20k. if you calculate the hours at $100+/hr plus material ( cost shot up during the pandemic by up to 300%), a $20k budget is used up very fast.
    now, if you make 500 of those receptacle here in the US the price per can could drop down to $2,000. outsourcing the manufacturing to china could drop it down to $600-$1,200.

  13. i have the Slim Silhouette in front of my building on Sutter st here in the upper ‘loin. looks good but the contractor didn’t level it and so it’s the leaning tower of the ‘loin. not only that but they also placed it almost in the middle of the sidewalk passage way…
    it looks good! BUT, the opening is way too small, you couldn’t even fit a small pizza box in it. the can is already tagged and every other day overflowing.
    pro: style;
    con: functionality of design.
    another con pero not design related: lack of maintenance and placement.
    the biggest caveat though of the presence of public trash cans is, at least in this neighborhood, that people think the surroundings of the trash receptacle is a landfill. people dump their sh’t and trash and household goods and mattresses right next to it (in our hood an occurrence every other day) and trying to leave food boxes with leftovers on top of the can despite the surface being sloped.
    that was the reason for the removal of many trash cans years ago, the miserable and dirty conditions around the trash cans. well, that happens only here in this country, nowhere else in the world you see this behavior and so many uncivilized and lunatic people roaming freely in the public.