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Why is Getting Garbage Cans Right so Difficult?

Posted by Debbie Pacheco / April 7, 2009

toronto new garbage binMaybe I'm not giving the complexity of garbage disposal its due. But is creating a practical, decent looking waste bin really that hard?

The city has experimented with several models over the years. The latest is a grey, sci-fi-looking design made of tough plastic, with a metal bar at the bottom (reminiscent of elementary school washroom sinks) that opens the garbage slots.

As Christopher Hume pointed out in his Toronto Star column yesterday, what happens in the winter when the bar is covered in snow? It isn't very accessible either. Pedestrians in wheelchairs, for instance, can't step on it to open the slots. Spacing Toronto gave the bins a failing grade and found that some were placed too far into the sidewalk, reducing space for pedestrians.

While some of these important issues were brought up when the prototype was revealed in June 2008, the final model on sidewalks near you looks the same.

I went out to test them this morning and found some of these concerns valid. Though the slots open if you push them, the point of the bar is to avoid touching the lids. They get gross with use. But why design a feature that can't be used half of the year or by a percentage of the population? I also found their placement intrusive in some areas, almost in the middle of the sidewalk.

I do like their size though. It's not as big as the mammoth ad boxes or as small as the bright blue box. Though I almost missed this feature, an innovative piece is the cigarette butt slot. The garbage and recycle holes are bigger and fit more items than the popular silver garbage bins with the three slots.

old silver bins

The new bins with the bar are part of Toronto's Coordinated Street Furniture Program that harmonizes the city's street furniture, from garbage bins to bus shelters and benches.

I can see why we need a plan to unify Toronto's street furniture. A walk around my neighbourhood yielded the five different cans pictured in this blog, each too small, too big, too rudimentary or not completely functional.

old big silver bins

two small old bins

To City Council, here is a checklist to consider when the next design of garbage bins is up for grabs:

• Make sure the bins and their features can be used in all seasons.

• Make them big enough to fit the garbage, but not too big that they block the sidewalk. It would help the former if they were emptied more often.

• We like the ability to recycle and the slot for cigarette butts. Keep those options.

• Make the garbage slots even friendlier to various items. Remember the Chinatown coconut fiasco?

• Make sure to consult the city's Accessibility Design Guideline. It's only a few links underneath the Coordinated Street Furniture report on the city's website.



Rich / April 7, 2009 at 02:23 pm
You don't have to push the bar to open the slots. If the bar's inaccessible to one or all, then you just push your garbage through the hole like you do now. (The sticker above the holes says exactly that, too.)

My question: How will they hold up to cleaning off wheatpaste?
Alex / April 7, 2009 at 02:40 pm
My question is: why don't these new bins divide litter into organics and non-organics? We do it at home (or soon will).
keven / April 7, 2009 at 02:47 pm
What I can't understand is... Is it really so difficult to make a garbage can that senses when you need to deposit something into it and actually removes the item from your hand or pocket? Or one that allows nuclear waste and computer parts to be divided into equal slots? geeze!
Richard S / April 7, 2009 at 02:53 pm
Leave it to our government to make a garbage can more complicated than it needs to be.

And the new ones by me don't open when you push the bar on the bottom, so they're either not very durable, or they're faulty.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from keven / April 7, 2009 at 02:53 pm

Even if they managed to achieve the AI Garbage can, you know as well as I do that certain groups will still complain about them.

"Why are we wasting so much energy on a supercomputer AI even though this is exactly what we had been asking for?!"
apetimberlake / April 7, 2009 at 02:57 pm
The smell form those Blue ones in the summer is off the charts.
Those metal ones are gross aswell when you try and push the flaps open.
The new ones seem to work well.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Ryan L. / April 7, 2009 at 03:01 pm
That is A(eye), not A(ell). Stupid sans-serif.
keven replying to a comment from Ryan L. / April 7, 2009 at 03:20 pm

so true...
Corina replying to a comment from Alex / April 7, 2009 at 03:25 pm
Simple - too expensive. They won't even put bio-waste containers in dog parks because we can't afford to process the bio waste the city is already collecting.

keven / April 7, 2009 at 03:27 pm
>informed analysis to Hume, Spacing and Torontoist.

You're f'n kidding me right? Informed analysis?
Thanks, that made my day! I needed a good laugh! Too bad you didn't say 'informed un-biased analysis'... now THAT would have been a good punchline!
Jack S. replying to a comment from S / April 7, 2009 at 04:49 pm
I enjoyed this article. I will now withdraw having negated S's existence - equilibrium restored.
Miroslav Glavic / April 7, 2009 at 04:49 pm
Many people in wheelchairs are not able to move their legs, others have very big difficulties as well, that pushing foot bar...I can't wait for the city to get sued over this.
Bubba / April 7, 2009 at 05:04 pm
The new bins are also mounted on a narrow base, eventually they will be damaged and most likely come off their base, like in the winter when a snow plow comes along to clear the sidewalk and hit's this thing it will snap right off. Not very well thought out. These bins were probably designed by the very same people who have designed the new bus shelters or as I refer to them as "glass death traps" for the TTC.
Miroslav Glavic / April 7, 2009 at 05:07 pm
I forgot one thing:

To Debbie Pacheco or anyone else that reads this article: can you tell me of any of the locations of these new stupidity cans? I actually want to go see them.
Chester Pape / April 7, 2009 at 05:12 pm
Accessibility requires creating options for inclusion, we don't require someone to tear down a staircase when they put in a ramp or a lift (unless there isn't room for both). The foot bar is an option.

Toronto's trash cans are the tragedy of the commons writ large, it's not just a matter of designing a decent public litter basket, it's designing a trash can that can survive the abuse that a small minority of monohelical specimens decide to heap on them.
Lisa / April 7, 2009 at 05:12 pm
I know there's one on Queen St W at University (north east corner)
Chester Pape / April 7, 2009 at 05:13 pm
There are some installed on the Danforth between Broadview and Chester.
eagle3 / April 7, 2009 at 05:54 pm
There is one at the corner of Bathurst and Dupont on the southwest side.
It would be wonderful if organic and non organic waste could be seperated BUT there are so many issues with that. Lazy people who could not be bothered putting waste in the proper slot, Animals like raccoons(they would have a feast) and probably cause a lot of damage to the boxes trying to get at the wasted food.
Maybe one day they will have a system that can be seen in Europe(forget which country) where the garbage, recycling etc get sucked down a tube underground and is transfered to a main holding station somewhere in the city.
ddt / April 7, 2009 at 05:57 pm
how about the really large home recycling and grey bins that fly open when it's windy and shot tin cans all over the street....and the large grey is designed in such a way that you need a bungy chord that's about 1.5 inches in length(not including hooks, the lengths of which vary)to keep it shut.WHy not design these home bins with a rotating latch?...or is that against union rules?
ddt / April 7, 2009 at 08:39 pm
ohhhhhh boo hoooooo......your tax dollars spent on crap that doesnt work...........only thing lightening up is yer wallet Holmes
Chantel / April 7, 2009 at 08:42 pm
mixed feelings. really a more regular emptying would omit a lot of problems. I've yet to see one not overflowing with trash. im sure the "push bar" function was costly but how necessary. Why not a sensor? The metal ones are always crammed because no one wanted to actually PUSH their coffee cups back. Where is the ad space? As ugly as it is, those ads still provide the funding we're obviously lacking... or are we.

All said and done bottom line we still need to reduce waste. Our grocery stores are encouraging tote bags.. when will our coffee shops do the same with travel mugs?

Jonathan Goldsbie replying to a comment from Bubba / April 8, 2009 at 01:01 am
<em>These bins were probably designed by the very same people who have designed the new bus shelters or as I refer to them as "glass death traps" for the TTC.</em>

Exactly. (That would be <a href="";>this dude</a>, <a href="";>Jeremy Kramer</a>.
James / April 8, 2009 at 04:11 am
What the heck is council thinking when they give us a garbage can that will be completely useless for a third of the year?
Sean / April 8, 2009 at 07:32 am
Don't be sheeple playing with garbage. All this garbage mess started by greedy city hall that wants YOU to split the garbage to SAVE MONEY from the corporations that PAY city hall for it, then PROFIT from the sorting (which you already did) to recycle the products. City hall won't give us a proper garbage cans anymore, they leave that up to the corporations that place their logos on the cans. Garbage is nothing more than a scam... scam for profit... from YOUR pockets.
Feldwebel Wolfenstool / April 8, 2009 at 08:15 am
Get Steve Jobs and Apple to design you a garbage can. It'll be shiny, over-priced, and will only hold 1/2 the amount of trash. But people will worship it, and line up to dump their "treasures" in it.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Chantel / April 8, 2009 at 09:02 am
That was pretty much exactly what I was talking about earlier.

"Grr, there are too many ads in this city, I'm sick of the ads on these garbage cans"

Fast forward a year

"Grr, where are the ads? How do they expect the city to pay for these without some sort of revenue?"

I'm not suggesting that Chantel was against the garbage can ads, but as a whole, this sort of thing happens all the time in the community.

People will find -something- to complain about.

Everything I'm reading about these new bins seems to come to the same conclusions: They're better than the old bins by significant margins, but they are nowhere near perfect.

The problem with garbage bins, is they will <b>never</b> be perfect. There are so many conflicting issues that need to be addressed when designing a garbage can. Improve accessiblity for the disabled and you improve the accessibility for raccoons and other animals. Remove ads and you remove funding. Make smaller to take up less sidewalk space and you have to then deal with the issue of overflowing garbage. Then of course the big issue of cost. Do you spend more for more features, or do you save money?

It really is a lose-lose situation for the designers of these cans. There will always be something for advocates to complain about (same goes for other street furniture). I don't mean to signal Jonathan out on this, because this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Because of the inherent difficulty in meeting everyone's needs, there will always be room for improvement and having people point out flaws is only going to encourage the city to continued to improve and perfect the garbage can design.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Sean / April 8, 2009 at 09:17 am
And Sean, I think your view on how the recycling industry works is a little flawed. There isn't money in recycling with the exception of a few products (mostly metals, especially aluminum*).

It often costs <b>more</b> to recycle and used recycled materials than using virgin materials.

The only reason recycling is as widespread as it is is because of government involvement. We wouldn't be able to recycle as much stuff as we do if the different levels of government didn't fund the companies tasked to do the job. Without those funds, those companies wouldn't be able to afford to recycle the majority of the stuff we throw in the blue bin.

*paper products can be -mildly- profitable if they're the right kind of paper products. The mixed bag of stuff you'd find in a sidewalk recycling bin most certainly is not. There is far too much contamination.
Snowman / April 8, 2009 at 09:31 am
These garbage bins are many problems as listed here plus the randomness of where they are installed, often in the middle of nowhere, drawing even more attention to them. And what scares me the most is that they are supposed to be with us for the next 20 years! Perhaps the public outcry will inspire a re-design, and we can add these to the on-going misfit list.

I like the idea of sorting organic waste, but people are too lazy...even recycling has yet to take off for everyone in the public realm. Another factor: the City has to follow-up with cleaning them out on a regular basis. The unit at Yonge and Davisville is now overflowing, thus rendering it useless.
Born&RaisedInTO / April 8, 2009 at 09:39 am
Personally, I'd like to see the City employ people as 'street sweepers' (or whatever the politically correct job description is) and have less garbage/recycling/advertising cans on the sidewalks. Whatever the state of the economy on any given day, the unemployed need jobs! And it doesn't matter how the cans are ultimately designed, you'll never get everyone to stop littering in the first place.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Snowman / April 8, 2009 at 10:05 am
I think the 20 year thing is just for the contract with the current company. I don't think it means all street furniture is meant to last the 20 years. As the bins break (and within 20 years they will, regardless of quality) and as they introduce new bins to difference areas they will likely be replaced with newer bins with improved features.
Greg Smith replying to a comment from Chantel / April 8, 2009 at 10:08 am
" sure the "push bar" function was costly but how necessary. Why not a sensor?"

A sensor would be "costly", too, and probably would not last very long.
Elle Driver / April 8, 2009 at 10:32 am
I like the new cans. They're far from perfect, but a definite improvement over the old ones. There are a bunch of these in my neighbourhood (the stretch on St. Clair West between Yonge and Spadina.)

Overflowing cans are not caused by design flaws - you can't make the bin any bigger before it becomes too intrusive. It's the lack of sanitation workers cleaning out the bins, and people throwing too much crap away. Blame those who are too lazy to walk another block to dump their trash at a less-frequented bin.
Ryan L. replying to a comment from Greg Smith / April 8, 2009 at 11:28 am
Yeah, if you've ever been in a washroom with 'sensor' sinks, hand dryers or paper towel dispensers, you'd know how well they work once they're no longer new. Then take those and put them outside and see how long they work.
TonyB / April 8, 2009 at 01:43 pm
Yet another money-wasting project that the city has rammed down our throats despite the opposition and flawed design.

And yet the city is trying to invent new ways to drain the pocket-books of Torontonians... especially in this economic climate!
warmflash / April 8, 2009 at 01:49 pm
The one near me don't work at all so people just throw their trash on the ground. It's truly appalling.
conscious / April 8, 2009 at 02:12 pm
Oooh, a push-bar. You know what would make a push-bar unnecessary? Using bins you drop your refuse into vertically, avoiding having to 'mail' your trash and recyclables through a slot. Eaton Centre's basic, heavy cylindrical trash cans do the job nicely and are also rebellious-drunk-kicktoy proof. Give them a perforated rubber drop-in cover and it's goodbye odours. And please, were a cost-effective design like this implemented, no unveiling ceremony.
keven / April 8, 2009 at 02:13 pm
>Yet another money-wasting project that the city has rammed down our throats despite the opposition and flawed design.

And yet the city is trying to invent new ways to drain the pocket-books of Torontonians... especially in this economic climate!

The city did not pay for this, neither did taxpayers. Astral Media did.
badbhoy replying to a comment from TonyB / April 8, 2009 at 02:19 pm
What a useless, generic, statement. Can I just copy and paste that into any discussion about a city initiative that I don't agree with?
Global H / April 8, 2009 at 02:52 pm
These new bins looked like a disaster the moment I saw them, without even paying close enough attention to realize you needed to step on the bar. Too small, which will mean trash overflowing into the street again on busy streets.

Also, on a pedantic note, the word is "TRASH", not "LITTER". Litter is the stuff that you find on the ground. If it goes INTO the bin, it's not litter.
keven replying to a comment from Global H / April 8, 2009 at 03:43 pm
"Push pedal or flaps to open"

I really wish people would learn about something before hating on it. The amount of energy you're wasting on something you clearly have no idea about is exponential, to say the least.
Garby / April 8, 2009 at 05:13 pm
Just put your garabage in them where its supposed go, and keep on walking like you already do. Does it really effect your life that much? Quit complaining for complaining sakes, they're already out there... move on
Global H / April 8, 2009 at 05:14 pm
Fair enough - I haven't tried putting trash into one of them yet so didn't know it was either/or. They're still too small though.
wow gold / April 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm
@Debbie Pacheco : I think your right about considering the pros and cons of designing garbage cans. Like the silver garbage bin you post above, actually those big cans can really block ways. Hope your city government realize the value and importance of every project they make.
Norma / April 15, 2009 at 09:43 am
I have 3 months working with the idea how can make money with trash cans also bottles plastics. Do you now about companys can pay me for do recyclin.
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