Sleek, Silver and Stuffed With Litter: San Francisco Settles on Three Finalists for New Trash Can Design

The three finalists, tested by Public Works and industrial designers, are meant to complement existing city structures.

The three finalists, tested by Public Works and industrial designers, are meant to complement existing city structures. San Francisco Public Works


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The city's public works department is revamping its public trash can design to better contain garbage and, maybe, look nice on the street.

“Soft Square” offers a modern take on “recognizable trash-can silhouette,” while “Salt & Pepper” flaunts a “unique and elegant profile” that “stands out from afar.” “Slim Silhouette” is thinner, but its “spun bezels with rounded edge invite people to discard their trash.”

Each is a finalist to become the design concept for a new public trash can for the city of San Francisco, replacing the dark-green receptacles currently deployed in more than 3,000 locations. The trash cans—some circular and metal, others square and cement—have “become easy targets of scavengers,” leading to frequent messes—and eyesores—on city streets and plazas, according to San Francisco Public Works.

A Recology San Francisco worker picks up clothing and bags next to a trash can in San Francisco, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

“San Francisco is a beautiful city and keeping it clean can be a challenge. Finding the right public trash can to serve our needs at a reasonable cost has driven this design process,” Alaric Degrafinried, the department’s acting director, said in a statement. “All three contending designs meet our requirements conceptually: They are durable, hard to tamper with, easy to service and aesthetically pleasing.”

Slim Silhouette design concept (Courtesy of the SF Public Works)

The three finalists—all sleek and silver, though shaped differently—were chosen from a field of 15, all tested by the public works department and industrial designers at the Oakland-based Institute for Creative Integration. Their appearance is intended to be cohesive with other features in the city, including a cafe on Civic Center Plaza and new public toilets.

Soft Square design concept (Courtesy of the SF Public Works)

But the designs are functional as well. “Salt & Pepper,” for example, has a domed silver lid to discourage pedestrians from leaving trash on top. “Slim Silhouette” leaves more space for sidewalk traffic, while “Soft Square” has both a foot pedal and a handle for easy opening and maintenance. 

Salt & Pepper design concept (Courtesy of SF Public Works)

The finalists will be presented to the Arts Commission Civic Design Review Committee on Sept. 21. If approved, Public Works will manufacture 15 prototype cans—five of each design—for installation and “real-life testing” throughout the city. Officials will seek comments from residents, nonprofit organizations that assist in litter pickup and city cleaning, and public works employees, all of which will help “inform the decision on the final selection.”

Residents can also leave public feedback on the finalists in the days leading up to the meeting, though those comments “do not constitute a vote” in the process, according to the online survey.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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