Sanitation Department competition to help redesign metal trash cans

More than 23,000 wastebaskets are maintained by the city's Sanitation Department -- many of them the notoriously heavy, metal mesh variety.
More than 23,000 wastebaskets are maintained by the city’s Sanitation Department — many of them the notoriously heavy, metal mesh variety. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

It’s time to build a better trash can for New York City.

The Sanitation Department plans to host a competition to aid in its search for ideas to upgrade their corner wastebaskets — those familiar metal mesh stalwarts of the city’s landscape.

“We have not changed the design of our corner litter baskets since the 1930s,” Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said earlier this week during a talk at the annual NYCxDesign conference in Times Square. “There might be some opportunities for some creativity.”

There are more than 23,000 litter baskets throughout the five boroughs. Not all are the traditional wire mesh design — some feature a more visually-pleasing, covered design sponsored by business improvement districts, lawmakers and others.

Garcia said more details about the competition will be released in the coming weeks, and that it will be open to the general public as well as design firms.

“We want to make sure that we are staying on the cutting edge, and while I do still love our iconic corner baskets, they haven’t been looked at from a design perspective since the 1930s,” Garcia said. “We want to see whether people in New York City have some interesting cool ideas to make them even better than they already are.”

But a lack of style is not the only thing that plagues these underappreciated city workhorses.

The mesh construction makes it easy for fluids to leak out and vermin to crawl in.

“They find them very much an open snack bar,” Garcia said.

And the baskets are heavy, even before they are filled with trash. Along some city routes, sanitation workers unload over 300 baskets, according to Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association president Harry Nespoli.

“Whatever they decide, it has to be durable,” Nespoli said. “I think the old baskets are better than some of the newer ones out there.”

Nespoli said he thinks a cone-like design with a wider top and smaller bottom might contain trash better.

The agency is working with the Van Alen Institute, a nonprofit architecture and design organization, on an international competition for a new corner trash can that is functional and fabulous.

“I’m not going to give any hints away [regarding] what we are looking for,” Garcia said. “We are very open to what creativity might be out there.”