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New York City has chosen this trash can of the future

Its clever design is sturdy on the street but easy to lift.

New York City has chosen this trash can of the future
[Photo: courtesy NYC Sanitation]

The city of New York is home to more than 23,000 trash cans, which are prominently displayed on street corners. It’s a charming side effect of an urban grid that was planned over 200 years ago to have no alleys for tucking away garbage, unlike cities like Chicago. That means New Yorkers must live with their refuse day-to-day—it also means that the NYC Department of Sanitation takes the entire design of trash disposal seriously, from how the cans look, to how they get lifted and dumped into a truck.

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[Photo: courtesy NYC Sanitation]

There’s a good reason the city’s green steel mesh basket trash cans have gone unchanged for nearly 100 years. They’re durable and borderline elegant, with a tapered design that looks more like a coffee big cup than an oil barrel. But last week, the city named that antique can’s successor. Fifteen months after announcing a design competition to replace the trash can, the city selected its new model, designed by an NYC design collective dubbed Group Project.

[Photo: courtesy NYC Sanitation]

This new design transforms the one-piece litter basket into a two-part design. Its outer shell is a steel mesh similar to what the city has today. But that shell is only a 180-degree crescent that’s meant to anchor and protect the inner liner. Flip up the shell’s wraparound lid, and you’ll see that a plastic bin sitting inside is what actually holds the trash. Fitted with rounded handholds, this inner bin is easier for sanitation workers to grab, and 50% lighter than the old steel design. And when the plastic liner wears out, it’s recyclable.

All in all, the new bin seems far more practical than the old design, and it should be. To get here, the city sifted through 200 separate submissions from around the world. They whittled those down to 12 finalists, and then put the final two prototypes through a 90-day street test earlier this year. A lot of care was put into NYC’s new trash can, so use some thought about what you toss into it.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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