Skip to main content

Here’s what a $21K San Francisco trash can looks like after a month of city living

One of the city’s "Soft Square" pilot trash cans with a broken hinge at the intersection of Ocean and Plymouth avenues in Ingleside as a TV camera captures the trash can. The model cost $20,900 to produce. | Alex Mullaney/The Standard

An experimental trash can has been spotted in a sorry state as the city’s pilot to select a new kind of street bin comes to the end of its first round. 

The pilot’s first 30 days ends Thursday and features concept cans and off-the-shelf varieties—costing between $11,000 and $20,900. The next round begins the same day and runs for another month, according to the Department of Public Works.

The most expensive prototype can, the "Soft Square," was spotted Wednesday with a broken hinge at the intersection of Ocean and Plymouth avenues in Ingleside. It cost $20,900 to produce.

It looks particularly ineffective with a McDonald’s bag stuck in the top section and a Recology bin clearly on show beneath—so much so, in fact, that TV news cameras had arrived to document its failure while The Standard visited.

The sorry-looking model cost $20,900 to produce. | Alex Mullaney/The Standard

Miles Escobedo, a lifelong Ingleside resident and owner of nearby Ocean Ale House, wasn't surprised that the trash can was already damaged. "That just shows $21,000 of ingenuity can fail," Escobedo said. "That's where we're at with this."

San Franciscans have been given the chance to have their say on the new cans by way of a QR code stuck to each one. The department will review the feedback and choose a final design. 

Public Works has not yet responded to a request for comment on the state of this particular trash can.

Once mass-produced, the cost per trash can drops significantly to between $2,000 and $3,000. Public Works doesn't know how long it will take to see the 3,000 new cans on the street once the pilot ends. 

The department has so far spent almost four years and more than $550,000 on the pilot that it hopes will help rid the city’s streets of garbage.

Other concept models include the “Salt & Pepper,” which resembles a salt shaker and the “Slim Silhouette.”

The off-the-shelf models, which may be more familiar to most people, include the “Bear Saver,” “Open Wire Mesh” and the “Ren Bin.”

The department say they are going to repair the damaged Ingleside trash can.

"We are about half-way through the pilot period where we’re testing the cans -- looking to see how the mechanisms hold up, are they easy to service and maintain, do they deter rummaging, do people like using them, etc," a department spokesperson said.

If a can doesn’t hold up during this period, then it’s not a model they want to move forward with.

But if they like some aspects of the model they might try to remedy the deficiencies.

"For example, could a hinge or lock be fortified? Is there a different coating that could be applied to make graffiti removal easier. We can do mix and match with the different prototype cans if need be. This is the time to get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t," a Public Works spokesperson said.

Joe Burn can be reached at