Home » City Guide » ,

SF’s $20,000 Trash Cans Have Finally Hit the Streets

What will be SF’s next top trash can? Six different styles of trash cans – including three custom prototypes – have launched in SF this week.
By - posted 7/19/2022 No Comment

This week, San Francisco Public Works will place prototypes of our next generation of public trash cans on the street for real-life testing. Community members will have the opportunity to evaluate the cans and give input into the final selection.

The prototype cost $20,000, but the final cans will cost (we hope) between $2,000-$3,000.

Want to learn more about the trash cans or where they’re located? Visit sfpublicworks.org/trashcanpilot with detailed information about the trash can design process and criteria, photos and videos of the cans, a map of prototype locations and a survey.

During an approximately 60-day test period, custom and off-the-shelf models will be placed in neighborhoods around the City. Each test can will have a QR code affixed to its exterior. The QR code will connect people to the online survey. Public Works will gather these online comments as well as feedback at neighborhood meetings and events, such as farmers’ markets and Sunday Streets.

Who Will Win and Become SF’s Next 3,000 Trash Cans?
Public Works then will review and assess this information and land on a final design for the new City can. After the design is set, a Request for Proposals will be developed to select the manufacturer or supplier for San Francisco’s new 3,000-plus public trash cans.

Why New Trash Cans?
The public trash cans on City sidewalks and in public plazas serve a vital role in combatting litter. Unfortunately, many have become easy targets of scavengers, who rummage through them and leave behind a mess. 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.

Finding the right public trash can to serve our needs and address our challenges at a reasonable cost have driven this design process. Though San Francisco is not unique in our desire for a high-quality and durable public trash can, we do have specific criteria for this next generation can.

All three custom cans meet the following design requirements:

  • Rummage-resistant: The design must discourage tampering to keep the contents inside the can.
  • Durable and easy to maintain: All aspects of the can must be made of sturdy materials that are difficult to damage or degrade. The can must be easy to clean and have graffiti- resistant coating.
  • Tamper-proof: Locks and hinges need to be strong to keep people from breaking into the can to get the contents.
  • Easy to service: Each can must hold a 32-gallon rolling toter that can be used seamlessly with the Recology trucks for dumping trash.
  • Built-in capacity alerts: Each can must be outfitted with an electronic sensor that sends alerts when nearing trash capacity so it can be emptied before overflowing.
  • Accommodate a recycling exchange: The design must include a compartment for a recycling exchange for glass bottles and cans.
  • Aesthetically pleasing: The design must be a visual asset on the street and complement the design of the new JCDecaux public toilets (now in production), the BART canopies on Market Street and other new public amenities, like the café on Civic Center Plaza
  • Cost effective: The target cost of the final mass-produced trash can is $2,000 – $3,000 apiece.

Three custom designs and three off-the-shelf models will be part of the prototype testing. There are three to five cans of each design, for a total of 26 cans. These 26 cans will be dispersed across the City in a variety of places, including commercial corridors, busy intersections and bus stops. The cans will be installed at the first set of locations for 30 days, then moved to 26 new locations to be tested for an additional 30 days.

The custom and off-the-shelf prototype cans
The trash can pilot program is a partnership among San Francisco Public Works, the Institute for Creative Integration (ICI), an industrial design firm, and APROE, a design and fabrication outfit. Both ICI and APROE are Bay Area companies with deep knowledge in industrial design and local issues.

Three Custom Designs

Salt & Pepper

Salt& Pepper’s unique profile stands out from afar, easily distinguishable for someone looking to discard items. The silhouette denotes two separate refuse areas, with cans and bottles for redemption exchange above and regular trash below. Steel fins welded to ribs give Salt & Pepper a durable frame as well as providing visibility for security and deterrence to graffiti. A shroud minimizes the size of items capable of being discarded, discouraging oversized, obstructive items. The bold form also communicates the city’s efforts to usher in a new, cleaner era on the streets of San Francisco.

Slim Silhouette

Slim Silhouette’s slim side profile allows more space on the sidewalks for people to move about freely while clearly presenting discard options on the front face for trash and recycle exchange. This single-sided access and the chute-shaped trash opening make rummaging more difficult so more trash stays inside. The trash and recycling openings have a generously rounded bevel inviting people in. The stainless steel pipe construction ensures longer lasting beauty with easier cleanability and less flat surface for graffiti.

Soft Square

Soft Square keeps an identifiable trash can silhouette while bringing the aesthetic into the 21st century. Designed as a kit of parts, Soft Square is comprised of four curved panels, an adjustable base and a domed top. Intentional gap separations between the panels allow for an elegant integration of components including the handle, foot pedal and hinge. Openings for the trash and bottles/cans are behind the front hopper door giving the design a clean appearance. The hopper design also makes it extremely difficult for over filling and rummaging. The stainless steel construction can be customized through different perforation patterns.

Public Works contracted with ICI to research successful trash can models in terms of functionality, materiality, cost and form. With that foundation, they developed several conceptual designs from which Public Works landed on three models – Salt & Pepper, Slim Silhouette and Soft Square. After approval from the San Francisco Arts Commission, APROE was engaged to develop construction drawings and then fabricate the trash can concepts.

The off-the-shelf models were chosen by Public Works with consideration to the design criteria, past experience on San Francisco streets and cost. The off-the-shelf cans are the BearSaver (Securr), Rin Bin (Victor Stanley) and Open Wire Mesh (Global Industries).

Off-The Shelf Models


The BearSaver can accommodate a custom-made vinyl graphic design on its four vertical sides. A recycling receptacle can be added to the side of the can. This can is manufactured by Securr.

Ren Bin

The Ren Bin is manufactured by Victor Stanley

Open Wire Mesh

This can is manufactured by Global Industries